Archaeologists uncover 3,250-year old Middle Assyrian tablets in Iraq’s Kurdistan


Back in 2016, we talked about the incredible discovery of a large Bronze Age Mesopotamian city made by the University of Tübingen archaeologists (constituting the team from the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies). Well, this time around, the researchers have unearthed a trove of tablets from the same site, at the small Kurdish village of Bassetki. According to the archaeologists, they have been able to salvage a total of 93 such cuneiform-bearing samples (till now) – and all of them date from circa 1250 BC, thus corresponding to the period of the Middle Assyrian Empire.


Around sixty of these 3,250-year old tablets were found inside a structure of Middle Assyrian origin, with the records being deposited in a ceramic pot that doubled as a storage medium. Interestingly enough, this pot, along with two similar specimens, were wrapped in a thick coating of clay. This obviously adds a veneer of mystery to the archaeological scope. Dr. Peter Pfälzner, who leads the excavation project at Bassetki, said –

The vessels may have been hidden this way shortly after the surrounding building was destroyed. Perhaps the information inside it was meant to be protected and preserved for posterity. Our philologist Dr. Betina Faist has deciphered one small fragment of a clay tablet. It mentions a temple to the goddess Gula, suggesting that we may be looking at a religious context.


Now since we brought up the scope of deciphering the tablets, the task at hand might prove to be a difficult one, with the team looking forth to utilize advanced techniques for the discerning process. As the University of Tübingen press release mentioned –

Working at the site, the researchers made images of the clay tablets based on a computational photographic method (rti), which enables interactive re-lighting of the objects from any direction. The intense work of reading and translating the 93 cuneiform tablets will begin in Germany, now that the team has returned home. Many of the clay tablets are unbaked and badly worn, so reading them will be a major challenge and will take a considerable amount of time. Peter Pfälzner hopes the texts will yield a wide variety of detail about the history, society, and culture of this little-researched area of northern Mesopotamia in the second millennium BC.


Coming to the historical ambit of this Bronze Age city, the settlement was probably founded some time in 3000 BC and thrived for over 2,000 years. Incredibly enough, few of the layers of this ancient city date from the Akkadian Empire period (2340-2200 BC), thus alluding to its governance within the framework of the world’s ‘oldest known empire’. Furthermore, archaeologists have also found evidence of two Mittani cuneiform tablets from one of the settlement’s layers, which suggests that it was a part of the little known Mittani Kingdom till at least 14th century BC.


Finally, as for the infrastructural scale of this settlement, geomagnetic resistance measurements (conducted last year) revealed the presence of a dedicated road network that connected the city. This alludes to the importance of the settlement in a region linking Mesopotamia and Anatolia, possibly as a trade hub. Analysis of the internal ruins has also confirmed that the city was divided into residential districts and posh localities while being accompanied on the architectural level by a relatively large palatial complex dating from the Bronze Age.


Source: University of Tübingen / Photo Credits: Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen