The Sumerians and their cuneiform language have done it again. Tablets found in Bassetki, in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in Iraq, have been translated by a cuneiform expert and they indicate that the location was once the ancient and lost royal city of Mardaman, which was mentioned in many writings but never found. The tablets date back to around 1250 BCE and give details about this mysterious city and kingdom that once occupied a powerful position on the trade routes between Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Syria.
The translation of the 92 tablets, discovered in the summer of 2017, was announced last week by the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies where the archeologists, led by Professor Peter Pfälzner, are based. The translation was performed by University of Heidelberg philologist Dr. Betina Faist, one of the world’s few experts in cuneiform, who worked both with some of the small, crumbling tablets and with detailed photographs of those too fragile to be handled. The translations give a clear location of the lost city and change some previously-held assumptions. (Photos of the excavation and tablets here.)
Some information about Mardaman had been gleaned previously from other sources. It appears to have started between 2800 BCE and 2650 BCE and its history of destruction and rebuilding began around 2250 BC when it was destroyed by the Akkadian Empire led by Naram-Sin. Later Babylonian sources mention Mardaman being rebuilt, only to be destroyed again in 1786 BCE by Shamshi-Adad I and integrated into the Upper Mesopotamian empire. It became an independent kingdom for a time, but was then destroyed by the Turukkaeans from the Zagros Mountains. Most historians defined this as the end of Mardaman and the beginning of its designation as a lost city.
The cuneiform tablets have changed that. They show Mardaman continuing to exist as a Middle Assyrian trade powerhouse until around 1200 BCE, which was about the time they were written. In fact, it appears the tablets were stored in pottery in the governor’s palace of Assur-nasir and were preserved under its post-destruction rubble … perhaps intentionally, says Pfälzner.
“[They] may have been hidden this way shortly after the surrounding building had been destroyed. Perhaps the information [the tablets contain] was meant to be protected and preserved for posterity.”
Why were they preserved? Cuneiform is the oldest documented language and, because it seems to have simply appeared rather than evolved, it has often been linked to ancient aliens. Without it, we would not have the literary works of Mesopotamia such as Epic of Gilgamesh and would not know that other documents besides the Bible contained stories of a Garden of Eden, a great flood and biblical figures such as Job.
Why did the last residents of the lost city of Mardaman hide these tablets in hopes that future generations or civilizations would find them?