4,000-year-old clay tablets unearthed in Turkey reveal the location of 11 “lost” ancient Assyrian cities, as well as several aspects of ancient Assyrian life.
An example of a clay tablet with cuneiform script [Photo via Alamy]
At first glance, especially if you’re a layman, the information on the tablets isn’t very interesting. It’s mostly about business transactions, shipping expenses, accounts, seals, and trade and marriage contracts. It’s kind of like digging up a long-lost chest of drawers used by an archiving office. While this sounds like a bore for a lot of people, archaeologists and historians are having a field day with the findings.
Here’s the thing about official documents, even ones that are 4,000 years old: they tend to have all the pertinent information about significant transactions. This, of course, includes information on where these transactions are happening, as well as where trade comes and goes. Thus, there may be information on the names and locations of Assyrian cities that have been lost to time.
Photo by Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
The Assyrians were the people of an ancient civilization that once thrived in the Middle East. This civilization was one of the oldest ones to form on Earth. They utilized a form of writing called cuneiform, which is one of the oldest scripts that we know of. Cuneiform script was the form of writing found on the Bronze Age tablets.
According to a new paper, an analysis of the tablets revealed a “flourishing market economy, based on free enterprise and private initiative, profit-seeking and risk-taking merchants.” The analysis and translation of about 12,000 tablets revealed the names of 26 cities wherein trade relations took place. Researchers know the location of 15 of these cities, but the remaining 11 have yet to be found. However, researchers have already figured out a technique they can use to figure out at least the general location of these cities.
An algorithm based on the data of the cuneiform script may give researchers an idea as to where these cities may be. The algorithm has also already been tested on the cities with known locations, showing that it can reveal the location of major cities. However, the algorithm slips up when it comes to finding more minor cities.
Another example of cuneiform script found in Iraq. [Photo via Wikimedia Commons]
“The structural gravity model delivers estimates for the coordinates of the lost cities,” the researchers write about their technique. “For a majority of cases, our quantitative estimates are remarkably close to qualitative proposals made by historians. In some cases where historians disagree on the likely site of lost cities, our quantitative method supports the suggestions of some historians and rejects that of others.”
As of now, the 11 remaining cities haven’t been found. However, the researchers have given their best guesses, and they hope that their work will be able to inform efforts dedicated to finding the lost cities.
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