3,800-year-old cuneiform tablet found at earthquake-damaged site in Turkey

Archaeologists working to restore damage wrought by the massive earthquakes that struck southern Turkey earlier this year have unearthed a 3,800-year-old cuneiform clay tablet at the Bronze Age site of Tell Atchana. The inscription is in Akkadian and is a contract for the acquisition of another city by the king of the ancient city of Alalakh.

Alalakh was the largest city in the region during the Middle and Late Bronze Age (2200-1300 BC) and was capital of the Mukish Kingdom in the 2nd millennium B.C. It was endowed with fertile farmland and rich mines, and its location on trade routes connecting Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean gave it access to goods imported from great distances.

The remains of two palaces made of sun-baked mud brick with timber supports and faced with squared stone blocks from Alalakh’s survive today. The first was built around 2000 B.C., the second around 1735 B.C. The city was burned by Hittites in the 16th century B.C. and again in the mid-14th century B.C. The population abandoned the city in the 13th century B.C., never to return.

Millennia of occupation, destruction, rebuilding and ultimate abandonment created a large mound 22 hectares in area and 30 feet high. British archaeologist Leonard Woolley was the first to systematically excavate the mound, now known as Tell Atchana, in the 1930s. He discovered the magnificent statue of Idrimi, covered head to toe in an Akkadian cuneiform inscription describing his reign. After a long gap, archaeologists returned to the excavate the site in the 2000, and excavations have continued regularly since then.

Alalakh suffered significant damage in the earthquake that struck the region on February 6th. Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism is overseeing a program of restoration and conservation to repair the palace walls damaged in the quake. The cuneiform tablet was discovered when the team removed rubble from a collapsed wall.

The first examination of the tablet in Akkadian language revealed information containing an agreement made by Yarim-Lim, the first known king of Alalakh, to purchase another city.

[Archaeology professor Murat] Akar said the tablet is not damaged and the finding was “so exciting.”

“It proves us that those kings had the economic power and potential to buy another city in those times.

“There is also the name of the important people of the city who witnessed this sale on the tablet, most likely,” he added.

“The work came out as an extremely unique example, especially to decipher the economic structure of that period, the relationship between cities, the economic and political model,” Akar said.

The tablet will be transferred to a museum after the examinations, said the restoration team head.

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