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Large Cache of Mesopotamian Tablets Found

December 29, 1987|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Archeologists have discovered a large collection of 3,700-year-old Mesopotamian clay tablets that describe the capture and ransom of spies by rival city-states, the early use of horses in battle and the allocation of the royal wine supply.

The discovery of the 1,100 cuneiform tablets and seal impressions was reported Monday at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archeologists by Harvey Weiss of Yale University.

The tablets were inscribed in northern Mesopotamia between about 1740 BC to 1725 BC, roughly the time when King Hammurabi was issuing his famous code of laws in the city-state of Babylon, in southern Mesopotamia, Weiss said.

The tablets are written in the old Babylonian dialect of the Akkadian language.

Weiss and his colleagues found about 1,100 tablets and seal impressions in a palace at Tell Leilan, in northeastern Syria near the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

Largest Since 1933

The tablets are the largest single collection of written material found in northern Mesopotamia since 1933, when French archeologists discovered a huge cuneiform archive at the ancient city of Mari on the Euphrates River, 175 miles south of Tell Leilan, Weiss said.

About one-third of the tablets are letters between northern Mesopotamian kings, many from kings that have until now been unknown. The others record financial transactions and "the distribution of what was one of the most precious commodities--the wine supply," Weiss said.

One letter includes "one of the earliest documentations of horse-mounted troops," he said. Others "record the way kings of this period deployed scouts or spies," Weiss said.

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