4,000-year-old clay tablets reveals potential location of 11 lost ancient cities

4,000-year-old clay tablets reveal locations of ancient cities belonging to the ancient Assyrian Empire.

A meticulous translation of many of these ancient tablets revealed the locations of metropolises that have been missing for many centuries.

The researchers say the finding has the potential to change the way the Assyrian Empire is understood, rewriting the history of the region.


A team of archaeologists recently reported that a 4,000-year-old Assyrian tablet was probably a marriage contract, which offers numerous details. This is not the only clay tablet of this type; There are tens of thousands more.

However, this one is unique for many reasons.

An ancient clay tablet recovered from Kanesh.

As researchers recently revealed, a painstaking translation of many of these tablets revealed the locations of ancient metropolises that have been missing for many centuries.

The professor of asiriology at Harvard University, Gojko Barjamovic, who works with an international team of researchers and economists, says the study has the potential to change the way the Assyrian Empire is understood.

These tablets were recovered from an excavation in the ancient city of Kanesh, in present-day Turkey. They are written in cuneiform, developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, and are a mixture of commercial transactions, accounts, stamps, contracts and even marriage certificates.

The tablets may seem uninteresting to ordinary people, but for amateurs and experts, they are revealing.

Commercial contracts always mention the places where they carry out the transactions and sometimes the destinations of the products marketed.

This means that you could keep track of locations and cities that have not yet been found and that are now buried and lost to time.

After analyzing 12,000 clay tablets, the team believes that it has identified 26 ancient cities, of which 15 have already been found.

There are no precise coordinates, but thanks to an old trading method, the team believes that it can decipher most of the locations.

Kanesh was once a small settlement that became an important trading post for the entire region.

The clay tablets are quite revealing as they describe Kanesh as a city with a “thriving economy, based on free enterprise and private initiative, lucrative and risky traders, backed by complicated financial contracts and a well-functioning judicial system.”

This exhaustive record of accounts revealed that Kanesh traded more with nearby cities than with distant ones.

Taking all these data and quantifying them properly, the team managed to create a distance system based on the cycle of trade between cities, which they call “structural gravity model.”

This provides reliable estimates of where these lost cities might be.

“For a majority of cases, our quantitative estimates are remarkably close to qualitative proposals made by historians,” the authors conclude. “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.”

In order to confirm the accuracy of their system, the lost cities must be found, but this document offers a useful tool for archaeologists and is a gateway to a kingdom that was the first superpower in the world.

Source: Ancient data, modern math and the hunt for 11 lost cities of the Bronze Age

Featured image credit: Shutterstock

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