In a pit cutting into the earliest level of the Bronze Palace, Dirk and his team made an unexpected discovery – a complete, unbaked clay tablet with cuneifom writing. Here’s a photo of what it looked like when it came out of the ground. Not much to look at! There were two small fragments that were broken off during excavation; the tablet was damp and very fragile.
Under the expert attention of our project conservator, Lourdes Mesa Garcia (a private conservator from Madrid), the fragments were joined to the tablet and the entire artifact was cleaned using a needle, a tiny soft paint brush, and a very gentle air blower. We let the tablet dry for four days (yes, I’ve been holding out on you) before cleaning it to clarify the signs.
Look at the difference!
John has made a preliminary assessment and determined that the tablet is an accounting list of 25 textiles of several different types. There is a date on the tablet, but only giving the day and month. Sadly, no year is recorded. There are also two Assyrian personal names.
What is particularly important about this tablet is that it appears to be Middle Assyrian in date, meaning that it was written between (very roughly) 1300 – 1050 BC, several centuries before all the other tablets we have found. Assyriologists like John can date tablets according to their paleography (broadly, the study of ancient languages, including their written form)
In ancient Assyrian, just like other languages, the vocabulary, grammar, and shapes of the letters (here cuneiform wedges) change over time. Think of the differences in language and writing between Beowulf, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and a modern novel – all written in English. Over time, the written form of cuneiform changed and two of the cuneiform signs used in our tablet were used during the Middle Assyrian period, but are not found in Late Assyrian texts; their archaic form suggests the earlier date. This is the earliest written material we have from Ziyaret Tepe. We also know that the palaces in Assyrian cities were often involved in textile production and although we can’t say that this tablet proves this was the case at Assyrian Tushhan, it is one possible explanation for why such a tablet would have been stored in the palace archives.