Scientists Uncover Missing Piece to Ancient Poem

Offers new details of Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 1, 2015 11:27 AM CDT

When a man arrived at Iraq's Sulaymaniyah Museum offering to sell 80 to 90 clay tablets in 2011, it was Farouk Al-Rawi's job to study them. The professor at SOAS, University of London, found a few fakes in the mix, but spent much of his time examining a large inch-thick tablet, for which the seller was asking a large sum. Suddenly, Al-Rawi told the museum's director to buy the thing, 4.3 inches long by 3.7 inches wide, no matter the cost. As Al-Rawi had suspected, the $800 buy turned out to be a missing version of the 12-tablet Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, considered to be among the first pieces of literature, the History Blog reports, via Ancient History Etc. After five days spent translating the Neo-Babylonian cuneiform language, Al-Rawi discovered the tablet was a fragment of Tablet V of the poem and adds 20 lines and previously unknown details.

The tablet, made of three fragments, had been glued together, but researchers aren't sure who repaired it or even who dug it up. Scientists do suspect, however, that the collection came from the ancient area of Babylon. Tablet V tells of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and his companion Enkidu going to kill the giant Humbaba, who guards the Cedar Forest, home of the gods. The tablet confirms Enkidu spent time with Humbaba as a boy, but shows Humbaba to be more of a "foreign ruler" than a "barbarian ogre," the impression that comes across in other versions, according to 2014 study. It mentions that monkeys, cicadas, and birds were present in the forest, and their chatter formed a kind of symphony. It also shows that Gilgamesh and Enkidu felt guilty after killing Humbaba, which hadn't previously been referenced. (A study of its ink lends credibility to the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife.")

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