Legendary Ancient City Found by Accident

Mardaman in modern-day Iraq is nearly 5K years old
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2018 10:10 AM CDT
Ancient, Legendary City Found by Accident
The Assyrian cuneiform tablets in a ceramic vessel.   (Peter Pf?lzner, University of T?bingen)

(Newser) – Archaeologists who've spent five years digging up an ancient city in Iraq's Kurdistan region have finally learned its name—and it's legendary. Mardaman, once the capital of a Mesopotamian province and its own independent kingdom, is believed to have begun as early as 4,800 years ago and is cited in sources dating to the Akkadian Empire, the first empire in history, report Smithsonian and Heritage Daily. Archaeologists from Germany's University of Tübingen, however, didn't know the site they were working on top of until last year, when they discovered 92 cuneiform tablets inside a vessel covered in clay while excavating a ruined palace in Bassetki. Deciphered from Assyrian, the 3,250-year-old tablets identify the city as Mardaman, then an important commercial hub in the Middle Assyrian Empire, connected by trading routes to Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Syria, reports Live Science.

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It was also the administrative seat of an unknown Assyrian province, headed by governor Assur-nasir, per the tablets, which date to the time the palace was destroyed. "All of a sudden it became clear that our excavations had found an Assyrian governor's palace," lead researcher Peter Pfälzner says in a statement. While it isn't clear why the palace was destroyed—Mardaman was repeatedly razed and rebuilt—the tablets appear to have been purposefully hidden afterward. "Perhaps the information [contained] was meant to be protected and preserved for posterity," says Pfälzner. He adds the tablets, revealing Assur-nasir's "administrative and commercial affairs," show the city "achieved a final significance as a Middle Assyrian governor's seat" after its heyday between 1900BC and 1700BC, though it would keep flourishing for perhaps another 800 years, per Live Science. (An extraordinary find was made in a Pompeii bath house.)

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