Italians find ancient Ur tablets

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Writings could lead to buried library (ANSA) - Rome, March 28 - Italian archeologists working in Iraq have found a trove of ancient stone tablets from the fabled civilisation of Ur .

The tablets bear around 500 engravings of a literary and historical nature, according to team leader Silvia Chiodi .

"This is an an exceptional find," she said, noting that the area in question had previously only yielded prehistoric artefacts .

She said the tablets, made of clay and bitumen, were discovered by chance at an archaeological site not far from the location of the ancient city .

"I was looking for a wall structure spotted by an airborne photo when I spotted a small inscription on bitumen and then realised it wasn't the only one" .

An expert on Sumerian civilisation, Giovanni Pettinato, said the finds probably dated back to one of Ur's most prosperous periods .

"The most surprising thing is the time span the tablets cover, ranging from 2,700 BCE, the First Dynasty of Ur, to 2,100 BCE, the Third Dynasty," Pettinato said .

"The place where the tablets were found, not far from the surface, leads one to suppose they contain information from a library," he said .

"There could be thousands of them down there" .

Chiodi said the tablets would probably occupy a prominent place in a new Virtual Museum of Iraq which Italy is building to show people what Baghdad's celebrated museum of antiquities looked like before it was looted in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq .

About a half of 40 star attractions of the museum have yet to be retrieved .

Of the 15,000 items taken from storeooms, 8,000 have not been returned despite an amnesty .

Ur, near the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, is cited in the Bible as the birthplace of the prophet Abraham .

It was the religious hub of Sumerian civilisation at the start of a series of dynasties that ruled Mesopotamia from around 4000 BCE .

Long before the Egyptians, the Sumerians invented the wheel and developed the first mathematical system .

The most famous classic of ancient literature, Gilgamesh, was written at Ur .

The most prominent monument at the site is the best preserved ziggurat, or stepped pyramid, in the Arab world .

It was built by the Sumerians around 4000 BCE and restored by Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century BCE .

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