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fter researching two ancient clay tablets akin to the Rosetta Stone, researchers have uncovered and decoded a language that has been lost for thousands of years. The tablets, which are believed to be 4,000 years old, were unearthed in Iraq decades ago. They have been stored in two independent collections, one at the Jonathan and Jeanette Rosen Cuneiform Collection and the other at a private London collection.

However, academics Manfred Krebernik and Andrew R. George have been examining the tablets since 2016. The pair’s findings were published in the French journal Revue d’assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale, or Journal of Assyriology and Oriental Archaeology, in January.

Both tablets are inscribed in a landscape format, which is common with Middle Babylonian Tablets from the Kassite Period in southern Mesopotamia during the first millennium BCE. At first glance, the tablets appear to have other characteristics comparable to those previously unearthed.

The second side, on the other hand, was discovered to contain something “remarkable”: a vanished language, long supposed to exist (though some questioned this), but with few surviving specimens.

The tablets contain a “lost” Canaanite language from the Amorite people (Source: Rosen Collection)

The two Amorite-Akkadian tablets were discovered in Iraq around 30 years ago, presumably during the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988; they were subsequently placed in a collection in the United States. However, little else is known about them, and it is unknown whether they were kidnapped legitimately from Iraq.

After other researchers pointed them out, Krebernik and George began researching the tablets in 2016.

They discovered that the mystery language belongs to the West Semitic family of languages, which also includes Hebrew (currently spoken in Israel) and Aramaic, which was formerly widely spoken throughout the region but is now spoken only in a few dispersed groups in the Middle East.

The tablet also reveals information on Amorite societies and beliefs. One section of the tablet is made up of divine names, believed to represent Ancient Gods.

“If the language of the left-hand columns is Amorite, the question then arises as to whether the list of gods that opens the left-hand column of text No. 1 can be understood as a reflection of a specifically Amorite pantheon,” the authors write. “Each deity is explained in the right-hand column as the counterpart of a well-known member of the Babylonian pantheon.”  

Manfred Krebernik and Andrew R. George

Many of the clay tablets covered in the ancient cuneiform script — one of the earliest forms of writing in which wedge-shaped impressions were made in wet clay with a stylus — were written in Akkadian, and a thorough understanding of the language was an important part of education in Mesopotamia for over a thousand years.

One possible critique of the study is that the researchers relied heavily on pictures of the tablets because both are in private possession. Regardless, Krebernik and George feel the findings should be made public.

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