Ancient Lost City of Mardaman

In summer 2017, archaeologists from Tübingen’s Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies excavated the archive of 92 cuneiform clay tablets. Stored in a pottery vessel and wrapped with clay, experts believe that they may have been hidden away for posterity. More recently, Betina Faist, a philologist (language expert) at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, deciphered the text on the tablets, only to find the name of this ancient city: Mardaman (sometimes called Mardama). The tablets date back to around 1250 B.C., a time when the city was part of the Assyrian Empire and was ruled by an Assyrian governor named Assur-nasir. The cuneiform tablets show Assur-nasir's "administrative and commercial affairs with the people of Mardama," said Pfälzner, who is leading excavations in the city. 


Translations of Assyrian writings found by archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have yielded a secret lost to history: The place where the clay tablets were found - Bassetki, in Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in Iraq - appears to be the ancient royal city of Mardaman. This important northern Mesopotamian city is cited in ancient sources, but researchers did not know where it lay. It existed between 2,200 and 1,200 years BC, was at times a kingdom or a provincial capital and was conquered and destroyed several times.

Mardaman, mentioned in several ancient sources, was an important city located in northern Mesopotamia. Between 2,200 BC and 1,200 BC, Mardaman was at times a kingdom or a provincial capital and was conquered and destroyed several times. According to the sources, it was the center of a kingdom which was conquered by one of the greatest rulers of the time, Shamshi-Adad I, in 1,786 BC and integrated into his Upper Mesopotamian empire. However, a few years later it became an independent kingdom under a Hurrian ruler called Tish-ulme. A period of prosperity followed, but shortly later the city was destroyed by the Turukkaeans, people from the Zagros Mountains to the north. “The cuneiform texts and our findings from the excavations in Bassetki now make it clear that that was not the end,” Pfälzner says. “The city existed continuously and achieved a final significance as a Middle Assyrian governor’s seat between 1,250 and 1,200 BC.”

The history of Mardaman can be traced back to the early periods of Mesopotamian civilization. Sources from the Third Dynasty of Ur, approximately 2,100–2,000 BC, portray it as an important city on the northern periphery of the Mesopotamian Empire. The oldest source goes back to the Akkadian Empire, and mention that the city was destroyed a first time around 2250 BC by Naram-Sin, the most powerful Akkadian ruler.

Excavations at Mardaman are ongoing. Fortunately, the ancient city was spared the looting that other archaeological sites in Iraq have suffered in recent times, Pfälzner said. 

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