The ancient Kingdom Discovered Beneath Mound in Iraq
An ancient city called ‘Idu’ has been discovered in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Hidden beneath a 32 foot (10 metres) mound, the city is thought to have been a hub of activity between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago.
Inscriptions made for kings in walls, tablets and stone plinths, reveal that it was once filled with luxurious palaces.
The discovery was made five years ago after a local villager found a clay tablet with the name ‘Idu’ carved in.
It is thought the inscription was made by the local kings celebrating the construction of the royal palace. Archaeologists at the University of Leipzig in Germany spent the next few years excavating the area.
They believe the city of Idu spent much of its time under the control of the Assyrian Empire about 3,300 years ago. But archaeologists also found evidence that it was a fiercely independent city.
Its people fought for and won, 140 years of independence before they were reconquered by the Assyrians. Among the treasures found were artwork showing a bearded sphinx with a human head and the body of a winged lion.
Above it was the words: ‘Palace of Ba’auri, king of the land of Idu, son of Edima, also king of the land of Idu.’
They also found a cylinder seal dating back roughly 2,600 years depicting a man crouching before a griffon.
‘We were lucky to be one of the first teams to begin excavations in Iraq after the 2003 war,’ archaeologists Cinzia Pappi told MailOnline.
‘The discovery of ancient Idu at Satu Qala revealed a multicultural capital and a crossroad between northern and southern Iraq and between Iraq and Western Iran in the second and first millennia BC.
‘Particularly the discovery of a local dynasty of kings fills a gap in what scholars had previously thought of as a dark age in the history of ancient Iraq.
‘Together these results have helped to redraw the political and historical map of the development of the Assyrian Empire.’
The city was hidden beneath a mound, called a tell, which is currently home to a village called Satu Qala.
‘For wide-scale excavations to continue, at least some of these houses will have to be removed,’ said archaeologists Cinzia Pappi
‘Unfortunately, until a settlement is reached between the villagers and the Kurdistan regional government, further work is currently not possible.’
Archaeologists plan to continue excavating the site once they reach an agreement.
In the meantime, a study on the materials from the site, now stored in the Erbil Museum of Antiquities, has just been completed in co-operation with the University of Pennsylvania.
Together, the researchers will explore the surrounding area to determine the extent of the kingdom of Idu in its regional context
The findings have been reported in the journal Anatolica.
Archaeologists stunned by ancient Babylonian device: ‘More advanced than we thought’
Babylon was the city where some of the most influential empires of the ancient world ruled. For a long time, it was the capital of the Babylonian Empire, and was considered to be the global centre of commerce, art and learning, and is even estimated to have been the largest early city in the world — perhaps the first to reach a population of more than 200,000 people.
Today, it resembles more of an archaeological excavation site in progress and has only several thousand residents and a few villages within its boundaries. It holds some of the greatest secrets of the ancient world, including the Tower of Babel, which is first mentioned in Genesis in the Bible.
In 1894, Edgar Banks, an American archaeologist, discovered a stone device and sold it to antique collector George Plimpton. He eventually passed it on to Columbia University in the 1930s, and the tablet is today known as Plimpton 322.
At the time, researchers did not realise how important the tablet was, and it was not until 1945 that experts realised it contained Pythagorean triples.
But then the tablet was forgotten, and it was not until this year that Dr Daniel Mansfield, from the University of New South Wales, Australia, was given access to it, revealing the full extent of the device’s wonder.
Speaking to the BBC’s reel exploring the tablet, titled, ‘Evidence ancient Babylonians were far more advanced than we thought, he described it as the, “most interesting, most sophisticated mathematical document from the ancient world”.
It tells us that past civilisations understood mathematics a lot better than we thought.
In particular, it shows how the Mesopotamians understood Pythagorean triples at a level of sophistication “that we never expected”, according to Dr Mansfield.
Traditionally, the history of geometry starts in Ancient Greece, where astronomers used the technique to understand the movement of celestial bodies through the night sky. The most famous relation in geometry is the relation between the sides and the hypotenuse of a right triangle, in modern times known as Pythagoras’ Theorem.
But, as Dr Mansfield noted: “In reality, elements of this understanding are apparent throughout history.”
The tablet proves that about a thousand years before the Greek astronomers were looking at the night sky, Babylonian surveyors had their own unique understanding of right triangles and rectangles.
But, rather than using the technique to look at the night sky, they applied it on the ground in day-to-day life.
They did not have what we today call the theorem.
Instead, they knew all the particular cases where the theorem held true, myriad examples of rectangles that had pleasant, easy to manage measurements. New research from Dr Mansfield and his team has since shed light on a long-standing mystery: how the ancient Babylonians may have actually used these tablets.
He explained: “This tablet shows us that the application is actually surveying, these people are making boundaries and making really accurate boundaries using their understanding of geometry.
“Pure mathematics is the study of mathematics for its own sake.
“But it’s often motivated by the problems of the day.
“Plimpton 322 arguably fits into this category because we see a mathematician generating all these rectangles and then analysing them to see which ones have regular sides, which is a relevant problem in contemporary surveying.”
The tablet shows us that Babylonian surveying became a lot more accurate during this time.
Archaeologists in Iraq find ancient wine press, carvings
According to an AFP report, researchers working at the site of Khinis in northern Iraq uncovered stone-cut pits dated to the eighth century B.C. and the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.
The stone bas-reliefs, showing kings praying to the gods, were cut into the walls of a nearly nine-kilometre-long (5.5-mile) irrigation canal at Faida in northern Iraq, the joint team of archaeologists from the Department of Antiquities in Dohuk and colleagues from Italy said.
The carvings, 12 panels measuring five metres (16 feet) wide and two metres tall, show gods, kings and sacred animals. They date from the reigns of Sargon II (721-705 BC) and his son Sennacherib.
“There are other places with rock reliefs in Iraq, especially in Kurdistan, but none are so huge and monumental as this one,” said Italian archaeologist Daniele Morandi Bonacossi.
“The scenes represent the Assyrian king praying in front of the Assyrian gods,” he said, noting that the seven key gods are all seen, including Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, who is depicted on top of a lion.
Ancient ‘propaganda scene’
The irrigation canal was cut into limestone to carry water from the hills to the fields of farmers, and the carvings were made to remind people of the king who ordered its construction.
“It was not only a religious scene of prayer, but it was also political, a sort of propaganda scene,” Morandi Bonacossi added.
“The king, in this way, wanted to show to the people living in the area that he was the one who has created these massive irrigation systems, so… the people should remember this and remain loyal.”
At Khinis, also near Dohuk, the team unearthed giant stone basins cut into the white rock that was used in commercial wine-making during the reign of Sennacherib, in the late 8th or early 7th century BC.
“It was a sort of industrial wine factory,” said Morandi Bonacossi, professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the Italy’s University of Udine, adding this was the first such discovery in Iraq.
“We have found 14 installations, that were used to press the grapes and extract the juice, which was then processed into wine.”
Some of the most famous carvings that have survived from the Assyrian period are the mythical winged bulls, with examples of the monumental reliefs seen in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, as well as the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London.
Iraq was the birthplace of some of the world’s earliest cities. As well as Assyrians it was once home to Sumerians and Babylonians, and to among humankind’s first examples of writing.
But it is also now a location for smugglers of ancient artefacts. Looters decimated the country’s ancient past, including after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Then, from 2014 and 2017, the Islamic State group demolished dozens of pre-Islamic treasures with bulldozers, pickaxes and explosives. They also used smuggling to finance their operations.
Ancient maps of Jupiter’s path show Babylonians’ advanced maths
Analysis of an ancient codebreaking tablet has revealed that Babylonian astronomers had calculated the movements of Jupiter using an early form of geometric calculus some 1,400 years before we thought the technique was invented by the Europeans.
This means that these ancient Mesopotamian astronomers had not only figured out how to predict Jupiter’s paths more than 1,000 years before the first telescopes existed, but they were using mathematical techniques that would form the foundations of modern calculus as we now know it.
“This shows just how highly developed this ancient culture was,” historian Matthieu Ossendrijver from Humboldt University in Germany told Maddie Stone at Gizmodo. “I don’t think anybody expected something like this would be discovered in a Babylonian text.”
The key to figuring this out was a single, 50-year-old photograph of an astronomical tablet, which Ossendrijver used to decode the meaning of a strange trapezoid that had been carved into the stone more than 2,000 years ago.
For decades, researchers had been confounded by four Babylonian tablets held by London’s British Museum that all cite this trapezoid shape in the text referring to Jupiter’s movements across the sky. While we have plenty of archaeological evidence that basic geometry was often used in Babylonian mathematics, until now, we’ve only seen signs of them using arithmetic.
So why would they be referring to geometrical calculations based on the long and short sides of a trapezoid? Without the codebreaking tablet in the photograph above, it just didn’t add up.
These cuneiform tablets were excavated from sites in Babylon and Uruk (now Iraq) in the 19th century and transported to the British Museum. Ossendrijver has known the contents of the four tablets like the back of his hand for decades, but until encountering this photograph, he’d never seen the fifth.
“When I found this tablet last year, I immediately thought of these other tablets that I knew about, a few of which I translated myself,” Ossendrijver told Joshua Sokol at New Scientist. “But I never understood them.”
Essentially, this tablet held the key to understanding how the Babylonians used the trapezoid shape to predict Jupiter’s position, which was integral to their beliefs about the weather, the price of goods, and the fluctuating river levels throughout the year.
“The now-decoded ‘text A’ describes a procedure for calculating Jupiter’s displacement across the ecliptic plane, the path that the Sun appears to trace through the stars, over the course of a year,” says Maddie Stone at Gizmodo.
“According to the text, the Babylonians did so by tracking Jupiter’s speed as a function of time and determining the area under a time-velocity curve.”
Pretty impressive, right?
And what’s fascinating is French and British scholars had been using the same technique during the 14th century – using trapezoids to calculate measurements of velocity and displacement – and everyone had assumed it originated with them.
“In 1350, mathematicians understood that if you compute the area under this curve, you get the distance travelled,” Ossendrijver told Gizmodo. “That’s quite an abstract insight about the connection between time and motion. What is shown by [these texts] is that this insight came about in Babylonia.”
3,700-year-old Babylonian tablet rewrites the history of maths – and shows the Greeks did not develop trigonometry
Tucked away in a seemingly forgotten corner of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Daniel Mansfield found what may solve one of ancient math’s biggest questions. First exhumed in 1894 from what is now Baghdad, the circular tablet — broken at the centre with small perpendicular indentations across it — was feared lost to antiquity. But in 2018, a photo of the tablet showed up in Mansfield’s inbox.
Mansfield, a senior lecturer of mathematics at the University of New South Wales Sydney, had suspected the tablet was real. He came across records of its excavation and began the hunt. Word got around about what he was looking for, and then the email came. He knew what he had to do: travel to Turkey and examine it at the museum.
Hidden within this tablet is not only the oldest known display of applied geometry but a new ancient understanding of triangles. It could rewrite what we know about the history of mathematics, Mansfield argues. These findings were published Wednesday in the journal Foundations of Science.
It’s generally thought that trigonometry — a subset of geometry and what’s displayed on the tablet in a crude sense — was developed by ancient Greeks like the philosopher Pythagoras. However, analysis of the tablet suggests it was created 1,000 years before Pythagoras was born. Babylonian mathematics, which already holds a place of renown in the pantheon of ancient math, might’ve been more sophisticated than historians have given it credit for.
“The way we understand trigonometry harks back to ancient Greek astronomers,” Mansfield tells Inverse. “I like to think of the Babylonian understanding of right triangles as an unexpected prequel, which really is an independent story because the Babylonians weren’t using it to measure the stars, they were using it to measure the ground.”
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW FIRST — Mansfield is no stranger to a pair of white gloves and following his mathematical curiosity. Years before discovering this latest tablet, dubbed Si.427, Mansfield was hot on the trail of another ancient Babylonian “document:” Plimpton 322. While the location of this artefact was known (it’s located at Columbia University) its true purpose was not.
Like Si.427, which dates back to roughly 1900 to 1600 BCE, Plimpton 322 is covered in geometric markings — riddles academics have tried to decipher for years. While the reigning theory was that these markings were a kind of teacher’s cheat code for Babylonian homework problems, Mansfield and colleagues were not convinced. In a 2017 paper, Mansfield and colleagues propose Plimpton 322 might be a kind of proto-trigonometry table of values — suggesting it predates the development of trigonometry as we know it today.
“A modern analogy would be to say that it contains a mix of elementary school problems alongside the unsolved conjectures of mathematics,” writes Mansfield in the new paper.
WHAT’S NEW — Now, Mansfield argues the discovery of Si.427 could confirm his Plimpton 322 hunch. In essence, Si.427 is argued to be a case study of how this proto-trig could be used in practice.
Si.427 is what’s known as a cadastral document. These are used to document the boundaries of land ownership. There are other examples on record, but Mansfield argues this tablet is the oldest known example from the Old Babylonian period — a range that stretches from 1900 BCE to 1600 BCE. On the tablet are legal and geometry details about a field that was split after some of it were sold.
This research suggests Plimpton 322 was used similarly: It might have been a surveyor’s cheat sheet, instead of a teacher’s. It’s possible Plimpton 322 was the theoretical solution to the practical problems a surveyor using Si.427 might have encountered.
“It’s a discovery that has come to us far outside our mathematical culture,” Mansfield says. “It seems new and fresh to us, even though it’s almost 4,000 years old.”
WHY IT MATTERS — While these tablets are the kind of thing you might easily walk past on display in a museum, Mansfield said this discovery could actually have a huge implication for how we understand these ancient mathematics. Namely, it means mathematicians were working with so-called Pythagorean triples (trios of numbers that satisfy the infamous a^2+b^2 = c^2 equation) long before Pythagoras himself was even born. It also helps answer a slightly less academic question: How do you evenly divide up disputed land?
“This is from a period where land is starting to become private — people started thinking about the land in terms of ‘my land and your land,’ wanting to establish a proper boundary to have positive neighbourly relationships,” Mansfield explains in a statement.
“And this is what this tablet immediately says. It’s a field being split, and new boundaries are made.”
HOW DOES IT WORK? — As for how triangles sketched in clay translate to farmer’s fields, it all comes down to perpendicular lines. Essentially, surveyors would choose two Pythagorean triples (which were inherently right triangles) and extend the boundary line of the resultant rectangle by eye to create true perpendicular lines that spread across the entire field.
“This proves that our Babylonian surveyor had a solid theoretical understanding of the geometry of rectangles and right triangles and used it to solve practical problems,” Mansfield says in the video.
There are also instances of resizing these triangles to better fit the physical shape of the field at hand, which surveyors would’ve liked done by referencing a table of trig values like Plimpton 322, the study suggests. This table would’ve been a comprehensive list of Pythagorean triples and the steps to resizing them.
WHAT’S NEXT — This discovery may have laid to rest one ancient math mystery, there’s still plenty more where that came from, Mansfield says.
“Ancient mathematics is not as sophisticated as modern mathematics,” he says. “But sometimes you want to simple answers instead of sophisticated ones.”
He’s not “just talking about how mathematics students want their exams to be.” The advantage of a simple approach is its quickness — and Mansfield wants to examine whether or not this approach has any real-world applications.
“This approach might be of benefit in computer graphics or any application where speed is more important than precision,” he says.
Abstract: Plimpton 322 is one of the most sophisticated and interesting mathematical objects from antiquity. It is often regarded as teacher’s list of school problems, however new analysis suggests that it relates to a particular geometric problem in contemporary surveying.
Iraq says the US returning 17,000 looted ancient treasures
Next month, museum-goers in Iraq are in for a surprise. Eighteen years after it was looted from the city, a clay tablet bearing the Epic of Gilgamesh, regarded as one of the world’s oldest surviving pieces of literature, is set to return to the place of its birth.
Iraq Tuesday reclaimed more than 17,000 ancient artefacts looted and smuggled out of the country after the US invasion in 2003, reported The New York Times.
About 12,000 of the returned artifacts had been housed in the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC and 5,381 had been held by Cornell University. Both institutions have been pulled up by US authorities in the past for holding artifacts that were not acquired through appropriate means.
Iraqi culture and foreign ministries disclosed to the NYT that US authorities had reached an agreement with Iraq to return items seized from dealers and museums in the US. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought back the artifacts on his plane, after making an official visit to the US last week.
After 1991, when the Iraqi government lost control of parts of southern Iraq following the first Gulf War, widespread looting occurred at historical sites. The looting continued after the US-led invasion in 2003 — the year that also witnessed the end of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Many artefacts were also smuggled or destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants during the period between 2014 and 2017 when it controlled some parts of Iraq.
The Gilgamesh tablet
The Gilgamesh tablet is a prized and much-anticipated retrieval.
The 3,500-year-old clay tablet bearing the Epic of Gilgamesh is considered one of the world’s first pieces of notable literature. The epic is believed to predate Homer’s Iliad by 1,500 years and is one of the beloved tales of Mesopotamia — present-day Iraq.
The epic is based on the many adventures of the handsome athletic king of Uruk, Gilgamesh (2900–2350 BC).
Many of the other clay tablets and seals that have been returned by the US also are linked to Mesopotamia — one of the world’s earliest civilisations — and even to Irisagrig, a lost ancient city.
The tablet will return to Iraq in September after legal procedures are wrapped up, Iraq’s Culture Minister Hassan Nadhem told Reuters. Speaking on the cultural value of the artifacts, he told The New York Times: “This is not just about thousands of tablets coming back to Iraq again — it is about the Iraqi people.”
Back to places of origin
In 2013, the US Justice Department urged Cornell University to give back thousands of ancient tablets believed to have been looted from Iraq in the 1990s, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In 2019, US authorities seized the Gilgamesh tablet displayed at the Washington museum after it was revealed to have been smuggled, auctioned and sold to an art dealer in Oklahoma.
An American antiquities dealer had bought the tablet from a London-based dealer in 2003, the US Department of Justice said in a statement last week.
Australia, too, in a statement last week, announced it would return 14 works of art, worth a combined $3 million, to the Indian government.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, a team of French archaeologists discovered the ruins of a long-lost ancient city. The ancient city of Kunara, in the Zagros mountains, was discovered by archaeologists over the course of six excavations between 2012 and 2018.
Previously, experts had been prevented from exploring the site, near the modern city of Sulaymaniyah, by Saddam Hussein’s regime and conflicts in the region.
The discovery is described in the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) journal.
Located on the western border of the Mesopotamian Empire, the city may have been an important centre of an ancient mountainous people known as the Lullubi, according to experts.
Large stone foundations were discovered at the site, which dates to around 2200 B.C. Dozens of clay tablets covered with cuneiform writing were also found, shedding light on the city’s agriculture. For example, the first of the clay tablets discovered records the delivery of different types of flour.
The archaeologists’ research indicates that the city’s demise occurred about 4,000 years ago when it was ravaged by fire.
However, the city’s name is still unknown. Further excavation of the site will take place in the fall.
Ancient sites in other parts of the world are also revealing their secrets. Last year, archaeologists in Greece located the remains of a lost city believed to have been settled by captives from the Trojan War.
Separately in 2018, archaeologists in Western Mexico used sophisticated laser technology to discover a lost city that may have had as many buildings as Manhattan.
In 2017, archaeologists harnessed spy satellite imagery and drones to help identify the site of an ancient lost city in Northern Iraq.
The Qalatga Darband site overlooks the Lower Zab river at the western edge of the Zagros Mountains, is part of a historic route from ancient Mesopotamia to Iran.
Experts recently created a stunning digital reconstruction of a centuries-old lost city discovered in South Africa. In another project, researchers have shed new light on the events that led to the demise of the ancient Cambodian megacity of Angkor.
3400-year-old palace from a mysterious kingdom surface in Iraq during drought
After the waters in the Mosul Dam reservoir have receded, researchers said they’ve uncovered “one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region.” According to researchers, the Mittani Kingdom is one of the least understood ancient civilizations.
A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists found a 3,400-year-old palace belonging to the enigmatic Mittani Empire, which they had found while excavating at the Neolithic settlement of Umm el-Qaab in southern Iraq, the University of Tübingen published on Thursday.
The discovery was only made possible by a drought that significantly reduced water levels in the Mosul Dam reservoir.
“The find is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region in recent decades and illustrates the success of the Kurdish-German cooperation,” said Hasan Ahmed Qasim, a Kurdish archaeologist of the Duhok Directorate of Antiquities who worked on the site.
Shrouded in mystery
Last year, the team of archaeologists launched an emergency rescue evacuation of the ruins when receding waters revealed them on the ancient banks of the Tigris. The ruins are part of only a handful discovered from the Mittani Empire.
“The Mittani Empire is one of the least researched empires of the Ancient Near East,” said archaeologist Ivana Puljiz of the University of Tübingen. “Even the capital of the Mittani Empire has not been identified.”
The team had little time to spare as water levels continued to rise, eventually submerging the ruins again. At least 10 cuneiforms clay tablets were discovered inside the palace.
“We also found remains of wall paints in bright shades of red and blue,” Puljiz said. “In the second millennium BCE, murals were probably a typical feature of palaces in the Ancient Near East, but we rarely find them preserved. Discovering wall paintings in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.”
A team of researchers in Germany will now try to interpret the cuneiform tablets.
They hope that the clay tablets will reveal more about the Mittani Empire, which once dominated life in parts of Syria and northern Mesopotamia.