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.”
Dates to ca. 1307–1275 B.C., northern Mesopotamia, 54.3 cm long, and made of bronze.
This curved sword bears the cuneiform inscription “Palace of Adad-nirari, king of the universe, son of Arik-den-ili, king of Assyria, son of Enlil-nirari, king of Assyria,” indicating that it was the property of the Middle Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.).
The inscription appears in three places on the sword: on both sides of the blade and along its (noncutting) edge. Also on both sides of the blade is an engraving of an antelope reclining on some sort of platform.
Literature from Mesopotamia: The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 6
This Neo-Assyrian tablet preserves parts of the sixth tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In this tablet, the goddess of love and war, Ishtar, attempts to seduce Gilgamesh who rejects her. When Ishtar’s father, the god Anu, sends the Bull of Heaven down to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her, Enkidu kills the creature. One of the most significant works of Akkadian literature, the story grapples with the themes of friendship, mortality, and the origins of man. (Source)
Sumerian Silver Lyre, from Ur, southern Iraq, c. 2600-2400 BC
This lyre was found in the ‘Great Death-Pit’, one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The burial in the Great Death-Pit was accompanied by seventy-four bodies - six men and sixty-eight women -laid down in rows on the floor of the pit. Three lyres were piled one on top of another. They were all made from wood which had decayed by the time they were excavated, but two of them, of which this is one, were entirely covered in sheet silver attached by small silver nails. The plaques down the front of the sounding box are made of shell. The silver cow’s head decorating the front has inlaid eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. The edges of the sound box have a narrow border of shell and lapis lazuli inlay.
When found, the lyre lay in the soil. The metal was very brittle and the uprights were squashed flat. First it was photographed, and then covered in wax and waxed cloth to hold it together for lifting. The silver on the top and back edge of the sounding box had been destroyed. Some of the silver preserved the impression of matting on which it must have originally lain. Eleven silver tubes acted as the tuning pegs.
Such instruments were probably important parts of rituals at court and temple. There are representations of lyre players and their instruments on cylinder seals, and on the Standard of Ur being played alongside a possible singer.
The revised reconstruction of Tablet V yields text that is nearly twenty lines longer than previously known.
The obverse (columns i-ii) duplicates the Neo-Assyrian fragments which means the Epic tablet can be placed in order and used to fill in the gaps between them. It also shows the recension on Tablet V was in Babylonia, as well as Assyria and that “izzizūma inappatū qišta” is the same phrase that other tablets being with.
The reverse (columns v-vi) duplicates parts of the reverse (columns iv-vi) of the late Babylonian tablet excavated at Uruk that begins with the inscription “Humbāba pâšu īpušma iqabbi izakkara ana Gilgāmeš”.
The most interesting piece of information provided by this new source is the continuation of the description of the Cedar Forest:
The aftermath of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s slaying of Humbaba is now better preserved.
The passages are consistent with other versions and confirm what was already known. For example, Enkidu had spent some time with Humbaba in his youth.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu saw ‘monkeys’ as part of the exotic and noisy fauna of the Cedar Forest; this was not mentioned in other versions of the Epic.
Humbaba emerges, not as a barbarian ogre, and but as a foreign ruler entertained with exotic music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings. The chatter of monkeys, chorus of cicada, and squawking of many kinds of birds formed a symphony (or cacophony) that daily entertained the forest’s guardian, Humbaba.
Head of a Winged Protective Spirit from Room B at the Northwest Palace of Nimrud, the Assyrian Capital. The alabaster wall relief dates back to the era of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE). Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.
Sumerian Electrum Hedgehog, Early 2nd Millennium BC
The symbolic meaning of the hedgehog to Sumerians is a mystery although, they may have shared the same beliefs as the Egyptians who saw the awakening of hedgehogs from hibernation as a symbol of rebirth. In several ancient Egyptian scenes from the Old Kingdom hedgehogs are shown as inhabiting the deserts; by living there, on the edge of the ordered world, they could be seen as triumphing over adversity, and hence as another symbol of continued life.
The figure could be an aspect of the goddess Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love and war, or Ishtar’s sister and rival, the goddess Ereshkigal who ruled over the Underworld, or the demoness Lilitu, known in the Bible as Lilith. The plaque probably stood in a shrine.
Old Babylonian era, 1800-1750 BCE, from southern Iraq (place of excavation is unknown), Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
“A new study of ancient Assyrian medical texts from Mesopotamia, in what
is now Iraq, shows that Assyrian doctors were diagnosing and treating
psychological conditions related to war. One assumption ancient
Assyrians made was that the gods allowed dead people’s spirits to punish
living people. So warriors who experienced mental trauma were thought
to be under attack by the ghosts of people they killed in battle. Today
we call this mental trauma from war and other difficult experiences
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, often shortened to PTSD.” - See more here
To the place where those who enter do not depart, to the road whose journey does not end, to the house where those who enter are deprived of light, where dust is their sustenance, clay their food…
Written in Akkadian, this tablet from the famed library of Ashurbanipal, the last Neo-Assyrian king, tells the mythological story of the goddess Ishtar’s descent to the underworld. Upon her arrival, she finds its first gate shut and threatens to break it down until the gatekeeper, acting on the orders of Queen of the Underworld, lets her through. At each of the seven gates of the Underworld, she must shed a layer of clothing or jewelry, leaving her powerless upon her arrival before the Queen. Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility (…and war), was thus trapped in the underworld, and her absence left the world above in suffering and chaos. Eventually, by the agency of gods greater than the Queen of the Underworld, Ishtar is released and her apparel restored to her, and order is restored to the world. (Source)
The work is a beautiful piece of Akkadian poetry with roots in the much earlier Sumerian myth of the Descent of Inanna, the Sumerian name for the goddess of love and fertility.
To hear a recording of the poem in Akkadian alongside one English translation, see here.