Hundreds of ancient tablets confiscated from a billionaire antiques collector reveal what life was like in an ancient Sumerian city that flourished some 4,000 years ago.
Since 2009, Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green has been collecting thousands of ancient artifacts, most of which went to the Museum of the Bible that opened in 2017. Among the collection are 450 cuneiform tablets believed to have been smuggled into the United States by looters who discovered the ancient city of Irisagrig in 2003.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement have seized the tablets, which are dated back to 2,100 to 1,600 B.C., along with a few thousand other artifacts in Green's collection. ICE has sent them to scholars for examination before they are returned to Iraq.
The Lost City Of Irisagrig
After spending only two days studying the 250 of the 450 stolen tablets, Professor Eckart Frahm, who studies Near Eastern languages and civilizations at Yale University, says the tablets reveal a "fascinating light" on what is indeed the lost city of Irisagrig.
Most of the tablets contain government records that reveal the city's day-to-day administrative affairs. Some records, for instance, show how the government allocated "sustenance plots" for its citizens, while other tablets reveal how food was allocated for the "dogs of the palace." According to Frahm, the royal canines were apparently well-fed.
Other tablets show food allocations for government officials, who went on missions such as fixing the "royal road" and inspecting canals. They also contain incantations and magical spells, possibly used in religious rituals of old.
Frahm says the tablets were very likely found in the same archive. Most of them are in the same fragile condition, with salt encrusting large patches of their surfaces. Frahm believes they may have fallen to the ground, with one side possibly exposed to water and the other side protected from harm.
"Each individual tablet was wrapped," Frahm says, "and it took a considerable amount of time to unwrap and number them, and then rewrap them again."
Where Is The Lost City Of Irisagrig?
Scholars have found a few geographical clues that point to the possible location of Irisagrig. The most likely candidate, according to Spanish National Research Council research professor Manuel Molina, is an area in southern Iraq near what is now known as the town of Afak. Currently named Site 1056, the area contains what is called a tell, a mound left by the debris of ancient human occupation.
In 2003, it is believed that looters have discovered the site of Irisagrig and have smuggled its artifacts, thousands of which are now located in various parts of the world. A thorough look at the Cuneiform Digital Library and the Database of Neo-Sumerian Texts show artifacts from Irisagrig are found everywhere, including California, Illinois, New York, Israel, and Lebanon.
"In my view, it is certain that all tablets identified by scholars as coming from ancient Irisagrig have been looted," Molina says. "The reason is simply because the only ones who know the location of Irisagrig are the looters of the site, who found it around 2003."
The latest satellite imagery of Site 1056 indicates much of the looting may have stopped in 2009. Still, Molina says on-the-ground archaeological work must be done to make sure Site 1056 is the site of the lost city.