Saturday, August 02, 2003

"Humble Clay Tablets Are Greatest Loss to Science," Bob Holmes and James Randerson, New Scientist, 10 May 2003, page 8.

The looting of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad has been compared to the legendary destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria Egypt centuries ago. Archaeologists are less upset by the loss of sculptures that have already have been carefully studied and documented, than they are by the loss of thousands of untranslated, unphotographed ancient cuneiform tablets. These tablets are believed to have contained records of business and legal transactions, and even a second copy of the Gilgamesh epic (which might have filled in gaps left in the first known version of the tale). Even the "routine" documents, while perhaps not fascinating reading in themselves, provide a window into the operation of an ancient society: its organization, its priorities and concerns.

"There's a whole world that opens up as a document is deciphered. If it's never read, it's a loss to our collective past."

For a little more information on cuneiform: