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In the history of ancient Mesopotamia, Tello has long been considered as the city of Lagash. But the old name was then assigned to Tell Al Hiba by an American team in the late 20th century. This seems to me far from being sure. I propose another historic hypothesis.

The excavations of Tello, a Mesopotamian site

In the 19th century, the earliest known Sumerian site was that of Tello or Telloh.

According to the archaeological excavations, the site was occupied at the time of Obeid, early 4th millennium, until the 17th century BC. The remains of a ziggurat and a temple dedicated to Nin-girsou were exhumed there.

Some 50,000 cuneiform tablets were found there. Many are not yet deciphered. Despite the number of translated texts, it has long been considered that Tello was the city of Lagash, because this is the name that is most frequently encountered. Girsu and Nin-Girsu are less frequent.

Excavations of Tell Al Hiba and the recent identification as Lagash

From 1968 to 1976, an American archaeologist team of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, directed by Vaughn E. Crawford, undertook archaeological research on the tell Al Hiba. The first six weeks of excavation was conducted by Robert Koldewey in 1887.

This is a low-lying mound, about 2 meters height, with a huge area about 500 hectares, surrounded by water. To access at the site, the archaeologists had to travel half an hour by boat. This description is important because in ancient times, the city was a port with a channel passing through the city. The place was so secure. Various administrative buildings and temples have been found. The most important is the exhumation of a large oval enclosure of 93 m, identified as the Ibgal temple dedicated to the Goddess Inanna. There would be at least one tablet Tello (I have not find it) which certifies that Igbal was built in the city of Lagash. However, few cuneiform tablets were found on the Tell Al Hiba. The identification of Tell Al Hiba at Lagash appears to me uncertain.

In the Levant, the location of Lachish at the site of Tell el Hesy and later to the Tell ed-Duweir

The two tells el Hesy and ed-Duweir are not very far each other in the current country of Israel. After being identified on the tell el Hesy, Lachish is now proposed instead of the tell es Duweir, especially because, during the Iron Age, the finds coincide with the Neo-Assyrian texts, and also with the Bible.

The tell el Hesi was occupied from the Neolithic until the Bronze Age, later, it is the tell-ed Duweir who took over: the archaeological layers show a main occupation since the Iron Age up at the beginning of our era. It is possible that there was a movement of this city in the late second millennium BC.

The excavations at Tell el-Hesy were directed by Petrie and Bliss from 1890 until 1892 for the Palestine Exploration Fund.

The two important discoveries on the Tell el-Hesi are:

  • firstly a cuneiform tablet in Akkadian (now incorporated among the Amarna letters under the identifier EA333), written by an Egyptian officer named Paapu that evokes Sipti-Bala formally identified as the mayor of Lakisa in other couriers.

  • secondly a blast furnace dating from 1500 BC. J.-C.

On the tell-ed Duweir, excavations were conducted between 1932 and 1938 by James Leslie Starkey. Other researchers see Lachish at Tell Etun.

In the Neo-Assyrian texts, the city is mentioned with the spelling "Lakitsu". It was the site of a battle of Sennacherib, who recounted the siege on the walls of Nineveh:

Another place name, very close, exists in the ancient history of this region: It is known that the tribe of Dan conquered a town called Laish and gave it the name « Dan ». Some Egyptian texts curses evoke a king of Laish named Horon-av. An Aramaic inscription of Zakar, a king of Hamath gives himself the title "King of Hamath and Lu'ash". The city appears mentioned in the archives of Mari under a similar name "Laish" : Zimri-Lim sent 5kg tin to Laish.

Although this ancient city of Lachish and/or Laish is not today formally identified, its location to the Levant is almost certain.


People and / or tablets of the late third millennium were they moved from Lachish to Tello?

This seems to be an assumption quite plausible, and the place name of Lagash of the Tello tablets would refer in fact to the history of Lachish in the Levant during the late 3rd millennium BCE.

For example, the Stele of Vultures seems to have been transported after being writed by Eannatum at his glorious stade. This would explain why Lagash is not mentioned in the Sumerian king lists from Nippur. Most other lamentation texts have been written after a move of part of the people from Lagash / Lachish to Girsu / Ur in Mesopotamia. Here are two examples:

This hypothesis justify the major names of the oldest tablets:

  • Umma is the currently Amman area (or an old designation of the entire Arabian Peninsula, which Oman have inherited the name);
  • Antasura would be Ansura or Hazor ;
  • Gu'abba, near the sea, Gubla or Byblos ;
  • Gu'edena, the edge of the steppe, the Jordan, it would be the present country of Jordan ;
  • Tiras, the city of Tyre ;
  • Kimunir, the city of An-Kenamu write on the pylons of Karnak ;
  • Nina, the city of Naun write on the pylons of Karnak ;
  • Asuna, the town of Kasuna or Aksuna write on the pylons of Karnak.

This gives much more sens to the oldest texts of Tello: the location of Umma at the Tell Djokha is far from proven and most other names are unknown in Mesopotamia.

A displacement of a population that has rewritten its history (that of Lagash) after arrival in Mesopotamia (Girsu / Ur) is a hypothesis that could explain the beginning of the writing in this ancient region. The title of « patesi of Lagash » would have survived very long as an honorific title.

Some may disaprovale this approach by saying that there is no written of the 3rd millennium BC in the Levant. But when the Ebla tablets were exhumed, some historians thought that writing wasn't in use at that time to the west of the Euphrates.


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Tag(s) : #Region:Levant, #Region: Mesopotamia

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