Assyrian Tablets at Tayinat are a Library of Literary Texts

Last summer headlines were made when a team of archaeologists unearthed a cache of tablets from an Assyrian temple at Tayinat. They were discovered by a team led by Professor Tim Harrison of the University of Toronto. Conservation and translation work is ongoing and it is hoped that some translations will be ready in the months ahead.

Last Friday, at an archaeology research day presentation in Toronto, Professor Harrison shared some news on what the translations are revealing. He said in his remarks that the cache of tablets is essentially a collection of literary texts and is part of a library, loosely defined. He also commented that the Assyrians may have made use of these texts as part of their efforts at promoting imperial ideology among the populace.

He also announced that they had discovered at least part of a story called the Epic of Anzu. This ancient story is about a giant bird that makes the mistake of stealing an item called the ‘tablet of destinies’ from the god Enlil. Anzu is eventually killed in battle by the war god Ninurta, who returns the tablets to Enlil.

According to the Dictionary of the Ancient Near East the Assyrian version of Anzu (during the time that they ruled Tayinat), may have been a lion-bird hybrid.

The story is by no means unique to Tayinat. Versions of this story go as far back as the third millennium BC. In Sumerian Anzu is known as Imdugud and according to the dictionary had the ability to cause sandstorms and whirlwinds by flapping its wings.