Austrian archaeologists have unearthed the oldest cuneiform seal inscription fragment ever found in Egypt. The piece dates to the Old Babylonian reign of King Hammurabi, who brought the world its first code of law, between 1792 – 1750 BC. Egypt’s culture minister Farouk Hosni announced the discovery today, made by the Austrian Archaeological Mission in a pit at Tel El-Daba, modern name of ancient Avaris, 120km north-east of Cairo in the Nile Delta.
Dr Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities chief, noted the seal was the second of its type excavated in the region. The first seal had been found in the palace of Hyksos King Khayan, who ruled Egypt between 1653 – 1614 BC. The previous oldest cuneiform seals had been found at Akhenaten‘s rogue capital city Amarna.
Austrian mission leader Dr Manfred Bietak says the two fragments could have huge repercussions for how the Hyksos, a Delta-based tribe who seized Egypt around ushering in the Second Intermediate Period, maintained ties with the Near East. “They are evidence that the Hyksos had foreign relations and extensive connections in the Near East that at this time reached southern Mesopotamia,” he says.
Avaris is a city steeped in multicultural heritage dating back over 3,000 years. It was first settled by Asiatic tribes around the time of the 12th Dynasty (2000 BC). It was also visited by Minoans, who painted magnificent frescoes on its buildings’ walls. Avaris’ Asiatic inhabitants would become rulers of Egypt around 1650 BC, when King Salitis ascended the throne. The Austrian mission has been present there since 2006 when it unearthed a royal Hyksos palace. A 5th Dynasty building has also been discovered at the site, which experts believe was an administrative centre.