ARCHAEOLOGISTS have found an important "missing link" between the ancient civilisations of southern Mesopotamia and those of the eastern Mediterranean.
In a remote part of north-east Syria an international archaeological team has discovered a great 4,400-year-old walled city, containing an extraordinary archive of administrative documents which shed new light on the ancient links between the Levantine civilisation of the eastern Mediterranean coast and that of the Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia.
So far excavations at the site - Tell Beydar - 300 miles north-east of Damascus - have revealed a great temple, a royal palace, massive city walls and the archive.
65 documents have already been recovered and suggest a hybrid cultur that was part Mediterranean and part Mesopotamian. Despite its remote location - 260 miles from the sea and 15 miles from any major river - the newly discovered walled city seems to have had a sophisticated administration.
The documents - all of which are clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing - record aspects of the city's economic activity. The texts, basically monthly accounting records, reveal exactly what goods and services were being acquired for, or provided by, the city government and what other cities or communities they were being dispatched to or from.
There are 20 different personal names - including a rare non-biblical ancient reference to the name Ishmail. The Old Testament character of the same name (spelt biblically in the Hebrew way, as Ishmael) was the son of Abraham and his Egyptian concubine Hagar and has traditionally been regarded as the founder of the Arab nation.
The discovery of the "missing link" city of Tell Beydar is of potentially great importancefor biblical scholars interested in the Old Testament story of the Abraham's epic journey from southern Mesopotamia (Ur of the Chaldees) to the eastern Mediterranean lands of the Levant.
Abraham - regarded by both Arabs and Jews as their common ancestor - would have passed right through the Tell Beydar area. The excavations may well shed new light on early contact and travel between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean.
Many of the names in the Tell Beydar texts occur many times with the result that the 65 documents include about 200 names in all. Previously unattested personal names include Halti, Lushalem (probably meaning "let him be healthy"), Lalum (meaning "sexy"), Gaga, Dadalum and Qamu.
The texts also mention professions; tanners, reed-cutters, potters, millers, and scribes each occur three or four times. Shepherds crop up around 10 times, while slaves or servants are the most common.
Commodities referred to include sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, barley and sheepskins. …