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Congratulations! To Abather Saadoon

In this issue, our congratulations go to Dr. Abather Saadoon, who has recently completed his PhD at the University of Baghdad. His dissertation is entitled ‘Agricultural Lands in Unpublished Cuneiform Texts from the Akkadian Period in Tell Al-Wilayah’ and combined archaeological and philological approaches to study agriculture in the Old Akkadian period.

Tell al-Wilayah, writes Saadoon, is a uniquely important site because it provides us with new information about the economic system of Mesopotamia for the Old Akkadian period. Our knowledge of Old Akkadian economy is highly limited, with respect to other periods such as the Third Dynasty of Ur or the Old Babylonian period, in the term of e.g. weights, scales, prices, and wages. Likewise, we know little about the machines that were used in agriculture and irrigation, or about the various stages of agricultural work in this period.

The texts of Tell al-Wilayah are particularly important as a source of information because they were uncovered through controlled scientific excavations rather than illicit digging, and because they are the earliest group of texts known from the Old Akkadian period. Saadoon studied 40 of the texts discovered during the fourth season of excavation at Tell al-Wilayah, in 2002. Thanks to a grant from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, he was able to travel to the UK for a research visit.

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Saadoon’s tour of the UK began at SOAS with professor Mark Weeden as his advisor, but included also shorter stays at Cambridge, Liverpool, Reading and Oxford. Saadoon also worked at the British Museum reading and collating texts, and taking courses on the photography, restoration, and digital archiving of cuneiform tablets. His stay in the UK ended with a workshop at SOAS in November 2015, on the subject of the cuneiform tablets found at Tell al-Wilayah.

Combining archeology and philology

Saadoon’s dissertation includes both an archeological study of the site of Tell al-Wilayah and a philological investigations of the texts and of what they reveal about the ancient agricultural practices. He begins his dissertation by examining the geographical layout and topography of the site, and in particular the results of the fourth season of excavation, in 2002.

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He then goes on to give an overview of which texts were uncovered at Tell al-Wilayah and what kind of information they provide us with. Saadoon’s study explores a number of topics in light of this philological evidence. He investigates the ownership of agricultural land in the Old Akkadian period, as well as how this agricultural land was managed. He then examines the personal names attested at Tell al-Wilayah, in terms of their structure, grammar and meaning. Finally, he studies the attestation of metrological terms and the names of professions in this group of tablets.

Main findings

In an email to Mar Shiprim, Saadoon writes that there were four main results from his thesis:

  1. That at Tell al-Wilayah, the authority of the palace was stronger than that of the temple,
  2. That the texts record a special kind of agricultural land, termed gana2 šuku, which was granted to officials such as the maškim, scribes, carpenters, and so on,
  3. That three of the studied texts mention the city of Kesh (Keš3ki), providing further evidence in favor of the posited identification of Tell al-Wilayah as ancient Kesh,
  4. And finally, that the texts provide new evidence for the relation between scales and weights such as bur3, eše2, iku, gur, ban, and bariga.

In sum, writes Saadoon, “I hope that I have been able to add something useful to the cuneiform library, something which contributes to help researchers in the field of cuneiform studies, as a service to my dear country.”

Pictures courtesy of Abather Saadoon.