(From the Port Tench and Haven River Mercury, June 3, 2018)
The scientific and archaeological worlds are abuzz this week. The ancient settlement referred to as EB38 (by the Danish team responsible for excavations in the vicinity of modern day U Telg) was considered lost forever. Many were inclined to doubt it ever existed. References in the works of the Roman Historian Cassion, who wrote in Greek, testify to the existence of an “outpost” in the region which had disappeared by Cassion’s day but had remained in the memory of the local Carphoneian (possibly modern Garfizh or Giffzi) tribespeople.
While no common artifacts or structures have yet been uncovered, let alone water sources, there has been one truly dramatic find which has left the scholarly world aghast. A single inscribed “stele” or small stone monument some three thousand years old or more (confirmed) has been discovered in the sands; and, since the stone is certainly of local provenance and its inscription is in the well known Ginbrizi A (or Ghibrizh) script, scientists can confirm that the population of EB38 in one particular year was 397, 000. No other reading of the inscription is possible. This number is considered a reference to a floating population, since it is thought that EB38 was a trading hub. Nonetheless, according to multiple computer models by the Finnish Institute of Population Studies (or FinPop) the permanent population at that time must have been in the vicinity of 263,000. In short, Cassion’s mysterious “outpost” may have been the ancient world’s largest pre-Roman city!
The discovery has generated world-wide excitement and much new funding for the project. The United Nations Committee on Climate and Population (UNCCP) has become a principal backer, since it is thought the discovery may serve to deepen our understanding of the link between climate disruption and sudden depopulation events. UNCCP spokesperson, Australian Kylie McGlone, says that “EB38 may be a warning voice from our remote past as to humanity’s immediate future”.
You can read more about EB38 on the UNCCP website. Should you wish to join Friends of EB38 there are various levels of membership available at their site. (Safe transactions by PayPrompt or major credit card.)
When Yonak was a young man he decided to bring his new wife to the all but forgotten Well of Ulx, the whereabouts of which had been described to him by his grandfather. It lay on the abandoned trade route west to Tumbarkand and was supposed to be marked by a cluster of many date palms. If Yonak managed to find water there he would make the place his home, provide for the odd trader or traveller, perhaps be founder of a village. If he could find no water before the couple’s supplies began to give out he would return to Jiblab, the town of his birth, and resume his trade of urine collector for the local cloth dyers.
The journey by one camel was very long and arduous. Fortunately Yonak rode well and his wife was a good walker. They finally arrived at the oasis, now waterless but still with its many date palms – a good sign.
He spent a month toiling down in the dry well hole, filling baskets with rubble which were then hoisted aloft by his sturdy wife. At last he found a muddy trickle, enough water to enable them to stay a little longer if they supplemented their food supplies with game.
Then the trickle became a pool. After more months spent hauling palm fronds and trunks to reinforce the sides of the expanding well Yonak and his wife were able to draw up water easily in goatskin-lined baskets. It became clear that there would be enough for a large family with plenty left over for the odd paying traveller.
A date scavenger was first to arrive at the newly dug well. He attempted to steal Yonak’s camel but was apprehended. Yonak at first thought to do what was most honourable and cut off the man’s legs, as was traditional with all who steal a means of transport. However he decided to cut off the thief’s ears and send him on his way. When his wife – a touch offended that the thief had tried to steal the camel rather than herself – complained of his mildness, Yonak gave a shrewd wink.
“And how might a legless man make known our new commerce to the rest of the world?”
His wife realised that, despite initial misgivings, her father had indeed given her to a capable and wily man who would go far in business.
Travellers began to arrive from both directions. Soon the couple were catering to customers almost every week, buying food from some to sell to others at profit. Yonak asked a very high price but paid attention to the quality of his food and water, and to the formality of his greetings.
“If we start cheap, they will expect cheap. Rather, the best traders must seek us out for our quality while the poor ones may as well take the long northern route and spend their pittance there. Yonak’s Hospice will be renowned as best in the west, and we will be able to buy many quality things from our customers, who will be happy to lighten their loads for a discount if we do not show too much enthusiasm.”
Yonak’s wife learned to show most disdain for the goods she most wanted. Soon they had all the makings of a household. When Yonak’s first child was born – sadly, a girl – she was born on a fine rug and into a prosperous family.
By the time a son was born the well was attracting several customers a week.
One day a traveller who was clearly not a trader arrived at the well. Well dressed and well armed, he introduced himself as the Bailiff of the Vice-Regent of the Principality of Adlib. Yonak’s heart sank. He felt sure that the official had come to collect taxes or even to drive him from his well.
After the usual elaborate greetings and blessings the stranger asked to tour the area and inspect the well. He made specific note of the two well heeled traders presently about to stay the night. Yonak decided that complaint was his best resort:
“Unfortunately, we may have no more customers for weeks. Such is life here in the wild. Still, if a man choose poverty he can hardly grumble, Lord Bailiff.”
“So few customers? That will be a great disappointment to the vice-regent. It will be hard news for him to give to the regent…who must then inform the young prince.”
“Ah, so it is, sir. In these desert parts, with the northern route so popular…”
“Nonetheless, I must now fulfil my commission!”
“Y…Your commission, sir?”
“Indeed. The Principality of Adlib rewards all those who extend the blessings and amenities of civilisation. The prince himself enquires daily as to the numbers in his principality. Why, if the number of residents should fall below a certain level the principality will again be absorbed into the Kingdom of Mor. Such a merger will go hard on us administrators of Adlib. And it will go hard on you poor business folk. Rather than give money to reward your enterprise, a remote authority in Mor will simply want to wring as much tax from you as it can…”
“G…give money, did you say?”
“Oh, I nearly forgot. Here is your little purse of silver, compliments of the prince, the regent, the vice-regent and myself. It’s as much as we can spare. Keep up the good work, and mind that you count every guest who comes to your oasis. If even a vagabond passes the first date palm, count him! As long as the principality can produce male heirs and show proof of sufficient population it will remain independent of Mor under the Treaty of Crum Pet. Mind you, a show of wealth may arouse too much interest in Mor. Do not show riches, Master Yonak…
“Show numbers of all who enter, as often as they enter. When I return in a month, make sure you have marked in clay the numbers. You know the saying: What is marked in clay is twice times true; what is marked in stone is true three times over. So do not speak numbers, show numbers!”
While the extra labour of counting and then etching in clay was wearisome, Yonak took to it with a good heart and a certain natural aptitude. As he explained to his wife: “The more the clay work mounts, the more money we have made, both from our customers and the principality.”
When the bailiff returned after a month Yonak was able to show him in solid clay several dozen arrivals at the oasis. As the bailiff again handed over a small purse he remarked:
“You know, Master Yonak, should you and your family happen to walk in and out of the oasis past the first palm, you must count four in the clay. Should you step out and in again, count another four. A guest who steps out to urinate – as all should! – must be re-counted. Why, a guest with a loose bladder may well swell your numbers to another ten for the evening. The Principality of Adlib is not interested in approximations, but in strict factual truth, as demanded by the Moon Goddess Sith-Ith…I mean Sith-Zith…Sorry, I always have problems pronouncing her sacred name…”
When the bailiff returned the next month he was presented with a clay tablet indicating hundreds of arrivals in the Oasis of Yonak. Delighted, the bailiff showed Yonak how to etch large numbers with a few strokes, using the numeral system called Giberizh, after the desert god who counted all the sand grains in a large dune where he lived.
Before leaving the bailiff remarked almost casually: “Remember, Master Yonak, a cross placed above a numeral increases that numeral ten-fold. another cross above that cross increases it a hundred-fold. More crosses…same thing. Of course, the crosses can also simply mean that the inscriber is expressing love and faith to the Prince of Adlib, his regent, vice-regent and bailiff. That is another way of interpreting the crosses. They may be seen as representing kisses.” The bailiff winked and tossed a purse which was double the weight of the previous ones.
Now Yonak, in spite of his humble beginnings as a urine carter in Jiblab, had always been quick of understanding. While he was a little uneasy at what might be considered a distortion of the truth, his mind was shortly set to rest by a Grosbian soothsayer who spent the evening at the well. He was a man of great age and wisdom who happened to mention to Yonak that men’s spirits flutter constantly back and forth during the hours of sleep and dreams.
“Beyond the confines of this oasis, Master Soothsayer?”
“Oh, undoubtedly, Master Yonak.”
“Ten times? Twenty times?”
“More like a hundred times, according to the latest science out of Chaldea. Those Chaldeans…what scholars!”
That very night Yonak made plans.
In the months which followed he left most of the hospice work to his wife while he worked on his technique of writing numbers in clay. When the bailiff returned, he was given a tablet almost dry, superbly etched…and each time with a cross above the first digit. Each time the bailiff showed his appreciation.
In spite of this success, two problems had emerged. His wife was growing peevish and the level of the water in the well had sunk a little. Still, each month Yonak was able to present the bailiff with a clay tablet which looked like the work of a master scribe and which boosted the population levels of the principality. And the satisfied bailiff would give Yonak a purse, though the weight did not increase.
One month, basing his calculations on a very optimistic interpretation of the soothsayer’s theory, Yonak added another cross to the tablet. When he presented it to the bailiff, the official was wide-eyed for a moment then smiled.
“Ah, our Principality of Adlib grows great. As it must!”
Though the entire oasis happened to be deserted on that day the government man paid no heed to the absence of people as his eyes devoured the numbers on the tablet. Before departing – and after some hesitation desirable in a thrifty bailiff – he presented Yonak with two purses of silver. He also spent a good few hours instructing Yonak on how to write the symbols for the months and seasons of the year, so that he might, if so inclined, present an annual summary, a special tablet which would not have to be in strict accordance with the monthly totals since the monthly and annual accounts for the principality were kept in separate temples run by opposed sects, many days journey apart.
“Master Yonak, this is your chance to add in some of the numbers you may have neglected to count at the beginning. We owe the Goddess Sith…z…th…sth…We owe the Moon Goddess a strict accounting, do we not?”
A distracted Yonak, to his wife’s exasperation, spent days practising symbols and numbers on whatever surface he could find and with any implement to hand. When she called him out to show him the still lower level of water in their well he acted as if the water was now somehow of secondary importance to their livelihood. Eventually there was a complaint from a pair of spice traders that Yonak’s greetings were blasphemously abrupt and his water was a touch muddy. His response was evasive, and he was soon back at his scribal duties.
A thought had been maturing in his mind. Some time before a stonecutter had passed through on his way to seek work in Tumbarkand. The man was a sly drunkard and seemed to lack funds. In lieu of payment for food and board he offered to cut and bring stone from a nearby hillock of rock which rose out of the landscape in the form of a bulb. (An Egyptian traveller once told Yanok it was a piece of fallen “celestial matter”, whatever that meant.)
Like most drunkards, the stonecutter could not be persuaded when his imagination was fired: he was convinced that the attractive stone, containing flecks of coloured transparent material, could be sold to travellers if properly dressed. When he left the oasis and came back late in the day with a neatly cut stele to prove his point, it was impossible for Yanok to convince the stonecutter that travellers in the desert were not willing or able to carry away heavy stone, however attractive.
Eventually, the stonecutter did sober up and sulk off westward to Tumbarkand, leaving behind his stele which was half the height of a man and in the shape of a high and narrow pyramid.
Yonak now recalled those words of the bailiff: What is marked in clay is twice times true; what is marked in stone is true three times over.
Yonak made his decision. Ignoring his wife’s pleas for help with hospice duties and for action on their sinking water level, he set to work planning his inscription for the stele. He would not make his annual report on the numbers thronging his oasis in clay. His triumph, and that of the Principality of Adlib, would be set in stone!
The symbols would have to be perfect and a single false cut could ruin the entire piece, so Yonak spent an entire fortnight writing, measuring and practising incisions on any piece of stone he could find.
At last he set to work on the stele, content to take an entire day over one or two symbols. He was relieved the name of the Moon Goddess Sith-Zith was far easier to inscribe than to speak.
His execution was perfect: it was as if he were born to be a scribe in stone. Several guests remarked that his technique was the equal of anything they had seen in the great trading cities. (A number of other guests were saying less flattering things about their host.)
Not only did Yonak inscribe the stone, he also smoothed and slightly reshaped it till it took on true beauty of form and finish. In certain lights it glittered a little.
Finally the stone was ready. It stated clearly that within twelve revolutions of the skirts of Sith-Zith, between two drunkenings of Zoth-Suth, God of the Barley Harvest, nearly forty times one thousand had resided at the Oasis of Yonak, within the autonomous Principality of Adlib.
On the day the bailiff was due to arrive Yonak was up early – but not to do tasks. Instead he stared at the northern horizon, the stele by his side, and waited for the shimmering dot which would be the indication of a rider approaching over the far sands.
At last the dot appeared. Yonak knew that it would still be an hour till the bailiff arrived. He had time…He had time…
He peered down at the stele. Should he or shouldn’t he? After all, did the whole world contain so many people? But should he, nonetheless, not perhaps risk it?
After all, who can say how numerous are the coming and goings of men in the hours of sleep and dreams? Even the cream of Chaldeans scientists may underestimate these things.
Taking his chisel and hammer he began carefully to carve an extra cross over the first digit on the stone.
When the cross was made, the little monument now stated that nearly four hundred times a thousand people had resided at his oasis in the last year.
At last the bailiff drew near. He was very oddly dressed, his hair was longer, and his beard was somehow elongated and stiffened. Yet to Yonak’s relief the official was already smiling broadly when he brought his camel to a halt.
“Great news, Master Yonak. The greatest news ever heard!”
“Oh…I’m so pleased…I too have much good to tell…Here we have just accomplished…”
“The Kingdom of Mor is no more! I know that sounds like a pun but it is true. The King is slain, his head has been fixed high on a stake, his hide has been laid over the wall of his puny city!”
“Oh, that is great news for the princip…”
“The slavish Principality of Adlib is no more! The corrupt vice-regent, the iniquitous regent and that namby-pamby prince have been justly impaled. The walls of Adlib are a scattered rubble where widows weep and vultures feast!”
“We are now all loyal vassals of Adadnidari, King of the Assyrians, Crusher of Realms. The God Ashur and his glorious spouse, the Goddess Ishtar, who now adorn our altars, have swept away the pollution of Sith…z…th…z….of that whore fetish with the unpronounceable name, once worshipped as a Moon Goddess. Wherever her foul likeness or name are inscribed they shall be wiped away – and her idolaters baked alive on a medium heat for about two hours.”
Yonak moved nervously in front of his stele to block it from view of the bailiff.
“Now, Master Yonak, what is your good news?”
“My good news? Oh, you know, plenty of customers…plenty to do…”
“Good! Assyria appreciates those who toil honestly. That is why so many of our corrupt and lazy Adlib nobles now feed the wild dogs with their carrion corpses while conscientious officials like myself have been advanced. My years of thankless journeying under hot sun have been recognised with the granting of the Assyrian Order of Clerical Purity, Third Class. But if our new glory is to grow ever brighter, Assyria needs money, Master Yonak. Revenues. Taxes!”
“Of course! Now, the King who is also named Smasher of Realms knows how hard his subjects work and will not wish to seem oppressive, though he now has so many borders to defend against barbarous unbelievers and those sexually perverted Babylonian. I know you have received from my hands twelve purses of silver in the last eleven months. Just the return of those will do for now. And one uq of gold. Actually…better make it two uqs of gold.”
“S…silver…and…and gold too?”
“And I note you now have three camels. The king will leave you one out of his grace, though his need is now so sharp, what with the revolting Aramaeans and Hurrian malconents.”
“Lord Bailiff, I…”
“No need for thanks, Master Yonak. But within the month I will be back with assistants. Make sure you have a good measure of gold by then. These Assyrian assistants are great flayers of men.”
“More gold! But…”
“And when you lay your consumption, sales, poll, entry, exit, residency, payroll and toll taxes on these thousands of pilfering merchants, give them to understand that tax evasion will not be tolerated, not on the northern route, nor on this route. All must pay their share…or how is the king to put down neo-Hittite incursions and thwart the devious stratagems of Western Chaldeans? Well? How might your king do all this with no money? Is he to be a pauper while merchants grow fat along his trade routes?”
“N…No, Of course not, Lord Bailiff. It’s just that…”
“It’s just that my well appears to be drying up.”
“In that case, think of those brave soldiers who defend our Arabian, Lydian and Babylonian borders…and dig!”
After the bailiff had departed with most of their money and two of their camels Yonak was careful to tip the stele on to the sand so that its inscribed face was not visible. One never knew.
“To the well, wife!”
The water they were able to draw up that day was more full of sludge than on the day before. It would only be fit for camels until filtered through bottomless jars of sand and charcoal.
“We must hide our stele, wife. Wait! We may yet have good fortune while serving a double purpose. Perhaps we can pierce down lower into the base of the well by dropping the stele on its point. ”
His long-discouraged wife merely shrugged, but Yonak was again the enterprising man who had crossed the desert to revive an oasis. Picking up the heavy stone he carried it to the well and held it over the opening, its point downward. He let it go. The object gave a dull thud, with maybe a splash.
They waited. There was no hurry. All the rations had been given out for that evening and they had spare skins filled with filtered water. Any new water would need time to bubble upward.
As the sun touched the highest dunes Yonak lowered a goatskin-lined basket. Even as he hoisted it he knew from the weight that, far from drilling through to a new and fresh level, the stele had instead punctured their well, leaving them waterless.
He looked at his wife, who simply asked without sarcasm:
“When an Assyrian flays you…does he kill you first?”
After a long pause, as Yonak stood open-mouthed and gaping at nothing, his wife spoke again:
Looking suddenly old, Yonak nodded once, very slowly, then answered in a pant which was almost a whisper:
The hurried journey back to the town of Yonak’s birth was dangerous and arduous. At times he had to cover his face so that regular travellers did not recognise him. He could not be certain that the Assyrians would not pursue him, or indeed that the Assyrians were not now in control of all the country east to Jiblab. Being a man of compassion, he warned as many strangers as he encountered that there was no longer water at the old well – but he told nobody his name or business.
Luckily, Yonak and his son were good riders and his wife and daughter were good walkers. After many weeks, he arrived once again in Jiblab. Before announcing his presence to family and friends Yonak first enquired about the current political situation in the city. To his relief he learned that Jiblab was now part of the Semi-Autonomous Babylonian Protectorate of South West Elam.
Yonak was soon able to return to his original trade of urine collector for the cloth dying industry. It must be said that he was less contented in this line of work than when he had performed it in his youth. When he finally left this accustomed trade to try his hand at fine masonry and frieze inscription – of all things! – his patrons in the cloth dying industry were not sorry to lose his services. As the head of the dyers guild, Goklak-Ulq, remarked to a gathering of guild associates, Yonak was “not half the piss carter he used to be”.
(From the Port Tench and Haven River Mercury, June 30, 2023)
Reprinted from The Guardian:
Mystery still surrounds the stele found at EB38 and the massive ancient city lost in the dunes. Scientists still cannot doubt that the city existed, and this for a number of reasons. The date palm traces are so numerous that one cannot question that there was once abundant water at the site. The stele was definitely not imported yet was the work of consummate artists in both masonry and inscription, using indisputably local meteorite stone. Harriet Myers-Cunningham, spokesperson for the EB38 International Liaison Panel, has remarked that the stele in question is of a beauty and quality almost breathtaking and that it points to a level of civilisational development above all else known outside Egypt in the era immediately preceding the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
Many theories have been advanced for the complete disappearance of the city. Since nothing was burnt and there is no evidence of adobe, and since we know that structural standards must have been of a high order, it is believed by most scientists that the city was entirely of stone and that its very weight and solidity were the causes of its total engulfment by the sands. Almost certainly a great metropolis lies deep within the desert, so deep that even modern techniques cannot reach it – and it continues to sink ever deeper. Anthropologists think it highly likely that the stele was still close to the surface because it was retained for some centuries as a fetish by local tribespeople.
Dr Myers-Cunningham hopes that with greater resources and increased funding much more can be learned. “There is an undeniable thrill in uncovering lost cities. Schliemann and Evans, in proving the existence of human settlements once deemed mythical, promoted and expanded archaeology while lifting spirits. But EB38 is likely to serve a more serious if less romantic purpose. It is urgent that we know more of how civilisations can perish when faced with radical climate change. We should not let the scandals associated with the missing funds of the now defunct Friends of EB38 weaken our resolve to investigate population issues and civilisational demise in the context of climate.”
Standing by a replica of the EB38 stele, Pope Francis Ringo, in calling for Marxian-Gaian-Christian trialogue, made a telling remark in concluding negotiations for the Vatican Protocol to the Global Framework Convention on Climate Change (GFCCC):
“The next abandoned or drowned city may be your own. Turn off your appliances at the point, don’t drive if you can walk or cycle, and use a string bag at the supermarket, except for very small items. Have a nice day.”