In Images: Ancient Riddles Decoded

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In Images: Ancient Riddles Decoded

Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor

Iraq Locator

In 1976, a scholar named J.J. van Dijk published a copy of an Akkadian inscription, engraved on a tablet that dates back more than 3,500 years. The tablet, at the time, was in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

The tablet translated

Since that time, Iraq has been through three wars and the Iraq Museum has been looted. The tablet’s present-day whereabouts are unknown, and it could still be in the museum.Thankfully scholars still have van Dijk’s copy, and two researchers, Nathan Wasserman and Michael Streck, recently published a full translation of the tablet in the journal Iraq. In this photo gallery, LiveScience takes a look at three of these riddles, one line at a time. Note that some of the translations are tentative.

Like fish in a fish pond

The fish are pretty, but unless you catch them, you will have nothing to eat…

Like troops before the king (What is it?)

Remember, a soldier in front of the king is a soldier who is not out fighting or guarding the kingdom…

The answer: a broken bow

Archery was widely used in the ancient world for both warfare and hunting. If your bow was broken you would be able to do neither.

The tower is high

Metaphor is important for this riddle…

It is high, but nonetheless has no shade (What is it?)

The answer: sunlight

A beam of sunlight coming to earth can look a bit like a tower. But because it is made of light, it produces no shade.

In your mouth and your teeth (or: your urine)

Must be something you ate or drank…

Constantly stared at you


The measuring vessel of your lord (What is it?)

It’s pretty common stuff…

The answer: beer

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