Ebla (ĕbˈlə, ēˈblə) [key], an ancient city located in N Syria 34 mi (55 km) S of Aleppo. First excavated in 1964, the ruins of the city were discovered in 1973 by an Italian archaeological expedition from the Univ. of Rome. Most importantly, nearly 20,000 cuneiform tablets were discovered (1975) in the palace archives. The tablets date from the middle of the 3d millennium and are written in Eblaite, a Semitic dialect, as well as in Sumerian. A vocabulary list matching words from the two languages was found among the tablets, which has allowed scholars to translate the previously unknown language of Eblaite. The tablets relate mostly to economic matters, showing that Ebla was a major commercial center trading mostly in textiles, wood, and finished metals. Its influence rivaled that of Egypt and Mesopotamia, stretching from the Sinai peninsula to the Mesopotamian highlands. The documents have been taken to imply that Ebla had as many as 200,000 inhabitants and a government that was administered by 12,000 officials. One of Ebla's earliest dynasties ruled from about 2400 B.C. to 2250 B.C. and was probably destroyed by Naram-Sin of Akkad. Ebla flourished again (2000–1800 B.C.), but was unable to regain its former power. Most of the remaining ruins are from this period. The tablets contain the earliest known reference to Jerusalem. Some scholars claim they also name the five biblical "Cities of the Plain" (Sodom, Gomorah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela) just as they are named in Genesis, but this claim has been contested. As an aid to studying the Bible, the tablets are most valuable as a linguistic tool, helping to illuminate some of the more difficult Hebrew readings.
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