Date of Original Version



Working Paper

Abstract or Description

In the early 20th century, the attention of Assyriologists and archaeologists was directed to a number of cuneiform tablets coming from a remote archaeological tell in Kültepe, Turkey. After the first series of excavations, archaeologists discovered a large collection of texts and the remains of a Bronze Age trade colony, referred to in the texts as k¯arum Kaneš. Once these initial ca. 5,000 texts were deciphered, the field of Old Assyrian studies was born. In 1948 official Turkish excavations began at Kültepe and added over 17,000 tablets to the Old Assyrian text corpus, which now totals ca. 23,000 cuneiform tablets [5]. These texts document the intricacies of thriving Bronze Age trade networks, comprised of Old Assyrian merchants from the ancient city of Assur approximately 4,000 years ago (ca. 1950-1750 BCE) [1]. The texts further show how the merchants acted as the middle-men in a large series of inter-connected networks which, among other things, linked the natural resources of tin (in Iran and Afghanistan) and copper (in Turkey) in order to produce bronze in Anatolia.

However, one thing the texts do not make clear is the scope and structure of the colonial trade network, in terms of the people involved and their organization. Although the high degree of literacy among the inhabitants of the colony at Kaneš helped create an extremely rich source of texts illustrating the daily life of the people involved, the practice of paponomy (naming a son after his grandfather) has obscured the identities of the merchants for modern scholarship. Thus, due to the density and ambiguity of the names mentioned in these texts, it has been too difficult to gain an understanding of the scope of the colonial society on the basis of the textual record at Kültepe.

Our work therefore focuses on jointly inferring the unique individuals as well as their social rank within the Old Assyrian trade network, using a novel probabilistic latent-variable model that exploits partial rank information contained in the texts.