I remember it well. It was early October 1975. We were sitting on top of the tell having lunch. One of our guests, Afif Bahnassi, the director of the Department of Antiquities of Syria, had come to visit the British Archaeological Expedition to Tell Nebi Mend (ancient Qadesh), where Pharaoh Ramesses II had fought the Hittites in about 1275 B.C. Bahnassi brought us astonishing news: Italian archaeologists digging at Tell Mardikh, farther north, had found 16,000 cuneiform tablets!
Archaeologists in Syria might dream of finding a few dozen tablets, or even a couple of hundred. At the famous site of Ugarit, a few thousand cuneiform tablets had been dug up over many seasons. Only at Mari, far to the east, down the Euphrates, had an Ebla-sized hoard been discovered—between 20,000 and 30,000; they were found in a palace dating to about 1800 B.C.