Clyde W. Tombaugh


A black and white photo of Pluto silhouetted against the emptiness of the outer solar system
The last photo broadcast by New Horizons as it approached Pluto and concentrated all its resources on collecting data rather than transmitting it. Photo by NASA/APL/SwRI

About 2550 years ago, the latest king of Babylon deposited a cylinder in the foundations of a building which proclaimed to the Babylonian literati that he was just the kind of king that all the best Babylonian literature said a king should be. Building and renovating monuments was one of the basic responsibilities of a Babylonian king, and Cyrus wished to be accepted by his new subjects. Cyrus expected that every few centuries workers in the service of another king would dig up his cylinder, read it, and deposit it again with appropriate honours. In fact, Cyrus assures his audience that he has done just that as he restored walls and temples:

(43) ši-ti-ir (Erasure) šu-mu ša2 {m}AN.ŠAR2-DU3-IBILA LUGAL a-lik mah-ri-[-ia ša2 quer-ba-šu ap-pa-a]l-sa(!) (44) […] (45) [… a-na d]a-ri2-a-ti3

“A cuneiform text in the name of Assurbanipal, a king who went before me, which appeared within it [… to] immortality.” (Cyrus Cylinder ed. Schaudig tr. Manning)

Until recently, only one example of this cylinder was known, and that was excavated from the foundations of that building (exactly where has since been lost as excavations in 1880-1881 were not documented to modern standards). But in December 2009 and January 2010, W.G. Lambert and Irving Finkel identified two fragments of a transcription of the cylinder onto a tablet which was signed by one Qishti-Marduk son of Marduk or Iqish-Marduk, son of X. While the cylinder was buried in the earth, its message could circulate in copies, and perhaps in speech as well.
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