In Images: Ancient Riddles Decoded

Iraq Locator

map of iraq showing baghdad

(Image credit: Sean Gladwell | Shutterstock)

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

ancient riddles, irag, sand, war landscape, war

(Image credit: Caitlin Mirra | shutterstock)

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

koi fish

(Image credit: Doug James | shutterstock)

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

Like troops before the king (What is it?)


(Image credit: Willem Tims | shutterstock)

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


(Image credit: steve estvanik | shutterstock)

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

sunshine in grass

(Image credit: Sura Nualpradid | shutterstock)

Metaphor is important for this riddle...

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

sunshine in woods

(Image credit: Dzyuba Ivan | shutterstock)

Again, think metaphorically...

The answer: sunlight


(Image credit: Valentina R. | shutterstock)

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)

open mouth

(Image credit: Georgy Markov | shutterstock)

Must be something you ate or drank...

Constantly stared at you


(Image credit: Juliya_strekoza | shutterstock)


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

glass bottles

(Image credit: Tom Freeze | shutterstock)

It's pretty common stuff...

Owen Jarus
Live Science Contributor

Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.