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1877, however, began the first successful excavation at a Sumerian site. In that year, the
French under De Sarzec began to excavate at Telloh the ancient Sumerian city of
Lagash, an excavation which has been conducted by French archaeologists intermittently
and with long interruptions almost to the present day. It was at this site that the first
important Sumerian monuments were excavated, the objects and inscriptions of the
ishakkus or princes of Lagash. Here more than one hundred thousand tablets and
fragments were dug up, dating from the pre-Sargonid and Ur III periods."
...scores of thousands of tablets have been dug up clandestinely by the native Arabs in the mounds of Sumer,
especially in the ancient sites of Larsa, Sippar, and Umma. It is therefore difficult to estimate
the number of Sumerian tablets and fragments now in the possession of the museums and
private collections; a quarter of a million is probably a conservative guess.
And it is important to note that, in spite of the vast quantity of Sumerian inscriptional material excavated to date, only some three thousand tablets[xr. b] and fragments, no more than one percent, are inscribed with
Sumerian literary compositions.
The first forty thousand tablets were discovered by the Arab workers while De Sarzec, the
excavator, happened to be away from the mound. They succeeded in getting them all into
the hands of dealers, and as a result, there is no important collection in Europe or America
which does not have some Lagash tablets. In the Museum of the Ancient Orient, the tablets
excavated at Lagash in the course of the years are stacked high in drawer after drawer; it is
difficult to estimate their number but it may be close to 100,000.
The number of Sumerian literary tablets and fragments are now known to be approximately
five thousand, rather than three thousand.
Finally in Erech, where the Germans conducted excavations from 1928 until
the outbreak of the war, a large group of pictographic tablets antedating even those found
at Jemdet Nasr has been uncovered.