Little known facts: Crusaders of the lost artifact

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An archived photo depicts the undeciphered text on the tablets. Photo courtesy of the UD Archives.

Three ancient tablets sit in the back corner of the rare texts room at the University of Dallas. They’re dusty and crudely cut, yet there’s something mysterious about them. The stone the tablets are made out of is cream colored, so the markings stand out. One of the tablets even has red markings on it, suggesting that someone outlined in chalk.

The tablets are difficult to decipher. What are these tablets and where
did they come from?

Their story likely begins in the ancient city of Thaj, Saudi Arabia. Thaj was founded around 330 B.C. after the conquests of Alexander the Great. In 1976, Karl Maier, an engineer from
El Paso, participated in an archeological dig around Thaj. The details of the dig are little known as the city is in a remote location.

After completing his work for the company Saudi Aramco, Maier left Saudi Arabia and brought the tablets to the United States sometime in 1979. He then decided to go back to study archeology at the University of Texas at El Paso. Karl Maier’s son, Michael Maier, donated the tablets to UD in 2002.

Dr. Robert Dupree, the library director at that time, was in charge of receiving
the tablets from Michael Maier. Dupree documented and stored the tablets in the archives where they can be found today. Despite being surrounded by a multitude of knowledge, the tablets are still shrouded in mystery:

“I would appreciate any information others might be able to provide, having tried
for some fourteen years now to locate [some- one] who was knowledgeable enough about this very interesting site to interpret them and ascertain what interest they might have for an understanding of the history of the place,” Dupree said in an email.

When explaining why he accepted the donation, Dupree said.

“A high-school classmate of mine and a close friend … was appointed by the Egyptian government to supervise the reopening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the late 1970s for the touring exhibition that took place in the early 1980s, closely contemporary with Karl Maier’s involvement with the site that was being investigated by those associated with Aramco.

“I have accordingly been an interested party in archaeological investigations in that part of the world since my friend and I were in our teens. It was for that reason that I readily accepted Michael Maier’s offer, during the time that I was serving as director of the library.”

The tablets continue to sit quietly in the archives, whispering their secrets to anyone who is willing to work for them. Would any student be brave enough to crack the case?

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