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Ruins of the outer wall and the "Damascus Gate".
|Alternate name||Tell Mardikh (Arabic: تل مرديخ)|
|Location||Idlib Governorate, Syria|
|Founded||c. 3500 BC|
|Abandoned||7th century AD|
|Cultures||East-Semitic (Kish civilization), Amorite|
Ruins of the outer wall and the "Damascus Gate".
|Alternate name||Tell Mardikh (Arabic: تل مرديخ)|
|Location||Idlib Governorate, Syria|
|Founded||c. 3500 BC|
|Abandoned||7th century AD|
|Cultures||East-Semitic (Kish civilization), Amorite|
Ebla (Arabic: إبلا, modern: Tell Mardikh تل مرديخ, Idlib Governorate, Syria) was one of the earliest kingdoms in Syria, located about 55 km (34 mi) southwest of Aleppo near the village of Mardikh. It was an important center throughout the third millennium BC and in the first half of the second millennium BC, its discovery in 1968 proved the Levant to be an equal center of ancient centralized civilization next to Egypt and Mesopotamia, and ruled out the view that the latter two were the only important centers in the Near East during the early Bronze Age. The first Eblaite kingdom was described by Karl Moore as the first recorded world power.
Starting as a small settlement in the early Bronze Age (c. 3500 BC), it developed into a trading empire and later turned into an expansionist power that imposed its hegemony over much of northern and eastern Syria. Its language, Eblaite, is now considered the earliest attested Semitic language after Akkadian. The site is most famous for the Ebla tablets, an archive of about 20,000 cuneiform tablets found there, dated to around 2350 BC.[note 1] Written in both Sumerian and Eblaite and using the Sumerian Cuneiform, the archive has allowed a better understanding of the Sumerian language.
Ebla was destroyed during the 23rd century BC; it was then rebuilt and was attested in the records of the Third Dynasty of Ur. The second Ebla was a continuation of the first, ruled by a new royal dynasty. It was destroyed at the end of the third millennium BC, which paved the way for the Amorite tribes to settle in the city and form the third Ebla. The third kingdom flourished again as a trade center; it became a subject and an ally to Yamhad (modern Aleppo) until its final destruction by the Hittite king Mursili I in c. 1600 BC.
Ebla maintained its prosperity through a vast trading network. Artifacts from Sumer, Cyprus, Egypt and as far as Afghanistan were recovered from the palaces of the city. The political organization of Ebla had unique features different from the Sumerian model. Women enjoyed a special status and the queen had major influence in the state and religious affairs. The pantheon of gods was mainly north Semitic and included deities exclusive to Ebla.
A possible explanation of the word Ebla is white rock, referring to the limestone outcrop on which the city was built. Ebla was first settled around 3500 BC, and its growth was supported by many satellite agricultural settlements. The city benefited from its role as an entrepôt of growing international trade, which probably began with an increased demand for wool in Sumer. This early habitation period is designated by archaeologists Mardikh I, and ended around 3000 BC. It is followed by the first and second kingdoms era from about 3000 to 2000 BC, designated Mardikh II. I. J. Gelb consider Ebla as part of the Kish civilization, which was a cultural entity of East Semitic speaking populations that stretched from the center of Mesopotamia to the western Levant.
|First Eblaite Kingdom|
The first kingdom at its greatest extent, including vassals.
|Historical era||Bronze Age|
|-||Established||c. 3000 BC|
|-||Disestablished||c. 2300 BC|
|Today part of|| Syria|
During the first kingdom period between about 3000 and 2300 BC, Ebla was the most prominent kingdom amongst the Syrian states, especially during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC, which is known as the age of the archives after the Ebla tablets.
The early period between 3000 and 2400 BC is designated Mardikh IIA. The first part of this period is identified with buildings located on the southern slopes of the acropolis in an area designated as CC, the most important of which was building G2, which was apparently a royal palace built c. 2700 BC. A sequence of 28 Kings ruling in this period have been constructed. Toward the end of this period, a long war with Mari started, and Mari gained the upper hand through the actions of its king Sa'umu who conquered many of Ebla's cities.
The archive period, which is designated Mardikh IIB1, lasted from c. 2400 BC until c. 2300 BC. The end of the period is known as the "first destruction", mainly of the palace (called palace G and built over the earlier G2) and much of the acropolis. In the archive period Ebla had political and military dominance over the other Syrian city-states of northern and eastern Syria, which are mentioned in the tablets. Most of the tablets, which date from that period, are about economic matters, but they also include royal letters and diplomatic documents.
In the middle of the 25th century BC, Mari was defeated by Ebla, perhaps by King Kun-Damu, whose reign over Ebla can be dated to this period.[note 2] The power of Ebla then declined,[note 3] and during the reign of King Igrish-Halam in the mid-24th century it paid tribute to Mari. Ebla recovered under King Irkab-Damu in about 2340 BC; becoming prosperous and launching a successful counteroffensive against Mari, Irkab-Damu also concluded a peace and trading treaty with Abarsal,[note 4] one of the first recorded treaties in history.
At its greatest extent, Ebla controlled an area roughly half the size of modern Syria, from Ursa'um in the north, to Damascus area in the south, and from Phoenicia and the coastal mountains in the west, to Tuttul in the east. Half of kingdom was under the direct control of the king and administered by governors, while the rest consisted of vassal kingdoms paying tribute and supplying military assistance to Ebla. One of the most important of these vassals was Armi, which was the city most often mentioned in the Ebla tablets. In total Ebla had more than sixty vassal kingdoms and city-states, including Hazuwan, Emar, Burman, and Haddu.
The king's chief official was called the vizier, the holder of this office started to acquire substantial authority during the reign of Irkab-Damu. Important viziers included Darmiya and Arrukum (Ar-Ennum), but the most powerful was Ibrium, who campaigned against Abarsal during the term of his predecessor Arrukum. In the last two years of Irkab-Damu's reign Ibrium was appointed vizier, and he continued to hold office during the succeeding reign of Isar-Damu. He kept his position for about 20 years in the mid-24th century BC, and was succeeded by his son Ibbi-Sipish, thus establishing a parallel dynasty of viziers after to the royal family. In his ninth year as vizier, Ibrium defeated the rebellious vassal state of Armi near a town called Batin, which may be northeast of Aleppo.
Ibbi-Sipish conducted a military campaign in his third year against a city called Bagara, and also launched several attacks on Armi, in one of which he received linen textiles. He also campaigned against the city of Ibal in the south (close to Qatna), and made an alliance with Nagar and Kish to defeat Mari in a battle near Terqa. The alliance then attacked Armi and occupied it, leaving Ibbi-Sipish's son Enzi-Malik as governor. Ebla itself suffered its first destruction a few years after the campaign probably following Isar-Damu death, which prevented Dubuhu-Ada the designated son and heir of Ibbi-Sipish from inheriting his father's office.
The first destruction occurred during the 23rd century BC. Palace G was burned, baking the clay tablets of the royal archives, and thus preserving the Ebla tablets. Many theories have been suggested for the cause, the date and the perpetrator:
The second kingdom is designated Mardikh IIB2. It lasted until the second destruction between 2050 and 1950 BC. The Akkadians under Sargon and his descendant Naram-Sin invaded the northern borders of Ebla, however those areas were not attached to Akkad and the kingdom remained independent.
A new local dynasty ruled the second kingdom of Ebla, but there was continuity with its first kingdom heritage. Ebla maintained its earliest features including its architectural style, religion and the sanctity of the acropolis. The transition from the archive period is marked only by the destruction of the palace G. A new royal palace was built in the northern part of the lower city, the archaic palace P5, and a new temple that was built in the same area (designated D) as the old temple in the acropolis. However little is known about the second kingdom as no tablets have been discovered and only one inscription which dates to the end of the period.
The second kingdom was attested in contemporary sources, an inscription by Gudea of Lagash asked for cedars to be brought from Urshu in the mountains of Ebla, indicating that Ebla's territory included Urshu, north of Carchemish in modern Turkey. A text that dates to the seventh year of Amar-Sin (c. 2040 BC), a ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ur, mentions a messenger of the Ensí (Megum) of Ebla, showing that the kingdoms were in communication. Megum is thought to have been a title of the ruler of Ebla rather than a personal name.[note 10]
The second kingdom disintegrated toward the end of the 21st century BC, and ended with the destruction of the city by fire, although evidence has only been found on the western side outside of the temple and in the area of residence E on the acropolis. The reason for the destruction is not known, and according to Astour, it can be the result of a Hurrian invasion c. 2030 BC, led by the former Eblaite vassal city of Ikinkalis.[note 11] The destruction of Ebla is mentioned in the fragmentary Hurro-Hittite epic Song of Release, discovered in 1983. In the epic an Eblaite assembly led by a man called Zazalla prevents King Meki from showing mercy to prisoners from its former vassal city Ikinkalis, provoking the wrath of the storm god Teshub and causing him to destroy the city.
|Third Eblaite Kingdom|
|Historical era||Bronze Age|
|-||Established||c. 2000 BC|
|-||Disestablished||c. 1600 BC|
The third kingdom is designated Mardikh III, and is divided into periods A (c. 2000–1800 BC) and B (c. 1800–1600 BC). In period A the kingdom was settled by the Amorites and Ebla was quickly rebuilt as a planned city. The foundations covered what remained of Mardikh II; new fortifications were built in two circles, one for the low city and one for the acropolis, in addition to new palaces and temples. The city was laid out on regular lines and large public buildings were built on the acropolis including royal palace E. Further construction took place in period B.
The first known third kingdom king is Ibbit-Lim, who described himself as the Mekim of Ebla.[note 12] A basalt votive statue bearing his inscription was discovered in 1968 and helped to identify the site of Tell-Mardikh with the ancient kingdom Ebla. The names of the king and his father Igrish-Heba (who is not known to have been a king) are Amorite, and in the view Giovanni Pettinato it is therefore probable that the inhabitants of third kingdom Ebla were predominantly Amorites, as were most of the inhabitants of Syria at that time.
By the beginning of the 18th century BC Ebla had become a vassal of Yamhad, an Amorite kingdom centered on Aleppo, a status which it kept until the end of both kingdoms. One of the known rulers of Ebla during this period was Immeya, who received gifts from the Egyptian pharaoh Hotepibre, indicating the continuing wide connections and importance of Ebla. The city was mentioned in tablets from the Yamhadite vassal city of Alalakh in modern Turkey; an Eblaite princess married a son of King Ammitaqum of Alalakh, who belonged to a branch of The royal Yamhadite dynasty.
Ebla and Yamhad were destroyed by the Hittite King Mursili I in about 1600 BC. Indilimgur was probably the last king of Ebla; a seal of his crown prince Maratewari was discovered in the western palace Q. Archi consider the Song of Release epic as describing the third kingdom destruction, while at the same time preserving more older elements.
Ebla never recovered from its third destruction. It was a small village in the phase designated Mardikh IV (1600–1200 BC), and was mentioned in the records of Alalakh as a vassal to the Idrimi dynasty. Mardikh V (1200–535 BC) was a rural early Iron Age settlement which grow in size during its later periods.
Further development occurred during Mardikh VI, which lasted until c. 60 AD. The site was largely abandoned in the 2nd century AD during Mardikh VII, between 60 AD and the seventh century AD. Some parts were sparsely populated until the third century AD, and perhaps to the middle of the 1st millennium AD, after which the site was forgotten until its rediscovery in 1968.
Ebla was a large city protected by a fortified rampart and towers. A raised acropolis in the centre was surrounded by the lower city, which was divided into four districts each with its own gate in the outer wall. During the first kingdom the gates were double chambered. The acropolis was fortified and included the king's palace (Palace G), and the main temple of Ishara. The lower city had many public buildings including the Vizier Palace,[note 13] the temple of Shamash (Temple N) and two other palaces.[note 14] The royal cemetery and the temple of Resheph (Temple B1) were located in the south of the lower city, and the temple of Hadad in the southeast.[note 15]
During the second kingdom, the royal palace (Archaic Palace P5) was built north west of the acropolis while the western palace (in area Q), intermediate palace, palace E and Ishtar temple (in area D) were built during the third kingdom.
The first kingdom government consisted of the king (styled Malikum) and the grand vizier who headed the elders (Abbu) council and the administration. The central administration was located in the acropolis. The queen had a share with the king in running the affairs of the state, and the crown prince was involved in the internal matters while the second prince was involved in foreign affairs. Most affairs including military ones were handled primarily by the grand vizier and the administration, which consisted of 13 court dignitaries, each of whom controlled between 400 and 800 men forming a bureaucracy with a total of 11,700 people. Each of the four quarters of the lower city was governed by a chief inspector and many deputies. Smaller cities were governed by governors, and each governor was under the authority of the grand vizier. Women received salaries equaled to men and could accede to important positions and head government agencies.
The Eblaites worshipped dead kings as gods. For the first kingdom monarchs, tablets listing offerings to kings mention 10 names, and another list mentions a total of 33 kings.[note 16] No kings are known from the second kingdom and all dates are estimates according to the Middle chronology.
The first kingdom
|Sakume||c. 3100 BC.|
|Su .. ...|
|Enmanu||c. 2740 BC.|
|Namanu||c. 2720 BC.|
|Da .. .||c. 2700 BC.|
|Sagishu||c. 2680 BC.|
|Dane'um||c. 2660 BC.|
|Ibbini-Lim||c. 2640 BC.|
|Ishrut-Damu||c. 2620 BC.|
|Isidu||c. 2600 BC.|
|Isrut-Halam||c. 2580 BC.|
|Iksud||c. 2560 BC.|
|Talda-Lim||c. 2540 BC.|
|Abur-Lim||c. 2520 BC.|
|Agur-Lim||c. 2500 BC.|
|Ib-Damu||c. 2480 BC.||A seal bearing his name was found in Kültepe.|
|Baga-Damu||c. 2460 BC.|
|Enar-Damu||c. 2440 BC.||Amongst the most referenced deified kings in the offering lists, might have established a new dynasty.|
|Eshar-Malik||c. 2420 BC.|
|Kun-Damu||c. 2400 BC.|
|Adub-Damu||c. 2380 BC.||Short reign.|
|Igrish-Halam||c. 2360 BC.||Ruled 12 years.|
|Irkab-Damu||c. 2340 BC.||Ruled 11 years. Rise of vizier Ibrium.|
|Isar-Damu||c. 2320 BC.||Ruled about 35 years. Rise of vizier Ibbi-Sipish.|
|Ir'ak-Damu||c. 2300 BC.||A prince, might have ascended the throne for a short period.|
The third kingdom
|Ibbit-Lim||c. 2000 BC.|
|Immeya||c. 1750 BC.|
|Indilimgur||c. 1600 BC.|
During the Mardikh I & II periods the population is estimated to have numbered around 40,000 people in the capital, and over 200,000 people for the whole Kingdom. The Eblaites of Mardikh I & II were Semites. Giovanni Pettinato and Mitchell Dahood believed that the Eblaite language was a West Semitic language, but Gelb and others suggested it was an East Semitic dialect, closer to the Akkadian language, a view which is now generally accepted.
The Eblaite gods mostly belonged to the northwestern semitic pantheon, and some deities were unique to Ebla. Ebla held several religious and social festivals such as the rituals for the succession of a new king, which normally lasted for several weeks.
Society was less centered around the palace and the temple than in Mesopotamian kingdoms. The Eblaite palace was designed around the courtyard, which was open toward the city, thus making the administration approachable. This contrasts with Mesopotamian palaces which resembled citadels, with narrow entrances and limited access to the external courtyard.
The Mardikh III population was predominately Semitic Amorite. The Amorites were mentioned in the first kingdom tablets as neighbors and as rural subjects. They came to dominate Ebla after the destruction of the second kingdom, and formed the bulk of its population. The city witnessed a great increase in construction, and many palaces, temples and fortifications were built. The Amorite Eblaites worshiped the same deities as the Eblaites of earlier periods, and maintained the sanctity of the acropolis in the center of the city.
During the first kingdom period, the palace controlled the economy, but wealthy families managed their financial affairs without government intervention. The system was redistributive, and the palace distributed food to its permanent and seasonal workers. It is estimated that around 40,000 persons contributed to this system, but in general (unlike Mesopotamia) lands stayed in the hands of the villages which paid an annual share to the palace. The agriculture was mainly pastoral; large herds of cattle were managed by the palace, and the city's inhabitants owned about 200,000 head of sheep, goats, and cows.
Ebla, who had Mari as its major commercial rival, derived its prosperity from trade, much of the it was with Mesopotamia, and the kingdom's wealth was equal to that of the most important Sumerian cities. Ebla's main articles of trade were probably timber from the nearby mountains (and perhaps from Lebanon) and textiles, which are mentioned in Sumerian texts from the city-state of Lagash. Handicrafts also appear's to have been a major export, evidenced by the quantity of artifacts recovered from the palaces of the city.
Ebla possessed a wide commercial network reaching as far as modern Afghanistan. It also shipped textiles to Cyprus possibly through the port of Ugarit, but most of its trade seems to have been directed (by river-boat) towards Mesopotamia (chiefly Kish). The main palace G was also found to contain "antiques" dating from Ancient Egypt with the names of pharaohs Khafra and Pepi I.
Ebla continued to be a center of trade during the second kingdom, evident by the surrounding cities that appeared during its period and were destroyed along with the city.[note 17] Trade continued to be Ebla main economic activity during the third kingdom, archaeological finds show that there was an extensive exchange with Egypt and coastal Syrian cities such as Byblos.
Ebla was a polytheistic state. During the first kingdom, the pantheon had three genres of deities; in the first and most common there were pairs of gods, such as the deity and his female consort, or divine twosomes such as the deities that cooperate to create the cosmos, as in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian pantheons. The second genre included single deities, while the third genre consisted of divine duos who were actually a single deity that had two different names. Eblaites worshipped few Mesopotamian and Hurrian deities, preferring northern Semitic gods, some of them unique to Ebla.
The first genre included the eastern semitic chief god Dagan and his consort, Belatu, meaning his wife. The patron gods of the city were Kura (who was unique to Ebla) and his consort Barama. Other major deities included Hadad (Hadda) and his consort Habadu, Rasap and his consort Adamma.
The second genre included the Syrian goddess Ishara,[note 18] who was the goddess of the royal family. Ishtar was also worshiped, but Ishara was far more important, appearing 40 times in one of the monthly offering lists, while Ishtar was mentioned only five times. Other deities included Nidakul, who was exclusive to Ebla, the Mesopotamian god Utu, Ashtapi, and Shipish the goddess of the sun, who had a temple dedicated to her cult.
The third genre included many gods such as the artisan god Kamish/Tit, Kothar-wa-Khasis, and the planet Venus represented by Shahar as the morning star and Shalim as the evening star. Eblaites also practiced the deification of dead kings. The four city gates were named after the gods Dagan, Hadda, Rasap and Utu, but which gate had which name is unknown. Overall, about forty deities are mentioned in the offering lists as receiving sacrifices.
During the third kingdom, Amorites worshipped common northern Semitic gods, and the unique Eblaite deities disappeared. Hadad, (whose consort became Atargatis), was the most important god, while Ishtar took Ishara's place and became the city's most important deity apart from Hadad.
At the beginning of the tablets deciphering process, Pettinato made claims about a possible connections between Ebla and the Bible. However, much of the initial media excitement about a supposed Eblaite connections with the Bible, based on preliminary guesses and speculations by Pettinato and others, is now widely deplored as "exceptional and unsubstantiated claims" and "great amounts of disinformation that leaked to the public". In Ebla studies, the focus has shifted away from comparisons with the Bible, and Ebla is now studied above all as a civilization in its own right. The tide turned after a bitter personal and scholarly conflict between the scientists involved, as well as what some described as interference by the Syrian authorities on political grounds.
Among Pettinato's controversial claims, he suggested that there was a change in the Theophoric names shown in many of the tablets from El to Yah, indicated in the example of the transition from Mika'il to Mikaya. This change is represented by the cuneiform sign NI which Pettinato read as ya,[note 19] he regard this as evidence for an early use of the divine name Yah, however, Pettinato doesn't conclude that this is the same Jewish God Yahweh (YHWH). Jean Bottéro has suggested that this shift may instead indicate the Akkadian god Ea (Ia).
On the other hand, both Archi (at first) and Anson Rainey, have suggested that the -ya is actually a diminutive ending used in shortened forms of personal names, while Hans-Peter Müller has argued that the cuneiform sign NI should be interpreted in this case as a short for NI-NI and read as í-lí which mean My God, a view that Archi has since adopted with a modification, his reading of NI being íl (god). No list of gods or offerings mentions a deity by the name of Ya, and the connection with Yahweh is largely rejected today by scholars.
Many ancient Hebraic names that have not been found in other Near Eastern languages have been reported to occur in similar forms in Eblaite (Adamu, H'à-wa, Jabal, Abarama, Bilhah, Ishma-el, Isûra-el, Esau, Mika-el, Saul, David). A large number of Biblical locations (many of them known from other sources) have also been reported to occur in the texts, for example Ashtaroth, Sinai, Hazor, Lachish, Gezer, Dor, Megiddo, Joppa, Ur etc. Giovanni Pettinato has also claimed to find references to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Contrary to many earlier claims, the present consensus is that "Ebla has no bearing on the Minor Prophets, the historical accuracy of the biblical Patriarchs, Yahweh worship, or Sodom and Gomorra".
These lines seem to have points in common both with known Sumerian creation stories and with the Biblical account. Nevertheless, Archi has objected that the original text is unclear to the point of being incomprehensible, (texts from Ebla are difficult to read in general), leading him to conclude that "there is no Genesis creation story" in the documents.
In 1964, Italian archaeologists from the University of Rome La Sapienza under the direction of Paolo Matthiae began excavating at Tell Mardikh. In 1968, they recovered a statue dedicated to the goddess Ishtar bearing the name of Ibbit-Lim mentioning him as king of Ebla. That identified the city, long known from Egyptian and Akkadian inscriptions. In the next decade the team discovered a palace (palace G) dating c. 2500 – 2000 BC. Finds in the palaces include a small sculpture made out of precious materials, such as black stones and gold. Other artifacts included wood furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl and composite statues created from different colored stones, a silver bowl bearing king Immeya name, that was recovered from the "tomb of the lords of the goats", together with Egyptian jewels and an Egyptian ceremonial mace presented by pharaoh Hotepibre.
About 2,500 well-preserved cuneiform tablets and thousands of fragments were discovered in the ruins. About 80% of the tablets are written using the usual Sumerian combination of logograms and phonetic signs, while the others exhibited an innovative, purely phonetic representation using Sumerian cuneiform of a previously unknown Semitic language, which was called Eblaite. Bilingual Sumerian/Eblaite vocabulary lists were found among the tablets, allowing them to be translated.
Ebla's close link to southern Mesopotamia, where the script had developed, further highlights the links between the Sumerians and Semitic cultures at that time. The tablets provide many important insights into the cultural, economic, and political life in northern Mesopotamia around the middle of the third millennium BC. They also provide insight into the everyday life of the inhabitants, as well as containing information about state revenues, Sumerian-Eblaite dictionaries, school texts, an archive of provisions and tribute, law cases, diplomatic and trade contacts, and a scriptorium where apprentices copied texts. The tablets also includes writings on Ebla's hymns, legends, scientific observations, and magic.
The tablets constitute one of the oldest archives and library ever found and there is also tangible evidence of their arrangement and even classification. As the larger tablets had originally been stored on shelves, but had fallen onto the floor when the palace was destroyed. The location where tablets were discovered where they had fallen allowed the excavators to reconstruct their original position on the shelves, and it was found that they were originally shelved according to subject.
These features were notably absent from earlier Sumerian excavations. Such sophisticated techniques of arrangement of the texts, coupled with their composition, point to the great antiquity of archival and library practices, which may indeed be far older than was assumed to be the case before their discovery. A sizable part of the tablets contain literary and lexicographic texts, and evidence seems to suggest that the collection also served at least partially as a true library, as opposed to simply a collection of archives intended solely for use by the kings, their ministers, and their bureaucracy. The tablets show evidence of the early transcription of texts into foreign languages and scripts, classification and cataloging for easier retrieval, and arrangement by size, form, and content. The Ebla Tablets have thus provided scholars with new insights into the origin of library practices that were in use 4,500 years ago.
As a result of the Syrian Civil War, the site came under the control of an opposition armed group, and witnessed a large scale looting. Many tunnels were dug and a crypt full of human remains was discovered, with the remains scattered and thrown away by the robbers aiming to find jewelry and other precious artifacts. Digging all around the mound was conducted by nearby villagers, with the aim of finding artifacts, some villagers haul away carloads of dirt from inside the tunnels, a dirt that is suitable for making the ceramic liner for bread-baking ovens.
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