In 1964, Italian archaeologists began excavating at Tel Mardikh. In 1968 they produced a statue dedicated to the goddess Ishtar bearing the name of Ibbit-Lim, a king of Ebla. That identified the city, long known from Egyptian and Akkadian inscriptions. In the next decade the team discovered a palace dating to the second half of the third millennium B.C. (ca 2500-2000 BCE). About 20,000 well-preserved cuneiform tablets were discovered in the ruins. The tablets are written in a Semitic dialect that is being called 'Eblaite', as well as in Sumerian, demonstrating Ebla's close links to southern Mesopotamia, where the script had developed. Vocabulary lists were found with the tablets, allowing them to be translated.
It now appears that this was not the palace library, which may yet be uncovered, but an archive of provisions and tribute, law cases and diplomatic and trade contacts, and a scriptorium where apprentices copied texts. The larger tablets had originally been stored on shelves, but had fallen onto the floor when the palace was destroyed. The find spots of the tablets allowed the excavators to reconstruct their original position: it soon appeared that they were originally shelved according to subject.
The Ebla tablets provide many important insights into the history of the ancient Near East around the middle of the third millennium B.C. Ebla was a primary commercial center, ruled by a merchant aristocracy who elected a king and entrusted the city's defense to paid soldiers. Consequently much of the tablets' contents are about economic matters. This gives a good look at the everyday life of the inhabitants. The Ebla tablets record the cultural, economic, and political life of northern Syria.
The Ebla tablets mention cities and peoples that appear later in the Old Testament, including the earliest mention of Jerusalem
Other artifacts provide evidence of Ebla's close relationship with the Mediterranean world and Egypt. Exquisite sculpture in the round was recovered. Composite statues had been created from different colored stones. The artistic style at Ebla may have influenced the quality work of the following Akkadian empire (ca. 2350–2150 B.C.). The sculptures and the archive were preserved by chance when Ebla was attacked and the palace contents were buried under the building's rubble. Sargon of Agade and his grandson, Naram-Sin, of Akkad, the conquerors of much of Mesopotamia, each claim to have destroyed Ebla, but the exact date of destruction is the subject of continuing debate.