A government official is embroiled in a sex scandal and accused of misappropriating government property. A strong-willed woman sues her mistress for her freedom. A poor fellow loses his mother, sister and household gods to his creditors.

Just the daily fare of your supermarket tabloids? Not at all. These stories were recorded some 3,500 years ago on cuneiform tablets in the north Mesopotamian town of Nuzi—now the subject of an ongoing exhibition at Harvard’s Semitic Museum, Nuzi and the Hurrians: Fragments from a Forgotten Past.

Archives and objects excavated at Nuzi provide a picture of small-town life in the ancient Near East. The 14-inch-high, house-shaped object shown above, for example, was used to make divine offerings—perhaps to the goddess Ishtar (called Shauska by the Hurrians). Found in a modest dwelling, the cult stand may have once held incense, fruit or grain. Also on display at the museum are the famous Nuzi ceramic lions, marbleized glass vessels, brass jewelry and an unusual copper tablet dealing with a transfer of land.

The exhibit also contains foreign objects excavated at Nuzi, including Egyptian blue beads. In addition, a frieze from the mayor’s palace showing the Egyptian goddess Hathor and Mycenaean-style bulls has been reproduced on the walls of the exhibition gallery. These serve as a reminder that while Nuzi may have been a quiet, provincial, agricultural town, it flourished at a time when large powers were forming alliances with one another. Egyptian pharaohs corresponded not only with Hittite and Canaanite kings, but also with the rulers of the Hurrian Mittani kingdom. Mittani kings sent their daughters to marry Egyptian princes (see Gernot Wilhelm, “When a Mittani Princess Joined Pharaoh’s Harem”). Hittite and Assyrian kings worshiped Hurrian gods, and musicians at Ugarit, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, performed Hurrian compositions.