The Amarna tablets are named after the site Tell el-Amarna (in middle Egypt) where they were discovered. The first Amarna tablets were found by local inhabitants in 1887. They form the majority of the corpus. Subsequent excavations at the site have yielded less than 50 out of the 382 itemized tablets and fragments which form the Amarna corpus known to date.
The majority of the Amarna tablets are letters. These letters were sent to the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenophis III and his son Akhenaten around the middle of the 14th century B.C. The correspondents were kings of Babylonia, Assyria, Hatti and Mitanni, minor kings and rulers of the Near East at that time, and vassals of the Egyptian Empire.
Almost immediately following their discovery, the Amarna tablets were deciphered, studied and published. Their importance as a major source for the knowledge of the history and politics of the Ancient Near East during the 14th Century B.C. was recognized. The tablets presented several difficulties to scholars.
The Amarna tablets are written in Akkadian cuneiform script and present many features which are peculiar and unknown from any other Akkadian dialect. This was most evident in the letters sent from Canaan, which were written in a mixed language (Canaanite-Akkadian). The Amarna letters from Canaan have proved to be the most important source for the study of the Canaanite dialects in the pre-Israelite period.