Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet


2030 BC


2.25″ (5.7cm) high x 1.75″ (4.4cm) wide





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Sumerian cuneiform is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. First appearing in the 4th millennium BC in what is now Iraq, it was dubbed cuneiform (‘wedge-shaped’) because of the distinctive wedge form of the letters, created by pressing a reed stylus into wet clay. Early Sumerian writings were essentially pictograms, which became simplified in the early and mid 3rd millennium BC to a series of strokes, along with a commensurate reduction in the number of discrete signs used (from c.1500 to 600). The script system had a very long life, and was used by the Sumerians as well as numerous later groups – notably the Assyrians, Elamites, Akkadians and Hittites – for around three thousand years. Certain signs and phonetic standards live on in modern languages of the Middle and Far East, but the writing system is essentially extinct. It was therefore cause for great excitement when the ‘code’ of ancient cuneiform was cracked by a group of English, French and German Assyriologists and philologists in the mid 19th century AD. This opened up a vital source of information about these ancient groups that could not have been obtained in any other way. Cuneiform was used on monuments dedicated to heroic – and usually royal – individuals, but perhaps it’s most important function was that of record keeping. The palace-based society at Ur and other large urban centres was accompanied by a remarkably complex and multifaceted bureaucracy, which was run by professional administrators and a priestly class, all of whom were answerable to central court control. Most of what we know about the way the culture was run and administered comes from cuneiform tablets, which record the everyday running of the temple and palace complexes in minute detail, as in the present case. The Barakat Gallery has secured the services of Professor Lambert (University of Birmingham), a renowned expert in decipherment and translation of cuneiform, to examine and process the information on these tablets. His analysis is presented below. Clay Tablet, 55 x 48 mm, with 8 lines of Sumerian Cuneiform This is a small tablet written in a large hand, but then rolled with the scribe’s cylinder seal, which has obscured some of the signs, but is sharp enough to read the seal inscription. It is in good condition. Translation: …16 sheep, sheep taken for shepherding: Urshum-… and Ashgi-bani are the officers in charge via Zuzu Month: Festival of Adara Year: Simurrum was destroyed The month name is known elsewhere, but not its sequence in their calendar. The year- name is the third of Ibbi-Sin, last king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, c. 2026 BC. Sheep were the common domestic animal in Sumer, since pasture for cattle was scarce for most of the year. The term “sheep” can in fact include goats.

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