Sumerian Terracotta Cuneiform Tablet

SKU LSO.108
Circa

2027 BC

Dimensions

2.21″ (5.6cm) high x 1.81″ (4.6cm) wide

Medium

Terracotta

Origin

Eastern Mediterranean

Gallery Location

UK


 

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, 56 x 46 mm, with a total of 12 lines of Sumerian cuneiform on obverse and reverse. The tablet is also rolled with the scribe’s cylinder seal to show the seal inscription. The text is an administrative document from the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur, dated to the third month of the second year of Ibbi-Sin, last king of the dynasty, c. 2027 BC. Translation: 2 sila of ghee 1 sila of lamb’s milk 1 sila of white wine 8 sila of dates The mausoleum of Ur-Nammu, Shulgi, Amar-Sin and Shu-Sin Donation of the king, via Mr. Nur-Shamash Month: plow Year: the high priestess of Inanna of Uruk was chosen by divination. The third dynasty of Ur had in all five kings, and this tablet is dated to the last king, while the previous four are listed here as recipients of offerings to the dead, provided by the reigning king. It has long been known that the kings of this dynasty were considered divine on their deaths, or even during their lifetimes, and that offerings were made to them where they were buried, but evidence has been scanty, and this is thus an important new piece of evidence, for rather choice offerings (lamb’s milk and white wine) not on any special occasion. A sila was about .85 of a litre. Also the term “mausoleum”, in Sumerian usually written ki-mah, is here, for the first time, written ki-muh. The impressions of the scribe’s cylinder seal, as usually, are not fully clear, but the inscription is in two columns, and the first can be restored from parallels: [Shu]-Sin Mighty [man] [king] of Ur [king] of the [four] world regions The second column is not so easy, and only some lines can be read: Gave [this seal] To [……] [……] [……] His servant

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