Sumerian Terracotta Cuneiform Tablet


2031 BC


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




Eastern Mediterranean

Gallery Location



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 interpret the information on these tablets. His analysis is presented below: Clay tablet, 55 x 46 mm, with Sumerian cuneiform inscription of 13 lines on observe and reverse, the tablet’s surface rolled with the scribe’s cylinder seal to show the seal inscription. An administrative document from the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur dated to the 7th year of the king Shu-Sin, c. 2031 BC. Translation: 80 sila of barley, two minas of wool: Silli-Ashgi 82: Adallal, son of Ubartum, a prostitute of those who……, on the street…… Via Mr Ur-Mes, governor: Durelak, supervisor of 60 men Seal Inscription: Durelak Scribe Month: Kirsi-ak Son of Shu-ilishu Year: Shu-Sin, king of Ur, destroyed the land of Zabshali Rare phraseology and some damage prevent an understanding so far of the phrases about the prostitute. The bread and wool were the basic necessities of life in Sumerian ideology, so it appears that the state, or a temple, is paying subsistence to two people. Their names do not reveal their gender, but the title of Adallal does, unless it is his/her mother who is meant, because Ubartum is a women’s name. Most of the tablet is in good condition.

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