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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Cuneiform Tablets : Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet
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Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet - LSO.1029
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Circa: 2028 BC
Dimensions: 2.75" (7.0cm) high x 1.75" (4.4cm) wide
Collection: Ancient Writings
Medium: Terracotta

Additional Information: Korea

Location: Great Britain
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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 here. Clay tablet, 71 x 45 mm, with 28 lines of Sumerian Cuneiform. This is perfectly preserved and contains an administrative document from the period of the Third Dynasty or Ur, dated to the 27th day of the month Kirsi-ak (not yet identified within the calendar) of the second year of Ibbi- Sin, last king of the dynasty, c. 2028 BC. It is a list of rations issued to the king’s messengers to assist them on their travels and missions. Translation: 10 sila of beer, 10 sila of bread: Laqipum, butler, king’s messenger When he went to the king’s offering 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Ilum- dan, king’s messenger When he went from Der to the king 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Nahshum, king’s messenger 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Nur- Eshtar, king’s messenger 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Shalim-ahum, king’s messenger 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Iddish- Shamash, king’s messenger 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Daya, king’s messenger When they went to Der 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Abum- ilum, king’s messenger When he went to the proclamation of the viceroy 2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Pululu, the groom When he went to the …… donkey A disbursement: month Kirsi-ak Year: the high priestess of Inanna of Uruk was chosen by divination. (Left edge of tablet) 27th day. Der was a town in the Diyala valley, and important economically, since Sumer lacked most natural resources, such as metals and stone, and had to import them. Products such as lapis lazuli and tin could reach Sumer down the Diyala valley. - (LSO.1029)


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