These attractive stone pieces are a set of weights
from ancient Babylon, and are amongst the first
standardized weights and measures the world
had seen. Weights in this form were used
throughout the Levantine area, and were
officially moderated to ensure fair play among
tradesmen and their customers. Each is formed in
the manner of a suck with its head resting on its
back. The largest and middle-sized example are
well-preserved, whereas the smallest had been
rubbed and worn considerably more.
Determining the exact weight of these pieces has
been a long-running debate among academics.
The Babylonian system was based upon shekels,
minas and talents. Sixty shekels made up a mina
(= one pound), and sixty minas equalled a talent.
Weights were notched to indicate their weight, as
can be seen here, although the markings are so
complex that they might have been used (or
reused) as seals. They were often marked with
the date and the name of the owner, or the
presiding monarch (such as the King
Nebuchadrezzar II duck weight in the British
Museum). The significance of the weights has
questioned. The technical weight of a mina is
7550 grains (a double mina being 15100 grains),
and slightly less under the ancient Sumerian
system. This and the weights of the other
measures has been related directly to volumetric
formulae used in ancient construction of such
notable monuments as the pyramids of Giza, as
well as lunisolar calendrical measurements.
These are important and attractive pieces of
ancient art which have a great deal to offer to the
epigrapher or collector.