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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Cuneiform Tablets : Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet
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Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet - AM.0073
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Circa: 2027 BC
Dimensions: 6.57" (16.7cm) high x 6.50" (16.5cm) wide
Collection: Ancient Writings

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 its 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 the decipherment and translation of cuneiform, to examine and process the information on these tablets. His scanned analysis is presented here. This text records the outgoings of cereals from a large government establishment.

Professor Lambert’ translation is provided below:

Clay tablet, 167x165mm., with a total of 102 lines of Sumerian cuneiform. Each side is divided into four columns, and most unusually the first two columns on the obverse are blank, and the third has writing only from the bottom fifth. It continues without pause over the last column on the obverse, but on the reverse all the four columns have gaps of varying length. The text is an administrative document from the period of the third Dynasty of Ur dated to the second year of Ibbi-Sin, last king of the dynasty, c. 2027 B.C. It is a record of outgoings of cereals from a large government establishment. The measurements used are measurements of capacity, the sila and the gur. A sila was about .85 of a litre, and a gur was 300 sila. We indicate these by use of a dot:

.60 = “60 sila” 1. = “1 gur” 1.60 = “1 gur, 60 sila


barley rations: flour

163.140: fifth tablet of Baga, animal fattener

22.: fourth tablet of Ipqusha, brewer

26.: [ . . . (short gap)]

[…] .30: second tablet of [..]

200.: tablet of Shu-Meme, the . .

3. […]: Ubar-. [… …]

9.140: third tablet of ..[…]

1.60: tablet of . . .

1.: tablet of Puzur-Me’a. [..]

.180: tablet of Ilum-rabi, the . .

3.40: tablet of Turam […]

.120: tablet of Enu’a

Tablet of the . . . .

3.234 of . . [..] tablet of Apil . […]

3.234 1/2 : tablet of Nur-Ea, groom

3.234 1/2 : tablet of Shu-Ninshubur, groom

3.234 1/2 : tablet of Lugal-pa’e, groom

3.234 1/2 : tablet of Awilu-shalim, groom

3.234 1/2 : tablet of Ur- .[…]


2.180 […]: tablet of […]

2.120 […]: tablet of Era-bani, grrom

2.180: second tablet of Lu-dugga, groom


2.150: Lu-.[…..,gro]om tablet of

2.150: Ur-Shakkan, groom tablet of

1.180: tablet of Aku’a, groom

via . […], tablet of Ish[…]

.180 emmer: Shulpa[‘e]

4.200: .[…]

2.60 barley […]

1.60, 1.em[mer . . ]

.120 emmer […]

4.240 barley, 1. . […]

1.240 […] […]

1.180 emmer: Amar-Suena

2.60, .60 emmer: Nin-isina

.120 barley: Enki

.60 barley, .60 emmer: Suena

.60 barley: Nin-si’anna

.60 emmer: Damkina

.60 barley: Sakkud

.120 emmer: Nerigal

.180: barley: Ninegal

.240 emmer: Utu

.150 barley, .10 emmer: Geshtin-anna

.120 barley: the scribal school

1.: the dais of the Mouth of the Rivers

.180 emmer: the dais of Ninmutum

.60: emmer: the dais of uru-sarik

1.60: Mamma-imdi

2.195: Salalitum

2.195: Lamassatum

27.202 ½, 4.240 emmer: Shulgi

33.120, 2.120 emmer: the . . . . . .

offering for the gods

Flour: .80: Puzur-Ashki

Flour: .80: Shu-Adad

.60 Erra-nu’id

Flour: .20 Kalbum

.40 Silli-Ashki, son of Ilum-bani: workers

.180 […

.180 .[…

.180 .[…] . . . men

1.180 Puzur-Ashtar

1.270: [u]r-Ishtaran: . . . votaries for the king

Month: the plow: Atallalum, brewer

Temple of Shulgi, month: festival of Lisi

…12 months: year: Ibbi-Sin, King

Ilum-bani . . . , Ipqusha, brewer, foreman

Disbursement of new barley for 3 months

Year: the high priestess if Inanna of Uruk was chosen by divination

There is much of great interest for social and economic history in this document, which appears to be a first draft, to be completed in another copy later. At one point a list of gods and their offerings occurs, including dead kings of the dynasty. - (AM.0073)


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