cuneiform tablet


Mesopotamian, Pre-Sargonic, Reign of Uruinimgina (Urukagina), Year 2, ca. 2350 BC
Height: 6 inches (15.2 cm)
Width: 6 inches (15.2 cm)

Provenance: Erlenmeyer collection, Basel, Switzerland, 1950s; Private American collection
Published: Christie’s London, Ancient Near Eastern Texts from the Erlenmeyer Collection, 13 December 1988, no. 57; Sotheby’s New York, Antiquities, 8 December 2010, lot 84
Restoration: right corner reattached


Of square form with rounded edges, this terracotta tablet is engraved with eight columns on each side (one un-inscribed on the reverse) with text concerning rations of barley for distribution to named individuals and officials. There are totals given at the end. Basically, this tablet is a ledger account.

Cuneiform script – the term means “wedge-shaped” – is one of the earliest known systems of writing. It was written with the use of a reed or stylus, pressed into the surface of moist, pliable clay tablets, such as this one. The system developed in Sumer during the fourth millennium BC as a series of pictographs which evolved into simpler, more abstract characters. The disparate cultures of the Ancient Near East, adapted the original Sumerian script. Versions of it were used by the Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite, and other ethnic groups before the script was eventually replaced by the Old Persian alphabet.