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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Cuneiform Tablets : Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet
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Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet - AM.0052
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Circa: 2028 BC
Dimensions: 3.0" (7.6cm) high x 1" (2.5cm) wide
Collection: Ancient Writings
Condition: Very Fine

Additional Information: K
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 document is a list of the products and property of a bakery.

Professor Lambert’s translation is provided below:

Clay tablet, 77x26mm., with 20 lines of Sumerian cuneiform on obverse, reverse and left edge. An administrative document from the Third Dynasty of Ur, dated to the first year of Ibbi-Sin, last king of the dynasty, c. 2028 B.C. It is a list of products and property of a bakery, no doubt a palace or temple bakery in view of the variety of materials listed. The tablet is in excellent condition, though the writing on the left edge is minute and feint, so not yet deciphered. Many of the terms are very rare and not yet understood, so some lines cannot be translated in full.


1 gur 180 sila of . . . bread

7 gur 240 sila of . . . bread

3 gur 260 sila of barley

1 stone of 20 minas (weight)

1 stone of 3 minas (weight)

1 stone of 2 minas (weight)

2 bariga-measuring vesels

1 seah-measuring vessel of 10 sila capacity

3 seah-measuring vessels of 10 sila capacity, . . .

3 seah-measuring vessels of 3 sila capacity, . . .

2 bread shovels

10 bread shovels

6 . . ., . . . 8 baskets . . .

1 . . . , 1 broken . . .

Delivery point: Ila-nu’id foreman of the bakers

Month: extra barley havest, 30th day

Year: Ibbi-Sin, king

The extra month was inserted from time to time to keep the lunar calander in line with the sun. A sila was a measure of capacity, about .85 of a litre, and a gur was 300 sila. - (AM.0052)


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