Cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia
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Cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia

The Land between the two Rivers is the place where writing appears for the first time: a means of registration essential first for the administration of the new city states, and then for putting into writing Sumerian and Akkadian literature in the scribal schools. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia at the end of the 4th millennium BC, the Sumerians catented this extraordinary means of communication, using clay tablets that were engraved with a pointed stylus initially creating logograms, that is to say schematic drawings of the objects mentioned, then gradually simplified through the decomposition of the figures into cunei, until a large collection of syllabic signs (about 600) was achieved. These were also endowed when necessary with the value of words, and therefore used to write abstract terms that could not be expressed by schematised symbols or drawings, through the decomposition into syllables. Thanks to the syllabic nature of the signs, cuneiform, born for writing Sumeriian, was able to be used by the middle of the 3rd millennium BC for the Semitic language of the new inhabitants of Mesopotamia, the people of Akkad, and subsequently Babylonian, Amurro, Aramaic, Assyrian (all the Semitic languages and dialects), but also Hittite, an Indo-European language, and Hurrian, an agglutinative language that it is difficult to classify. Because the tablets were baked in the oven after they were inscribed, the clay that had become ceramic was preserved for thousands of years in the ground of the Near-Eastern archaeological sites and has transmitted a priceless treasure to us. Entire administrative and library archives have come to us as a living and direct picture of the historical and political events, of the social and economic organization, of the mythology and religion of the peoples of Mesopotamia, of western Iran, of Turkey and of Syria. The cuneiform texts preserved in the museums of the whole world have revealed an immense cultural patrimony that is yet to a great extent to be translated and disclosed.

The tablets that follow are examples of different types of texts and languages of :

Sale of a plot of ground

From Fara, central Iraq, circa 2500 BC
(cat. D208).

The Fara texts are the most ancient written documents of Mesopotamia in which the language expressed with the Sumerian cuneiform signs is actually Akkadian, the oldest known Semitic language.

"Nail" with the name and titles of king Sin-Kashid of Uruk

From Uruk, southern Iraq , period of the Amorite dynasties, reign of Sin-Kashid 1865-1833 BC
(cat. D718).

List of date rations

From central Iraq, 1st dyn. of Babylon, 32nd year of the reign of Hammurabi
(cat. D721).

Lump of clay used for sealing (bull) in the form of a walnut with a hole, that was used for blocking the drawstring of a container for cuneiform tablets.

Table IV of the Poem of Erra

From Babylon, central Iraq, neo-Babylonian period, 626-539 BC
(cat. D722).

The Poem of Erra is a Babylonian composition of the 8th century BC, attributed to the scribe Kabti-ilani-Marduk (765-763 BC), but the copy in question is more recent by at least a century and a half. The poem narrates the undertakings of a hero, Erra who ...