Origins of Writing

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet
3200-3000 B.C.
Ancient Sumer (Iraq)

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet
3200-3000 B.C.
Ancient Sumer (Iraq)

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet
3200-3000 B.C.
Ancient Sumer (Iraq)

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet

Proto-Cuneiform Clay Tablet
3200-3000 B.C.
Ancient Sumer (Iraq)

Pottery Ink Well

Pottery Inkwell
c.1800 B.C.
Middle Bronze Age
Israel
This inkwell actually contains residue of ancient ink.

 

Pottery Ink Well

Pottery Inkwell
Eighth to seventh century B.C.
Israel

Brown Marble Cylinder Seal

Brown Marble Cylinder Seal
2300-2100 B.C.
Akkadian
Mesopotanian Empire (Iraq)
From the earliest times to modern days, individuals have used seals to secure and protect valuable personal items.  To make this seal, a waxy substance was applied over a closed container and then impressed with the owner’s private seal (stamped with a stamp seal and rolled with a cylinder seal).  Now the container could not be opened without breaking the owner’s seal.

Cuneiform Administrative Tablet

Cuneiform Clay Tablet
2000-1600 B.C.

Old Babylonian Empire (Iraq)

Administrative “document” concerning a land survey

The tablet was restored from several fragments with some loss of text.  Yet, most of the writing remains intact and easily read.  Administrative in nature, the document contains surveys of two plots of arable land.  The plots are in strips and described with detailed measurements.  Following the descriptions, the area of each plot is summarized.

The first summary occurs at the lower portion of the obverse side:
    [Total] 60……….iku……..
Field: […]mahgisdi[b…..] Adjacent to the A’urina canal.
From it:
        40……….iku, Mr. Qur..[….] 10 iku, Mr. Shemash-um[……..] 10 iku, Mr. Lugal-zimu

               the two; soldiers to the king

The second summary occurs on the reverse and is placed sideways:
    Total: 22 3/4 iku.
From it:
        10 iku, Mr. ………………soldier of the king
12 3/4 iku, Mr. Diri

        Field: Sagkidu

At the end of the table and at the bottom of the reverse side a line repeats the canal name:

    [Canal A] ‘urina

The iku represents the Babylonian’s measurement of the land area, about 37,600 square feet (slightly less than an acre).  It is evident the land was fertile and valuable because it was irrigated for crops, especially barley, the staple.  The use of the two plots was apparently given in payment for services to the state.  The two individuals recorded here who farmed the land were likely soldiers under the king.  Note that every “soldier of the king” receives 10 iku.  Each soldier was expected to live off his plot and would be exempt from his military duties to the king during the necessary agricultural times of the year.

Cuneiform Round School Tablet

Babylonian Round School Tablet
Cuneiform Clay Tablet
2000-1500 B.C.
Old Babylonian Empire (Iraq)
Standard multiplication table

Cuneiform School Tablet

Cuneiform Clay Tablet
2000-1500 B.C.
Old Babylonian Empire (Iraq)
Unfinished school tablet

Cuneiform Barrel

Cuneiform Clay Barrel
1850-1600 B.C.
Old Babylonian Empire (Iraq)
Barrel of Sin-Iddinam
Sin-Iddinam king of Larsa from 1849-1842 B.C.

Cuneiform Ritual Tablet

Cuneiform Clay Tablet
1900-1700 B.C.
Old Babylonian Empire (Iraq)
Contains a ritual for the Goddess Ishtar
(ancient goddess associated with Mother Earth)

The Old Babylonian clay tablet has text in four columns, each with fifteen to eighteen lines of cuneiform. Three corners are broken off, but the tablet is essentially complete. The cuneiform script is very well preserved on one side, less so on the other, and contains a ritual text about the goddess Ishtar.

One section reads:

“…for the bath of the Daughter-of-An; 1 sila of oil for the throne’s anointment; 1 ram, 1 measure of bread, 1 measure of beer: the divine banquet.”

Tablets addressing Old Babylonian rituals are rare, and thus the text displayed here is important historically.

Chinese Oracle Bone

Chinese Oracle Bone
1300-1100 B.C.
Late Shang Dynasty of Anyang
China

This bone was owned by the Philosophical Research Society and was in private ownership before the 1950’s.  Since that time no further bones have been permitted to leave China.

Hieroglyphic Writing on Papyrus

Hieroglyphic Writing on Papyrus
c.1200 B.C.
New Kingdom, Egypt

Fragment of the Book of the Dead.

The Book of the Dead is the name given by Egyptologists to a group of mortuary spells written on sheets of papyrus covered with magical texts and accompanying illustrations called vignettes.  These were placed with the dead body during the burial or entombment.  The spells were thought to help the deceased pass through the dangers of the underworld and attain an afterlife of bliss in the Field of Reeds.  Texts and vignettes are also present on the walls of Egyptian tombs as well as on sarcophaguses and coffins.  Later examples were written on linen or vellum.

White Marble Stamp Seal

White Marble Stamp Seal
3300-2900 B.C.
Late Uruk/Jemdet Nasr
Ancient Sumer (Iraq)
From the earliest times to modern days, individuals have used seals to secure and protect valuable personal items.  To make this seal, a waxy substance was applied over a closed container and then impressed with the owner’s private seal (stamped with a stamp seal and rolled with a cylinder seal).  Now the container could not be opened without breaking the owner’s seal.