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Cuneiform Tablet

Cuneiform Tablet

Cuneiform Tablet

This Cuneiform Tablet is over 4,000 years old and records the payment of taxes. Cuneiform script was written on dampened hand-shaped clay tablets, using a wedged stick, then the clay tablets were sun-dried or fired in ovens. It is one of the earliest systems of writing, invented by the Sumerians, in the region of modern-day Iraq. Its wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets were made using a blunt reed for a stylus. The word cuneiform means merely “wedge-shaped”.

This clay tablet records the delivery of taxes, paid in sheep and goats (mostly lambs) in the 10th month of the 46th year of Shulgi, second king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, which is ca. 2050 BC. The day of receipt is written on the edge of the tablet. The earliest tablets record transactions of tax collectors and merchants. Later they began to record laws and texts on astronomy, literature, medicine and mathematics.

Over half a million cuneiform tablets are estimated to have been excavated in modern times, of which only about 30,000 have been read or published.

Cuneiform

Cuneiform is one of the earliest systems of writing and emerging in Sumer in the late fourth millennium BC. Cuneiform writing began as a system of pictograms, stemming from an earlier system used for accounting. In the third millennium, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use grew smaller.

Cuneiform script was used in many ways in ancient Mesopotamia. It was used to record laws, like the Code of Hammurabi. It was also used for recording maps, compiling medical manuals, and documenting religious stories and beliefs, among other uses.

Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by the Phoenician alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–612 BC). By the second century AD, the script had become extinct and all knowledge of how to read it was lost until it began to be deciphered in the 19th century.

For centuries, travellers to Persepolis, in modern-day Iran, had noticed carved cuneiform inscriptions and were intrigued. However, all early attempts at decipherment were largely unsuccessful until the mid-1800s. Today there are only a few hundred qualified cuneiformists in the world.

The Sumerians used a numerical system based on 1, 10 and 60. The way of writing a number like 70 would be the sign for 60 and the sign for 10 right after. This numerical system based on 60 is still used today for measuring time as 60 seconds per minute and 60 minutes per hour.

Reflections

  • There was tax 5,000 years ago and will it be with us for another 5,000 years?
  • 5,000 years ago, the Sumerians influenced how we measure time.
  • Only a small fraction of cuneiform tablets have been deciphered. Imagine what secrets lay in the millions of cuneiform tablets excavated in modern times.

Explore the State Library of Victoria

Cuneiform Tablet

  • Title:               Cuneiform Tablet
  • Year:               2050 BC
  • Find site:        Southern Mesopotamia
  • Medium:        Clay
  • Dimensions:   1 7/8″ x 1 1/2″ approx.
  • Museum:        State Library of Victoria

Sumerian Proverbs

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“Don’t pick things ahead of time; some bear fruit later.”

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“Pay heed to the word of your mother as though it were the word of a god.”

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“You should not pass judgment when you drink beer.”

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“As long as you live you should not increase evil by telling lies.”

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“A loving heart maintains a family; a hateful heart destroys a family.”

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“For his pleasure, he got married. On his thinking it over he got divorced.”

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“An unjust heir who does not support a wife, who does not support a child, has no cause for celebration.”

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“A palace is a slippery place which catches those who do not know it.”

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“A slave entrusted with a burial will be negligent.”

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“Writing is the mother of eloquence and the father of artists.”

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“A sweet word is everybody’s friend.”

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“Friendship lasts a day, kinship forever.”

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“The owner of a house should reinforce the windows against burglars.”

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“The poor man chews whatever he is given.”

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“A dog which is played with turns into a puppy.”

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“Control the dog, but love the puppy!”

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“A troubled mind makes you sick.”

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“The poor man must always looks to his next meal.”

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“The sheep-shearer is himself dressed in dirty rags.”

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“Commit no crime, and fear will not consume you.”

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“Bride, as you treat your mother-in-law, so will women later treat you.”

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“A troubled mind makes you sick.”
– Sumerian Proverb

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Photo Credits: 1) GM

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