The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Cuneiform Tablet

State Library of Victoria - Joy of Museums - 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.

Cuneiform script is one of the earliest systems of writing, invented by the Sumerians, in the region of modern-day Iraq. It is distinguished by its wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets, made by means of a blunt reed for a stylus. The word cuneiform simply means “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 approximately 30,000 have been read or published.

Among the many historical objects in the State Library of Victoria the following are some of the highlights:

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Essential Facts:

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

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Photo Credits: 1) By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons