Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Our Oldest Objects

In the fall of 1993, the Department of Religion and Biblical Literature transferred 370 Babylonian clay tablets to the Rare Book Room. The tablets were probably excavated in what is now Iraq and were gradually procured for Smith since 1915 by professors Irving F. Wood and Elihu Grant. These early legal and business records—written between 2700 and 500 B.C.—were inscribed on clay tablets using a wedge-shaped stylus to make cuneiform symbols, which represent syllables in the Sumerian or Semitic Babylonian languages.

The two cuneiform tablets on display here represent the variety and range of the collection. The smaller tablet , a receipt for the delivery of one thousand bricks to construct a quay in Babylon, was written in the sixteenth year (589 or 588 B.C.) of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. The larger tablet is a legal contract concerning a boy whose rearing had been paid for by his maternal grand-father. According to this document, written circa 1744 B.C., the boy’s parents reimbursed the grandfather with barley.

permalink to cuneiform tablet collection: