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Cuneiform tablet: administrative account of barley distribution with cylinder seal impression of a male figure, hunting dogs, and boars

Jemdet Nasr
ca. 3100–2900 B.C.
Mesopotamia, probably from Uruk (modern Warka)
2.17 x 2.36 x 1.63 in. (5.5 x 6 x 4.15 cm)
Clay-Tablets-Inscribed-Seal Impressions
Credit Line:
Purchase, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gift, 1988
Accession Number:
  • Description

    In about 3300 B.C. writing was invented in Mesopotamia, perhaps in the city of Uruk, where the earliest inscribed clay tablets have been found in abundance. This was not an isolated development but occurred during a period of profound transformations in politics, economy, and representational art. During the Uruk period of the fourth millennium B.C., the first Mesopotamian cities were settled, the first kings were crowned, and a range of goods—from ceramic vessels to textiles—were mass-produced in state workshops. Early writing was used primarily as a means of recording and storing economic information, but from the beginnings a significant component of the written tradition consisted of lists of words and names that scribes needed to know in order to keep their accounts. Signs were drawn with a reed stylus on pillow-shaped tablets, most of which were only a few inches wide. The stylus left small marks in the clay which we call cuneiform, or wedge-shaped, writing.

    This tablet most likely documents grain distributed by a large temple, although the absence of verbs in early texts make them difficult to interpret with certainty. The seal impression depicts a male figure guiding two dogs on a leash and hunting or herding boars in a marsh environment.

  • Provenance

    Until 1988, Erlenmeyer collection, purchased by Professor Hans and Marie-Louise Erlenmeyer between 1943 and the early 1960s; acquired by the Museum in 1988, purchased at the sale of Ancient Near Eastern texts form the Erlenmeyer collection, Christie's, London, December 13, 1988, lot 21.

  • Exhibition History

    "Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 8–August 17, 2003.

  • References

    Christie, Manson & Woods. 1988. Ancient Near Eastern texts from the Erlenmeyer collection. 13 December 1988, London, p. 16, p. 71, lot 21.

    Pittman, Holly. 1989. "Three Tablets." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (2), Recent Acquisitions: A Selection 1988-1989 (Autumn 1989), pp. 6-7.

    Aruz, Joan. 2003. "Administrative tablet with seal impression." In Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus, exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, with Ronald Wallenfels. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 11, pp. 40-41.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History