Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Triangular label impressed with stamp seal: for grain loan

ca. 7th century B.C.
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
5.1 x 3.5 x 1.9 cm (2 x 1 3/8 x 3/4 in.)
Clay-Tablets-Inscribed-Seal Impressions
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1957
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 402
The invention of writing in approximately 3300 B.C. was one of many developments in administrative technology--including the use of geometric tokens for counting and cylinder seals to guarantee transactions--that accompanied the growth of the first cities and states in southern Mesopotamia. Proto-cuneiform is the name given to the earliest form of writing--pictograms that were drawn on clay tablets. Gradually, the pictograms became abstracted into cuneiform (Latin, "wedge-shaped") signs that were impressed rather than drawn. At its greatest extent, cuneiform writing was used from the Mediterranean coast of Syria to western Iran and from Hittite Anatolia to southern Mesopotamia. It was adapted to write at least fifteen different languages. The last dated cuneiform text has a date corresponding to A.D. 75, although the script probably continued in use over the next two centuries.

This clay object is a triangular-shaped label used to record a loan of grain. The cuneiform text which reads from left to right identifies the individuals involved, Shamash-sharru-usur and Ninurta-nadin-ahi, and also lists a number of witnesses. The label is impressed twice with a stamp seal with the design of a rosette. According to a caption the seal belonged to Ninurta-nadin-ahi, the man who received the advance of grain. Two counterclockwise whorls are incised between the stamped rosettes. They may represent either a type of countermark or perhaps a "signature" added by the scribe of the tablet.

The label was excavated at the site of Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia. It was part of the archive of a certain Shamash-sharru-usur, a high official who was active during the reign of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.
1953, excavated by Max Mallowan, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; ceded in the division of finds to the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; acquired by the Museum in 1957, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.
Wiseman, Donald J. 1953. "The Nimrud Tablets." Iraq 15, p. 144.

Spar, Ira, and Eva von Dassow. 2000. Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume III: Private Archive Texts from the First Millennium B.C. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 3, pp. 10-13, pl. 2.
Related Objects

Statuette of a man with an oryx, a monkey, and a leopard skin

Date: ca. 8th century B.C. Medium: Ivory Accession: 60.145.11 On view in:Gallery 400

Cloisonné furniture plaque with two griffins in a floral landscape

Date: ca. 8th century B.C. Medium: Ivory Accession: 61.197.1 On view in:Gallery 400

Human-headed winged bull (lamassu)

Date: ca. 883–859 B.C. Medium: Gypsum alabaster Accession: 32.143.1 On view in:Gallery 401

Human-headed winged lion (lamassu)

Date: ca. 883–859 B.C. Medium: Gypsum alabaster Accession: 32.143.2 On view in:Gallery 401

Relief panel

Date: ca. 883–859 B.C. Medium: Gypsum alabaster Accession: 32.143.4 On view in:Gallery 401