Among the earliest written documents from Mesopotamia are records of land sales or grants, often carved in stone with associated images, perhaps for public display. The Sumerian inscription on this stele records a transaction involving three fields, three houses, and some livestock. Ushumgal, a priest of the god Shara, and his daughter are the central figures of the transaction, but because of the archaic script, it is not clear whether Ushumgal is buying, selling, or granting these properties. The smaller figures along the sides very likely represent witnesses to the transaction.
In addition to their importance to understanding the development of writing, these early land documents provide evidence that land could be privately owned in early Mesopotamia, although a significant proportion was still owned by the gods and managed by their temples. While this development is not surprising from a modern point of view, in antiquity it represented a momentous conceptual and cultural shift.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Stele of Ushumgal and Shara-igizi-Abzu
Period:Early Dynastic I
Geography:Mesopotamia, probably from Umma (modern Jokha)
[by 1937-1938, Paul Godin, Paris]; offered for sale to the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, in 1937 by Paul Godin, and in 1944 by Brimo de Laroussilhe (personal communication, Mattes Lammert); offered for sale to American museums in 1940s-1950s by Elias David; acquired by the Museum in 1958, purchased from Elias S. David, New York.
“Expedition into the Past: Al-Hiba,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 16, 1972–January 21, 1973.
“The Art of Sumer and Akkad,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, April 3–May 27, 1973.
"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.
“Before the Flood.” Fundación ‘La Caixa’, Barcelona, Madrid, November 29, 2012–June 30, 2013.
"She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia ca. 3400-2000 BC," The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, October 14, 2022–February 19, 2023.
Parrot, André. 1937-1939. "Kudurru archaïque provenant de Senkereh." Archiv für Orientforschung 12, pp. 319-324.
Wilkinson, Charles K. 1958. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 17 (2), Eighty-Eighth Annual Report of the Trustees for the Fiscal Year 1957-1958 (Oct., 1958), pp. 40-41.
Crawford, Vaughn E. 1960. "The Third Millenium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 18 (8), Art of the Ancient Near East (Apr., 1960), pp. 246-247, fig. 5.
Amiet, Pierre. 1961. La Glyptique Mésopotamienne Archaïque. Paris: Éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, p. 117, pl. 61, no. 824.
Parrot, André. 1961. "A propos d'un kudurru archaïque." Syria 38, pp. 348-350.
Mc Keon, John F.X. 1973. The Art of Sumer & Akkad, exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, unpaged, fig. 4.
Hansen, Donald P. 1975. "Frühsumerische uns frühdynastische Rundplastik." Der Alte Orient, edited by Winfried Orthmann. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, Vol. 14. Berlin: Propyläen, pp. 180-181, 184, 188, pl. 74b, c.
Liebling, Roslyn. 1978. Time Line of Culture in the Nile Valley and its Relationship to Other World Cultures. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Börker-Klähn, Jutta. 1980. "Die Stellung Mesilims und der mit ihm verbundene Stilbegriff." Baghdader Mitteilungen 11, pp. 33-34, fig. 2k, l.
Moortgat, Anton. 1982. Die Kunst des Alten Mesopotamien: Die klassiche Kunst Vorderasiens I, Sumer und Akkad. Köln: DuMont Buchverlag, p. 60, pls. 33-36.
Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 52, fig. 71.
Asher-Greve, Julia M. 1985. Frauen in altsumerischer Zeit. Bibliotheca Mesopotamica, Vol. 18. Malibu: Undena Publications, no. 582, p. 206; pp. 108-110, 163, 164, 183.
Winter, Irene J. 1985. “After the Battle Is Over: The ‘Stele of the Vultures’ and the Beginning of Historical Narrative in the Art of the Ancient Near East.” Studies in the History of Art 16, p. 24, fig. 17.
Braun-Holzinger, Eva Andrea. 1991. Mesopotamische Weihgaben der frühdynastischen bis altbabylonischen Zeit. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag, p. 334, Stele 1.
Gelb, Ignace J., Piotr Steinkeller, and Robert M. Whiting. 1991. Earliest Land Tenure Systems in the Near East: Ancient Kudurrus. Oriental Institute Publications 104. Chicago, no. 12, pp. 43-47, pls. 14-17.
Evans, Jean M. 2003. "Stele of Ushumgal." 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. 20, p. 53, fig. 22.
Wu, Xin. 2006. Mesopotamia: Process of a Civilization. Beijing: Chinese Cultural Relics Press, p. 35.
Rakic, Yelena. 2012. "Estela de Ušumgal." In Antes del Diluvio: Mesopotamia 3500-2100 A.C., exh. cat. Barcelona: Obra Social "la Caixa", Polígrafa, p. 226.
Asher-Greve, Julia M. 2013. "Women and agency: a survey from Late Uruk to the end of Ur III." In The Sumerian World, edited by Harriet Crawford. London and New York: Routledge, p. 363, fig. 18.3.
Suter, Claudia E. 2014. "Human, Divine, or Both? The Uruk Vase and the Problem of Ambiguity." In Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art, edited by Brian A. Brown and Marian H. Feldman. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 561-562.
Bahrani, Zainab. 2017. Art of Mesopotamia. London and New York: Thames and Hudson, p. 104, fig. 4.19.
Beaulieu, Paul-Alain. 2018. A History of Babylon, 2200 BC–AD 75. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 33-34, fig. 2.2.
Bartash, Vitali. 2020. “The Early Dynastic Near East.” In The Oxford History of the Ancient Near East. Volume 1: From the Beginnings to Old Kingdom Egypt and the Dynasty of Akkad, edited by Karen Radner et al. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 587-588, fig. 8.4.
Tamur, Erhan. 2022 "Stele of Shara-igizi-Abzu". In She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia ca. 3400-2000 BC, exh. cat. edited by Sidney Babcock and Erhan Tamur. New York: The Morgan Library & Museum, cat. 38, pp. 150-151.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.