Cuneiform Clay Tablet, ca. 2000-1595 BCE
This is a cuneiform clay tablet.
Cuneiform is not a language, but a writing system—one of the world’s oldest—that employs code symbols like the letters and syllables we use today. Everyday cuneiform (from Latin meaning "wedge-shaped") was invented in what is today Iraq around 3200 BCE and used until around 300 CE. With a stiff reed or wooden stylus, people inscribed characters on semihardened clay, ideal for taking impressions. Cuneiform tablets were used in business and schools, to document events and write poetry—virtually everything we use writing for today. Although the purpose of this Old Babylonian tablet cannot be confirmed, it contains the personal name of Ili-bani and the place names Babylon and Isin. This suggests a typical contract, in which one person might sell barley to someone from another city. Babylon, one of the most important cities in Mesopotamia, was known mainly through the stele of King Hammurabi, one of the earliest law codes in cuneiform.
It is credited
Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, A315235.
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Its dimensions are
H x W x D: 4.1 x 3.5 x 1.3 cm (1 5/8 x 1 3/8 x 1/2 in.)
This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Tools: Extending Our Reach.