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Stele of Ushumgal

Early Dynastic I
2900–2700 B.C.
Mesopotamia, probably from Umma (modern Jokha)
Gypsum alabaster
H. 22.4 x W. 14.7 x D. 9.5 cm (8 7/8 x 5 3/4 x 3 3/4 in.)
Credit Line:
Funds from various donors, 1958
Accession Number:
  • Description

    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.

  • Provenance

    1930s, collection of M. Godin, Paris; acquired by the Museum in 1958, purchased from Elias S. David, New York.

  • References

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History