Of the many legacies left by the ancient civilizations of southern Mesopotamia, the invention of writing is paramount. At the end of the fourth millennium B.C., written language developed in the region, first as pictographs and then evolving into abstract forms called cuneiform. The pictographs, like the ones on this tablet, are called proto-cuneiform and were drawn in the clay with a pointed implement. Circular impressions alongside the pictographs represented numerical symbols. Cuneiform (meaning wedge-shaped) script was written by pressing a reed pen or stylus with a wedge-shaped tip into a clay tablet. Clay, when dried to a somewhat hardened state, made a fine surface for writing, and when fired the records written on it became permanent.
Early writing was used primarily as a means of recording and storing economic information. This tablet most likely documents deliveries and distributions of grain such as barley and emmer wheat, although the absence of verbs in early texts makes them difficult to interpret with certainty.
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, no. 24.
Annual Report of the Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 119 (July 1, 1988 - June 30, 1989), p. 16.
Christie, Manson & Woods. 1988. Ancient Near Eastern texts form the Erlenmeyer collection. 13 December 1988, London, p. 17, pp. 68-69, no. 24.
Pittman, Holly. 1989. "Three Tablets." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (2), Recent Acquisitions: A Selection 1988-1989 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 6-7.
Spar, Ira, and Michael Jursa. 2014. Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume IV: The Ebabbar Temple Archive and Other Texts from the Fourth to the First Millennium B.C. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Eisenbrauns, no. 180, pp. 339-340, pl. 151, photo. 20.