Cuneiform tablet case impressed with two cylinder seals, for cuneiform tablet 66.245.5a: record of a lawsuit

Period: Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony

Date: ca. 20th–19th century B.C.

Geography: Anatolia, probably from Kültepe (Karum Kanesh)

Culture: Old Assyrian Trading Colony

Medium: Clay

Dimensions: 7 5/16 x 3 9/16 x 1 3/4 in. (18.5 x 9 x 4.5 cm)

Classification: Clay-Tablets-Inscribed-Seal Impressions

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Klejman, 1966

Accession Number: 66.245.5b


Kültepe, the ancient city of Kanesh, was part of the network of trading settlements established in central Anatolia by merchants from Ashur (in Assyria in northern Mesopotamia) in the early second millennium B.C. Travelling long distances, and often living separately from their families, these merchants traded vast quantities of goods, primarily tin and textiles, for Anatolian copper and other materials. Although the merchants adopted many aspects of local Anatolian life, they brought with them Mesopotamian tools used to record transactions: cuneiform writing, clay tablets and envelopes, and cylinder seals. Using a simplified version of the elaborate cuneiform writing system, merchants tracked loans as well as business deals and disputes, and sent letters to families and business partners back in Ashur. At Kültepe, thousands of these texts stored in household archives were preserved when fire destroyed the city in ca. 1836 B.C. Because the tablets document the activities of Assyrian merchants, they provide a glimpse into the complex and sophisticated commercial interactions that took place in the Near East during the beginning of the second millennium B.C.

The tablet (MMA 66.245.5a) contained in this case represents one such document and records court testimony describing an ownership dispute. The case is sealed with two different cylinder seals belonging to the two witnesses to the deposition, rolled across the front, back, and sides. Both seal impressions show scenes in which worshippers approach a larger seated figure, probably a divinity, holding a cup. While the use of the cylinder seal, rather than the stamp seal, was typically Mesopotamian, the seal carving was a visual hybrid that mixed elements such as the procession to a seated deity, a Mesopotamian motif, and an Anatolian style that emphasized features such as the large eyes of the figures, in a manner that offers further evidence for the cultural interaction between the two areas.

Adapted from, Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators (2010)