Cuneiform tablet: administrative account with entries concerning malt and barley groats

Jemdet Nasr
ca. 3100–2900 B.C.
Mesopotamia, probably from Uruk (modern Warka)
2.68 x 1.77 x .63 in. (6.8 x 4.5 x 1.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gift, 1988
Accession Number:
Not on view
This tablet with early writing most likely documents grain distributed by a large temple. Scholars have distinguished two phases in the development of writing in southern Mesopotamia. The earliest tablets, probably dating to around 3300 B.C., record economic information using pictographs and numerals drawn in the clay. A later phase, as represented by this tablet, reflects changes in the techniques of writing that altered the shapes of signs. Symbols stood for nouns, primarily names of commodities, as well as a few basic adjectives, but no grammatical elements. Such a system could be read in any language, but it is generally accepted that the underlying language is Sumerian. Indeed, by the first half of the third millennium B.C., the script had sufficiently developed to faithfully represent the Sumerian language, and the scope and application of writing was expanded to include written poetry. Nonetheless, even these later scribes rarely included grammatical elements, and the texts, created as memory aids, cannot be easily read today.
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. 25.
Christie, Manson & Woods. 1988. Ancient Near Eastern texts form the Erlenmeyer collection. 13 December 1988, London, p. 17, pp. 72-73, no. 25.

Annual Report of the Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 119 (July 1, 1988 - June 30, 1989), p. 16.

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. 181, p. 340, pl. 152, photo. 21.