Stele of Ushumgal, Gypsum alabaster, Sumerian

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:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
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.

1930s, collection of M. Godin, Paris; [by 1950s, Elias S. David, New York]; acquired by the Museum in 1958, purchased from Elias S. David, New York.

“Expedition into the Past: Al-Hiba,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 16, 1972–January 21, 1973.

“The Art of Sumer and Akkad,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, April 3–May 27, 1973.

"Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 8–August 17, 2003.

“Before the Flood.” Fundación ‘La Caixa’, Barcelona, Madrid, November 29, 2012–June 30, 2013.

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.

Liebling, Roslyn. 1978. Time Line of Culture in the Nile Valley and its Relationship to Other World Cultures. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

Wu, Xin. 2006. Mesopotamia: Process of a Civilization. Beijing: Chinese Cultural Relics Press, p. 35.

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.