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50 Features of Special Collections: Cuneiform Tablet

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The Sumerian Clay Tablet was acquired by the rare book collection in 1966, purchased in 1962 from Dawson’s Book Shop in Los Angeles. The tablet is from Sumeria, modern day southern Iraq, circa 1974 BC/BCE (short chronology). The cuneiform inscription is an administrative text written during the Third Dynasty of Ur at Umma, which was at the center of a large agricultural district in southern Mesopotamia. The text orders the hiring of persons to perform agricultural work on the fields belonging to the temple of Shara, the chief god of Umma.

Not only is the Sumerian tablet the oldest item held in Special Collections, but it is also a source of interest and research on the UC Davis campus. In 1976 Professor R. David Freedman of the Religious Studies Department provided a detailed translation of the 19 lines of cuneiform found on the tablet as well as the seal impression which reads, “Mese, the scribe, son of Dada”.[1]

In 2003 the Sumerian tablet was examined by undergraduate history major Ellen Joyce under the mentor-ship of Professor Stylianos Spyridakis. Working with Special Collections and the Geology Lab on campus Ms. Joyce was able to weigh, photograph and examine with a stereo microscope the tablet as part of her research project through the MURALS program.[2]

The Sumerian tablet is a staple when presenting Special Collections materials to classes on the history of the book and how ideas are recorded. It is also a visitor favorite when brought out to be displayed for groups and patrons. The tablet can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room from 10-5, Monday thru Friday.

3 sides covered with cuneiform inscriptions, 1 narrow side and both ends blank. 7.7 x 5 x 2 cm.3 sides covered with cuneiform inscriptions, 1 narrow side and both ends blank. 7.7 x 5 x 2 cm.

[1] Information Sheet kept with tablet in Special Collections, University Library, UC Davis. PJ4071 .S9

[2] Teng, Santani. “Out of the Past.” The California Aggie 9 Feb. 2003: Print.