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Home > Auctions > 30th November 2021 > Sumerian Pictographic Tablet

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LOT 0137

GBP (£) 4,000 - 6,000
EUR (€) 4,700 - 7,060
USD ($) 5,330 - 7,990

Sold for (Inc. bp): £4,826

Sumerian Pictographic Tablet

33rd-30th century BC

A ceramic pillow-shaped pictographic tablet, inscribed on one face with a two-tiered pictographic grid, the reverse inscribed with two different and randomly placed forms. 127 grams, 81mm (3 1/4"). Very fine condition.

Part of a specialised collection of cuneiform texts, the property of a London gentleman and housed in London before 1992, thence by descent to family members; examined by Professor Wilfrid George Lambert FBA (1926-2011), historian, archaeologist, and specialist in Assyriology and Near Eastern archaeology, in the late 1980s and early 1990s; this small collection is exceptional for the variety of types, including some very rare and well preserved examples; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10902-180764.

Cf. The Metropolitan Museum, accession numbers 1988.433.3 and 1988.433.1, for similar.

The earliest form of writing, called proto-cuneiform, developed in Mesopotamia during the Late Uruk period. It consisted of pictographs: simple drawings and early symbols, drawn or pressed into clay tablets, then fired in a hearth or baked in the sun.
As with most tablets, that offered here likely documents grain distributed by a large temple. Scholars have identified two distinct phases in the development of writing in southern Mesopotamia: the earliest tablets, dating to c.3300 BC, use pictographs and numerals to record economic information; the later phase is characterised by changes in writing technique that altered the shape of the signs. The symbols stood for nouns- names of commodities primarily- together with a few adjectives, but they lacked grammatical elements. The nature of such a system meant that the tablets could be read in any language, but the general consensus is that the underlying language is Sumerian.