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Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet in Clay

One of the first writing systems and also the oldest was created by the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia about 3500 BCE is cuneiform. One of the first writing systems was created by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia in 3400 BCE. They called it cuneiform. The name "cuneiform" derives from the Latin word "cuneus," which means "wedge," because of the imprints left on clay tablets by pressing a reed stylus into the material. They were utilized for a number of things, such as keeping track of business dealings, religious texts, books, and even private letters. Every tablet offers a window into the customs, values, and daily pursuits of the ancient Mesopotamian people, providing an important context for understanding the emergence of written language and civilization.


What is the process of making the tablets?

Clay Selection and Preparation: The first step in the procedure was to choose a suitable clay, which was typically found around villages or on riverbanks. For molding and inscribing, this clay is required to be of the highest caliber and have the proper consistency. To make the clay simpler to work with and eliminate air bubbles, it was soaked and kneaded before use. This produced a homogeneous texture.


Forming the Tablet: After the clay was ready, a rectangular tablet was formed out of it. For tablets with more irregular shapes, this may be done by hand; for uniformity in size and shape, molds might be used. Depending on the tablet's intended use, its proportions varied; some were small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, while others were bigger.


Writing with a Stylus: Text inscription was the most important step in producing a cuneiform tablet. Expert scribes who had studied the intricate cuneiform writing often used a reed or wood stylus. The characteristic wedge-shaped letters of cuneiform writing were made by pressing the stylus's triangular or wedge-shaped tip into the clay at different angles. Every letter denoted a sound or a word, and the scribe would delicately push the writing instrument into the clay.


Baking or Sun-drying: After the writing was finished, the tablet was allowed to air dry. It can be dried in the sun or baked in a kiln, depending on the resources available and the desired result. The clay was strengthened and made more suited for long-term preservation by baking the tablet. The inscriptions' long-term preservation was further ensured by this procedure.


Drying: The tablets were allowed to air dry after shape. In order to harden the clay and keep it from breaking while writing, this step was crucial. The clay still had to be sufficiently malleable, though, in order to make the inscription easily.


Finishing: The tablet may need some last touches after drying. In several instances, the tablet's surface was polished to improve readability or get it ready for writing on the back. Sometimes a thin layer of wax or clay was applied on tablets to shield the inscriptions from damage.


Even though making clay tablets with cuneiform writing on them is not a regular activity these days, it can happen in educational initiatives, creative pursuits, replicas of ancient sites, or experimental archaeology. Whether for study, creative expression, hands-on learning, or preservation, these reconstructions pay tribute to past civilizations and offer important insights into their writing systems and cultural customs.

What were the reasons for developing these tablets?

The creation of Sumerian cuneiform tablets in clay served several crucial purposes for the ancient Mesopotamians:


Communication: Cuneiform tablets were used as a means of communication, allowing individuals to convey messages, instructions, and information to others. This communication could occur between different levels of society, from rulers and officials to merchants and craftsmen, facilitating coordination and collaboration in various endeavors.


Knowledge Preservation: Information and knowledge were recorded for future generations via the inscriptions on clay tablets. They included an abundance of literary, scientific, religious, and cultural writings that shed light on the customs, accomplishments, beliefs, and worldviews of prehistoric Mesopotamian culture.


Legal and Economic Transactions: Cuneiform tablets played a crucial role in preserving records of legal and economic transactions, guaranteeing responsibility and openness in commercial transactions and legal disputes. They supported social justice and order by acting as legally enforceable records of commitments, agreements, and contracts.


Religious and Ritualistic Purposes: The ancient Mesopotamians worshipped a variety of deities, and many of the cuneiform tablets that they found had religious writings, songs, prayers, and rituals. In religious observances, sacrifices, and rites, these tablets were essential in building a bridge between the divine and the human world.


The whole cultural legacy of Sumer was seized by the Babylonians and Assyrians at the fall of the Sumerian empire. The Sumerians left behind a wealth of philological, astrological, astronomical, mathematical-natural, and magical literature. These works remained nameless even though many of them were copied and new ones were made.


It was also impossible to pinpoint the provenance of many of the cuneiform tablets, which contributed to the earliest failed attempts at interpreting them. Many thousands of cuneiform tablets have been discovered by archaeologists. One such instance is the finding of thirty thousand clay tablets at Nineveh, which is one of the primary sources of information on ancient Mesopotamia.


Until next time, stay happy and stay safe.

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