This is an example of a tablet with cuneiform (kyōōnē′ĭfôrm) writing scripted for law purposes. Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known writing systems used in Mesopotamia . It contains wedge-shaped markings (symbols or letters to spell out words) on clay tablets of different sizes depending on the time period and location. It was developed before the last centuries of the 4thmillennium BCE in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valley. Law along with book keeping were the main uses of cuneiform tablets which is the type pictured on the right [See 1984].
These tablets with cuneiform scirpt were created by first molding the actual tablet out of clay. They differed in size and color based on locaiton and time period. Then the script was done with a stylis and then the clay was dried, usually by baking the slab. This specific tablet was a law tablet and measured 13cmx6.5cmx2cm13cmx6.5cmx2cm with a weight of roughly .3 kg . The tablet and stylis (made of reed) themselves were not the evolutionary piece of technology of importance in this conversation; rather the use of cuneiform being one of the first writing systems in the history of the world. This allowed for a writing system that let the people keep track of things such as people, how much someone had whether currency or product, legal documents (as the one pictured above), and teachings or stories. Writing was a huge innovation in technology and created a more organized and more sophisticated society. The system itself proved to be very complex and lead to more simplified versions of the script to appeal to the masses. Not just anyone could read cuefeiform, but luckily today we can translate much of the writings and symbols into english. These tablets are constantly being discovered because they were made out of hardened clay which keeps and does not decay over long periods of time. Also there were many to be found since this was the way of writing for a long period of history. Imagine if paper did not decay quickly, when a new form of writing came out there would be so much historical paper left. It's the same concept.
Local Historical Context
This cuneiform tablet in particular was created sometime between 1813 BCE and 1793 BCE in the first dynasty of Babylon, which is the whole area of South Mesopotamia . During this time the first dynasty of Babylon was experiencing their fifth king; Sin-Muballit [Horsnell 2004]. This area embodied most of the land around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the valley in between. Babylonian cuneiform writing was derived from the Sumerians [Sumer 2013]. The society was divided into 3 major classes. The highest class being the wealthy landowners,merchants, and priests. The middle class consisted of the less wealthy merchants, peasants, and artisans. And the lowest class consisted of the slaves. The Babylonian religion was also inherited from the older Sumerian culture. By the second century A.D., the script had become extinct [Ur 2013]. The people that used these tablets had one main thing in common; they were all literate. At this time most people could not read or write, so only the elite would be able to use and desipher the meaning of said tablets. Amongst those people were noblemen, law makers, educaters, and so on. Not your run of the mill peasant or laborer/slave could read or write cuneioform on tablets. The particular tablet above was a tablet used for law. You can tell that by the way the writer talks about a witness. The actual matter being dealt with was an asset allocation between brothers . This is just a present day contract in laymen's terms.
World-History Context Edit
Cuneiform writing on tablets was revolutionary and we could call it the father of the written language. Never before did the literate have a way of spelling out and writing words down to keep records. It allowed for governments to take population seriously as well as who owned what and how many. If a man owned 300 cattle, but no one had record taxes may be thrown off. This is another big point; taxes were easy to track and write down with a writing system in place. Countries could easier know what is actually going on within the trade and economy of their city-state or what have you [Laermann 2011]. A messanger could take orders from one city-state to another without fear of messing up exactly what his ruler wanted him to get along. It put more accuracy in the arms of anyone who could read or write and the power definitely shifted even more into the hands of the literate. As it goes, cuneiform was very difficult to read and was kept going because it kept the power in favor of those who could read. Who would want to give up power...right? All in all, cuneiform put writing on the map and allowed for records to be kept and carried out. Without this development, who knows we may still be using messangers to deliver our unwritten wants and desires.
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