The Tablets of Scotland

The National Museums Scotland (NMS) and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative are pleased to announce the addition of the digitized NMS cuneiform corpus to CDLI’s website.

With approximately 250 objects in storage, the collection of the NMS is the largest of its kind in Scotland. It is remarkable due to its diversity, covering various periods of Mesopotamian history and beyond. Although a majority of the corpus consists of cuneiform artifacts made of clay (mainly tablets and bricks), the collection contains several nice examples of Neo-Assyrian reliefs as well.

It is not surprising that administrative records dating to the last century of the 3rd millennium BC, the so-called Ur III period, have a fair share in this collection. An edition of this still mostly unpublished corpus is planned for the near future together with further smaller Scottish collections of cuneiform artifacts. Although much of this material consists of small receipts, some larger specimens of Ur III accounts are noteworthy, thus the fragment of a large Ur III account, whose date is unfortunately broken. The account deals with work performed for the house of the third king of the Ur III dynasty, Amar-Suen, and mentions a variety of workers (those that are present, missing and dead). Similarly significant documents are a literary letter addressed to a king that is known from several places and that uses sophisticated epithets, and a Sumerian love incantation with just one duplicate, adding valuable information to the understanding of this composition due to its excellent state of preservation.

Besides Sumerian literary texts, there are quite a few well-preserved legal texts in the NMS dating to the Old Babylonian period. Due to such internal criteria as names and places referenced in the records, we learn that a substantial number originate from the site of ancient Kish. Others such as NMS A.1909.405.28 might originate from Sippar. Fragments of its original envelope are still preserved. Furthermore, there is an Old Babylonian letter written in Akkadian dealing with the rights to a field.

Although there are no texts in the collection from Mesopotamia proper that date to the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, there is a brick with a Middle Elamite royal inscription by the Shutrukid king Shilhak-Inshushinak commemorating the restoration of the temple of Kiririsha-of-Liyan (see K. Wagensonner, CDLN 2014:018 [forthcoming]).

Aside from these clay tablets, the most noteworthy objects held by the collection are its Neo-Assyrian period (ca. 911-612 BC) relief. Among the latest datable texts in the collection are those dating to the Neo-Babylonian (ca. 626-539 BC) and the subsequent Achaemenid periods (547-331 BC). The well-preserved tablet NMS A.1909.405.23 derives from the vast archive of the Egibi family, whose business spanned over five generations (see C. Wunsch, Das Egibi-Archiv [=Cuneiform Monographs 20. Groningen 2000]). This text, from the third year of Darius, testifies to the purchase of a plot of land; it has a duplicate in the British Museum (BM 32180 + 33125; see Wunsch op.cit., no. 199A). Due to the better preservation of the Edinburgh tablet, the whole transaction is better understood.

Noteworthy for this late stage in Mesopotamian history is also a royal inscription by the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC), inscribed on a clay barrel cylinder. This inscription is known from several examples, among others a similar barrel in the John Rylands Library (Manchester). Last but not least, one should draw attention to a bilingual version of a lamentation, whose copy in Edinburgh dates to the second half of the 1st millennium BC as well. A strikingly similar text in terms of scribal hand and spacing is a bilingual prayer in the Manchester Museum.

Thanks to the cordial assistance of NMS curators, the results of the National Museums Scotland collaboration have now been added to CDLI pages.

Any queries regarding the collection should be directed to Margaret Maitland, Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean (m.maitland@nms.ac.uk); any corrections or comments on the catalogue and associated online files should be directed to CDLI (cdli@ucla.edu).

The imaging in Edinburgh was undertaken by Kathryn Kelley and Klaus Wagensonner (University of Oxford). The RTI capture of the Neo-Assyrian relief in the collection as well as some chosen cuneiform texts were done by James Miles (University of Southampton). Post-capture processing was undertaken by Klaus Wagensonner. The NMS digital capture was made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and is are part of the on-going mission of CDLI to ensure the long-term digital preservation of ancient cuneiform inscriptions, and, in furtherance of humanities research, to provide free global access to all available text artifact data.

For the NMS and the CDLI:
Margaret Maitland, Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean, Department of World Cultures, National Museums Scotland
Jacob L. Dahl, Associate Professor of Assyriology, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford

Date: 
2014/05/22