Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin

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Revisiting Jemdet Nasr Texts:
Salvatore F. Monaco
< vesnadavidovic@tin.it >




§1. The tablet IM 55580 was first published in copy by S. Langdon in OECT 7 (Oxford 1928) as no. 32 plus fragment no. 187, and no. 128, a field copy. The tablet is broken in many pieces, of which at least five have been assembled; photographs of the obverse and reverse as well as copies and transliteration were published by R. K. Englund and J.P. Gregoire in 1991 (MSVO 1, 94). The tablet measures 113×71×20 mm, missing the upper left corner and a trapezoidalshaped portion of the obverse that extends from the left edge to the center dividing line. The lower left side of the obverse is badly abraded with the consequent loss of, probably, three cases in the bottom of the first column.
Figure 1: Obverse and reverse surfaces of the tablet MSVO 1, 94, showing photographic join with fragment MSVO 1, 124 (left), and a reconstructed vector graphic of both texts (right, courtesy of R. K. Englund [correcting obv. ii of MSVO 1, 124])
§3. The join restores partially the second (O0102) and third cases (O0103) and almost completely the fourth case (O0104) of the first column of the obverse. The fragment restores also the first part of the second column of the obverse. The reverse of the fragment is badly damaged, preserving only a portion of a sign belonging to the first case of the second section (R0102a). It can be seen that in O0104 the upper right edge of the tablet matches perfectly the lower left edge of the fragment, fully restoring the number sign N_{1}, the sign ŠU_{2} and the line separating the preceding case O0103.
§4. Other fragments and flakes, which would completely restore the tablet, are still missing. Nevertheless, the content of some of the missing cases can be determined by analogy, although no quantitative reconstruction may be reliably attempted.
§5. The transliteration of the text follows that provided in MSVO 1, the only differences being the inclusion of the signs on the fragment and the reading 8N_{1} in case O0303 instead of 9N_{1}; this follows from a comparison of cases O0105 and O0307, in which the two signs furthest to the right end vertically aligned (as normally happens for even numbers and not for odd numbers, for instance in case O0305).
§7. The numerical sign systems used in the list of commodities on the obverse (sections 1 and 2) include both the bisexagesimal system and the ŠE system.[2] Sections 3 and 4 in the reverse, as grain accounts, use only the ŠE system.
§8. The first section, on the analogy with section 2, should contain a quantity of grain measured in the derived numerical system Š* (in case O0101), followed by an additional quantity expressed in the derived system Š' (case O0102).[3] Similarly, a commodity measured in the derived numerical system B* used to qualify discrete objects is probably to be expected in one of the missing cases O0106 – O0108. The deliveries (GI) of the listed commodities, ‘regular offerings due to the temple’^{?} (NI_{a}+RU AB_{a}),[4] took place six times (˹6N_{1}˺ SU_{a} [GIBIL]),[5] the two officials GIR_{3b}gunû PA_{a} and AMAR[6] being responsible for the transactions. The use of the regular sexagesimal system (as in section 2) in the expression for “six times” in place of the N_{57} notation is probably meant to qualify the notation as a cardinal number. N_{57} notations, frequently used for ordinal numbers, are also used for cardinal numbers, expecially when there is no possible ambiguity in interpretation, as in texts MSVO 4, 1 and 2, discussed in §15, which list grain accounts for eight years in sequence (1N_{57} to 8N_{57} used as ordinals in the timenotation U_{4}+nN_{57}) and record the total amount of grain for the 8year period (8N_{57} used as cardinal in the same timenotation).
§9. Section 2 consists of a fully preserved list of commodities delivered twelve times (1N_{14} 2N_{1} SU_{a} GIBIL GI), the two officials GIR_{3b}gunû PA_{a} and PAP_{a} BU_{a} NAM_{2} being in charge of the transaction. Similar lists of commodities are common in Jemdet Nasr texts.[7] In this category of accounts, the list always begins with a quantity of grain measured in the derived numerical system Š*, followed by an additional quantity expressed in the numerical system Š'. The other commodities are recorded in the numerical system B, with a quantity measured in the derived system B*.
§ 10. Section 3 is a grain account over a period of 4 years (the considerations in the following paragraphs exclude the possibility that the numerical signs nN_{57} used in the time notations in sections 3 and 4 are ordinals). The first case (R0101a) reports the total amount of grain measured in the numerical system Š*, the official in charge being AMAR. Cases R0101b1–R0101b5 record the details of partial deliveries, with the purpose of each transaction specified. Cases R0101b3a – R0101b3b appear to demonstrate the equivalence between emmer (system Š") and grain (Š*) at the ratio of 2:1. Quantities of grain measured in both Š and Š* systems are reckoned together in the Š* system (case R0101a). The average yearly delivery of grain amounts to 78N_{1} (units of grain, corresponding to later Sumerian barig?) equivalent to 13N_{14} (units of grain, corresponding to later Sumerian gur?).[8]
§11. Section 4 is a grain account over a period of six years, in which both the total and the partial deliveries are measured in the numerical system Š. The official in charge is GIR_{3b}gunû PA_{a} (only a portion of the first sign is preserved in the joined fragment). As in Section 3 the first case (R0102a) reports the total amount of grain, while cases R0102b1–R0102b4 account for partial deliveries which are exact multiples of six. Such circumstances confirm that the average yearly delivery of grain (78 barig or 13 gur) found in section 3 was the standard yearly rate for the recorded transactions.
§ 12. It is noteworthy that the text MSVO 1, 90, reports regular supplies of grain, delivered six times, to the same officials GIR_{3b}gunû PA_{a}and AMAR for a grand total of 237 ^{3}/_{5} (barig) over a period of three years, resulting in an average yearly rate of 79 ^{1}/_{5} (barig).[9] MSVO 1, 89, is an account of grain for the officials GIR_{3b}gunû PA_{a} and EN_{a} PA_{a} BAD+DI_{a} in four deliveries during three years,[10] for a total amount of 118 ^{4}/_{5} (barig). The resulting average yearly rate of 39 ^{3}/_{5} (barig) corresponds to half of the standard quantity.
it follows that the two officials (GIR_{3b}gunû PA_{a} and PAP_{a} BU_{a} NAM_{2}) received the standard yearly amount of grain over a period of four years. By analogy, section 1 may have recorded the same amount of grain (26 ^{2}/_{5} barig), delivered six times to the officials GIR_{3b}gunû PA_{a} and AMAR, for an equivalent of 158 ^{2}/_{5} barig over a period of two years.[11]
§ 15. It may not be surprising to find the same correspondence between the standard quantity of grain for each delivery to the officials in charge (26 ^{2}/_{5} barig) of sections 1 and 2, and the yearly standard amount (78 barig) recorded in the totals of sections 3 and 4, also appears in the parallel texts MSVO 4, 1 and 2, from Uqair (a Sumerian town not far from Jemdet Nasr).[12] Table 1 lists for each year the quantity of grain measured in barig, the same quantity expressed in terms of the standard yearly amount (78 barig), and the quantity for the total period in terms of the standard quantity per delivery/official (26 ^{2}/_{5} barig).
Table 1: A comparison of the accounts MSVO 4, 12
§ 16. Such relationships in both texts seem to imply that 25 deliveries of the standard quantity (26 ^{2}/_{5}) took place over a period of eight years, at a variable yearly rate, computable in terms of ^{n}/_{13}. If we consider the ratio between the average yearly rate of 79 ^{1}/_{5} barig for two officials (§13) and the standard yearly amount of 78 barig for the same officials (§10), and multiply it by the number of days for the standard year (360) we get:
which is a very close approximation of the duration of the solar year. It is not surprising that a population dependent on agriculture was aware of the solar year and would, necessarily, have introduced an intercalary (13^{th}) month very early in their history, a direct consequence of having adopted a calendar with a month of fixed duration (30 days).[13] We may therefore assume that the grain deliveries were performed, on average, three times per year, plus once to take into account the intercalary month (3 × 8 + 1 = 25), whereas the actual transactions involved were those registered in the tablets for each year. 



Version: 1 September 2004 