Cuneiform Digital Library Journal
for Slava Ivanov on the
§1.1. It may seem less than remarkable to many observers of the advancing civil rights movement in the United States that, in November of 2008, citizens of this country elected a black man to the office of President. Barack Obama is not personally descended from African slaves; still, his ascension to the highest elective US office, despite the lingering liability of his skin color, represents a true benchmark in a sordid history of abuse that is intimately related to the European pillage of the New World. The history of European enslavement of Africans for the purpose of forced labor in transatlantic colonies describes a cultural atrocity whose flames burned brightly in the American South, but, we might note, longest in Brazil, where, beginning in the 16th century, hard labor in sugar cane production and mining operations was transferred by the Portuguese from the deteriorating indigenous slave populations into the hands of imported Africans. Here as in other New World colonies, slavery well outlived its abolishment in Europe—in 1761 in Portugal, or with the Slave Trade Act effectively frozen in the British Empire in 1807 until its eventual prohibition in 1834.
§1.2. The US followed Britain in the abolition of the slave trade in the early 19th century, but retained legal ownership of slaves, in the Confederate states until Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamations of 22 September 1862 and 1 January 1863, finally banning all forms of slavery with adoption of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865. Approximately four million black slaves were freed by July of 1865, but, as post-war federalism would play out, freed into the very uncertain future of Reconstruction that eventually failed them, and rewarded the intransigence of secessionist Southern states. By 1877, with the final withdrawal of federal troops in a kowtow by the US president, Hayes, to advocates of “states rights,” all Republican state governments were replaced by Democrats who instituted a system of segregation and poll taxing that effectively disenfranchised recently freed black men. This was, however, as the history of southern paramilitary organizations comprised of former Confederate soldiers demonstrated, not the most pressing existential distress of blacks in the post-war United States; still, poll taxes and other means of intimidating blacks, including the Jim Crow laws passed by the Democratic state legislatures, were an infection of the US body politic that held through the freedom marches of the 1960’s and beyond—the 24th Amendment, ratified in January of 1964, finally abolished poll taxes, and the Civil Rights Act was passed in July over the Senate filibuster led by Southern Democrats, one month before Obama’s third birthday. The best chronicler of the Southern experience with Reconstruction and the succeeding Confederate resurgence is William Faulkner, from whose Go Down, Moses this paper’s title is borrowed:
The Sam Fathers whom the boy knew was already sixty—a man not tall, squat rather, almost sedentary, flabby-looking though he actually was not, with hair like a horse’s mane which even at seventy showed no trace of white and a face which showed no age until he smiled, whose only visible trace of negro blood was a slight dullness of the hair and the fingernails, and something else which you did notice about the eyes, which you noticed because it was not always there, only in repose and not always then—something not in their shape nor pigment but in their expression, and the boy’s cousin McCaslin told him what that was: not the heritage of Ham, not the mark of servitude but of bondage; the knowledge that for a while that part of his blood had been the blood of slaves. “Like an old lion or a bear in a cage,” McCaslin said. “He was born in the cage and has been in it all his life; he knows nothing else. Then he smells something. It might be anything, any breeze blowing past anything and then into his nostrils. But there for a second was the hot sand or the cane-brake that he never even saw himself, might not even know it if he did see it and probably does know he couldn’t hold his own with it if he got back to it. But that’s not what he smells then. It was the cage he smelled. He hadn’t smelled the cage until that minute. Then the hot sand or the brake blew into his nostrils and blew away, and all he could smell was the cage. That’s what makes his eyes look like that.” 
§1.3. Many questions still surround Fathers’ almost mystical role in this classic novel. The reader is, though, informed of where he got his name. He was described as part Chickasaw (his biological father), part African and part European (his quadroon mother), but his name derived from “Sam (Had-Two-)Fathers,” since his mother had been married off to a black slave before his birth. Such personal name etymologies (“anthroponomastics”) can form a vital part of social and linguistic research where source material is scarce. Genealogical research has always enjoyed a high degree of interest among informal learners in the United States, in particular of late among descendents of more recent European immigrants whose family records, though now much better searchable online, often end with the Ellis Island Online Database of New York passenger lists. With increasing digitization and networking of birth, marriage and death records from foreign organizations, including most importantly churches, we may expect in the near future to enjoy the capability of tracing, from our home computers, the lives of ancestors reaching back several centuries, and thus add dimensions to our family histories we had imagined long lost. Onomastic resources that might assist in charting the history of the African slaves imported into the Americas, however, are very meager indeed, and not likely to ever be recovered in substantial form. For another indignity imposed on slaves arriving in the harbors of the New World was the stripping of their names, and the assigning of new ones by their masters. Recent research conducted on ship rosters has shown us that transatlantic slaves’ names were not included, but rather just numbers, age, and gender of individuals, much as we might expect in the stock car transportation of cattle to market.
§1.4. And in no less dehumanizing a fashion, slaves sold into the chattel possession of plantation owners of the South were renamed willy-nilly, with no reference to practice in their African homeland (as fragile as this practice may have already been in African communities, where names often changed following important events in the individuals’ lives). Many black Americans thus today carry the European names of or assigned by their ancestors’ owners, their plantation trades, or of any of a number of other associations from their past in the Americas, including new names chosen by emancipated slaves, but very rarely the names of their African past. Aside from the educational and social value a full reckoning of displaced Africans in the Americas would represent to the descendents of slaves, it is not difficult to imagine the geo-linguistic value such rosters would bring to research on the African diaspora.
§1.5. The destinies of slaves and the recording of slave names can be followed back much further in recorded history than many would suspect. While debates among historians concering the role of slavery in classical Greece and Rome can grow uncomfortably heated (see conveniently the survey of research in McKeown 2007), more sober discussions of early state development in 3rd millennium Mesopotamia led, in particular, by scholars from the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies, helped to build a theoretical foundation for a longue durée analysis of this abuse and its effects on social progress. I am honored, as a sign of my gratitude for his intellectual generosity and his genuine personal warmth, to dedicate my paper to a close colleague of those discussants, Vyacheslav Ivanov, whom I discovered at UCLA later than I would have wished, but to whom I have stuck like glue since. Slava celebrates his 80th birthday on the 21st of August of this year. While the two of us have had occasion to discuss Babylonian onomastics, I have never compiled for his consideration a list of designations of slaves from early Mesopotamian texts. I hope that the personal names offered here, while, at least to my understanding, not credibly to be connected to any known Babylonian languages, will serve as a basis for further discussions with him.
§2.1. It is understandable that earlier research on slavery in ancient Mesopotamia has concentrated on those periods best reflected in the inscriptional record. While most popular histories cite references to slaves and slave prices culled from the famous Babylonian law codes, certainly it is the documentation from legal contracts on the one hand, and from administrative accounts on the other, that offers the best evidence of the day-today existence of slave populations and their overlords. Historians are not entirely clear as to what constitutes chattel slave property, nor in many cases what the social, political or military environments were within, and beyond Babylonian borders that led to the enslavement of often large numbers of individuals. I would like to present here what little I have been able to gather from recent work on what I believe are personal names of slaves in proto-cuneiform documents dating to the Late Uruk period, ca. 3350-3000 BC, many of which derive from irregular excavations and are thus unprovenienced. Indeed, without the rich resources of the Norwegian Schøyen Collection made readily available for study by its owner, our current harvest of, at minimum, 440 personal names, would be reduced to a statistically insignificant 38.
§2.2. We should be clear that much that has been proposed in the identification of laborers in the eras prior to the fully historical Early Dynastic IIIb period (pre-Sargonic Lagash, ca. 2500-2340 BC) is highly speculative, necessarily based as it is on analogies drawn from later periods. Thus it seemed reasonable, in the absence of countervailing evidence, to attach the semantic field of “slave” or “dependent laborer” to graphic precursors of characters know from Ur III and ED IIIb accounts to represent slaves or dependent laborers. The sign geme2 (“female slave”) appears in ED IIIa texts (Fara period, ca. 2600 BC) in a form slightly different from that known in the pre-Sargonic Lagash texts (“SAL×KUR” vs. SAL with the three Winkelhakens of the KUR sign spread out to its corners; see figure 2), itself the precursor of our conventional form of geme2 composed of the element SAL followed by KUR. This component KUR of the compound sign has in all discussion of geme2 been considered a geographical qualifier, thus literally “mountain-woman,” where, with ample textual justification, the chattel slaves of early Babylonia were believed to have been purchased, or taken, by force or threat of force, from the mountains, or more generally foreign lands, to the east or north of the Mesopotamian alluvium. The corresponding male designation ARAD2 derived from the grapheme representing males (NITA) in combination with the same KUR sign.
Figure 1: Map of Mesopotamia, early settlements
§2.3. Successive publications of excavated text artifacts attesting to earlier and earlier phases of cuneiform led, in the mid-1920’s, to the most ancient examples of the writing system. Conventionally known as “proto-cuneiform,” the sign forms found on texts from Jemdet Nasr and Uruk invited comparison, both graphic and semantic, with characters found on later texts. Included with these earliest cuneiform signs was the sign combination SAL.KURa interpreted by Langdon, and following him all other Assyriologists who dealt with these texts, to represent the precursor of geme2 and thus “female slaves.”
§2.4. As with so much of note in researching early Mesopotamian administration, the first systematic discussion of 4th millennium slave designations was published by the Russian scholar A. Vaiman. In a 1974 article, Vaiman reviewed the then available textual evidence and concluded, correctly, that SAL and KURa (KURb-d are graphic variants of this sign) in the archaic texts in fact represented female and male humans, respectively, and that these were recorded much as were the stock of herding accounts, including, in the case of Uruk IV period texts, the qualification of children with a special numerical sign that was otherwise employed to designate fractions of some whole unit. The next discussion of proto-cuneiform designations of archaic laborers was offered by Englund and Damerow in an edition of proto-Elamite texts from Tepe Yahya, followed by a re-interpretation of texts from the Langdon Jemdet Nasr publications by Englund/Grégoire, and by Nissen, Damerow and Englund in a catalogue prepared for an exhibition in Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace in 1990. Englund provides an overview of previous research on this matter in a 1998 publication. As this research has shown, the accounting for apparent slaves in the Late Uruk period reflected the same degrading abuse of fellow humans as was the defining flaw of the American South, but it collaterally resulted in lists of personal names, names that, in the tradition of Mesopotamia, should bear much linguistic, or at least orthographic information. With the infusion of large numbers of recently available proto-cuneiform texts, we have been able to add very substantially to the list of clear personal names ascribed to humans in the Late Uruk period, and can begin to investigate these names for elements that may support, or by their absence tend to hamper an identification of the language of our earliest cuneiform scribes.
Figure 2: Paleography of geme2
§2.5. The discussion about the “Sumerian question,” that addresses the linguistic affiliation of these archaic scribes, continues, at least in my mind, and has taken a rough edge of late, the more so with publication of the 2003 Leiden Rencontre volume that made no credible advances in the now fairly stale list of “proofs” that Sumerian phoneticisms, or even number words, were a clear element in Late Uruk documents. The lines of sign analysis that have accompanied this research are fairly straightforward. In the first instance, a rebus use of discrete signs (for instance, the words for “arrow” and “life” are homophones in Sumerian, where as in the example below, if correct, the arrow pictogram is more likely to represent “life” than “arrow” or some other homophonic word). There are precious few proposed pairs in this vein of attack, although we would hope that, with improved access to all Late Uruk texts, interested scholars would perform more systematic searches. Second, we might expect to discover the use of phonetic rather than semantic values of signs (see the instance of “suxpa” below). Third, and most often seen, specialists will attempt to isolate use of phonetic glosses attached to logograms in some way (best known are instances of such phonetic glosses inscribed within sign frames, but also simply near to the sign of reference). This strategy considers the possible combinations in complex graphemes to include semantic element + semantic element (uninteresting for language identification), semantic element + phonetic element (interesting but difficult to identify), or phonetic element + phonetic element (very interesting, and very difficult to identify). I list below a selection of the multivalency proposals made heretofore on Sumerian phonetic signs, together with possible instances of iteration common to Sumerian orthography, and the proposal of M. Powell that the uniquely sexagesimal structure of Sumerian number words offers proof that Sumerians invented proto-cuneiform, where sexagesimal notations are amply attested in the earliest texts. In this regard, we should note the examples of multivalent sign use cited from the other pristine writing systems, Egyptian (with its key example of proposed b3-st for the place name (per)-bastet, “(house) of the goddess Bastet”), Chinese and Mayan. I have set off in bold those candidates for Sumerian in the archaic texts that appear strong, although of these only the very poorly attested šabu carries real conviction.
As is evident from this list, classical graphotactics have played only a minor role in such research, based on strong, though by no means overwhelming evidence that sign sequences in this largely logographic, or even saccades-based ancient orthography were fluid, and not dependable indicators of word or phoneme flow within textual sub-units (“words,” cases or lines).
§3.1. To this discussion I would like to add some material concerning Late Uruk personal names that have often been cited in literature generated by the Berlinbased project “Archaic Texts from Uruk,” but never gathered systematically, and that I have only ordered in a preliminary way. The major difficulty in isolating clear instances of personal names, where we must expect that the accounts and perhaps sections of the lexical lists were replete with such designations, is that the text formats do not explicitly identify what is what once you leave the realm of numerical notations, object designations and signs or sign combinations of thematic meaning derived from the lexical lists. Of course, we have been unable to identify, nor should we expect to find, any semantic glosses of personal names—aside from the simple number sign representing “one unit,” these were a millennium off. Frankly, one of the more dissatisfying discussions that I had with Peter Damerow and Hans Nissen in preparation of the Berlin Erlenmeyer exhibition catalogue was in fact having to admit that we could not state whether the sign combination “KU ŠIM,” central though it was to understanding the archival meaning of the core texts in this collection, referred to a human, to a profession, or to a household. We agreed to an individual “human” (brewery foreman), but only as an expedient convention.
§3.2. The same frustrations can be applied down the line to any number of signs or sign combinations that can, due to considerations of tablet format, or as part of a procedure that eliminates from consideration other spatially associated signs whose semantics are identifiable, be isolated. Since we cannot know how many variables are at play in these residual sign combinations, it would be less than prudent to simply assign to them all the role of personal names. There may be though other strategies to increase the likelihood that we are looking at names of specific persons. For instance, you can imagine an automatic text parser that searches all instances of sign combinations from the lexical lists “Professions” (Lu2 A) and “Officials” from all sign strings found in discrete tablet cases (corresponding to “lines”), removes from the resulting list first these lexical notations, then eventual identifiable signs or sign combinations (numerical notations, object designations and so on) from the remainder, and writes a list of all still remaining signs and sign combinations. Aside from possible functional terms, including for instance verbal forms, we would anticipate that these entries represent the personal names of cited household officials. We might also look for parallels in the text formats that isolate distinct personal names for us—for instance, some designation of personnel inventories as was well known in later periods, or, say, a format like later table accounts with some global qualification followed by strings of individual cases, each with signs or sign combinations with no further qualifications.
§3.3. Isolating these names would help to satisfy our curiosity about the conceptual organization of its members that archaic household accountants imposed on their books, but more importantly, since cultural continuity is regularly cited as one of the lynch pins of Sumero-Babylonian civilization, and since personal names as a conservative cultural trait should be discoverable in texts that code, or are coded by Sumerians, this prosopographic material from the Late Uruk texts could play a prominent role in discussions of archaic linguistics. For despite all the caveats offered by specialists in early cuneiform, it has, since my time as a student in Dietz Edzard’s seminars in Munich, reading 3rd millennium texts and examining, as was his wont, earliest sign etymologies, seemed to me curious that if these should be texts written by Sumerians, we did not immediately recognize a substantial number of forms that could at least plausibly be interpreted to represent elements of the Sumerian language—quite aside from the seemingly missing references to the Sumerian pantheon. And in the first instance, I would have expected language, or if you wish, culture-specific patterns to show up in personal names. Still, neither the list Lu2 A, nor the socalled list of officials, gave any clear indication of sign patterns that would comport with later, often predicative formulations in personal names such as “servant of Enlil,” “he is my lord,” or “lady of Inanna.”
§3.4. It turns out that the Late Uruk accounts of herds of animals led us to the sorts of texts that clearly included personal names. Records of such herds, first edited by M. Green, contained data much like that known to specialists working on texts from later periods, including numbers and designations of animals, of their ages and gender, as well of course as identification of their owners, herders, and whereabouts, and the real or anticipated dairy and textile products associated with these animals. As is the case with other types of accounts, these texts detail conceptually important terminological categorizations, for instance qualifying x ewes (sign U8) and y rams (UDUNITA) as x+y small cattle (UDU). Just as with small and large cattle, and, as we are seeing with a substantial recent influx of archaic herding accounts, with donkeys, pig herds were also differentiated according to animal age and use, in the case of cattle also according to gender. The text W 23948 records the distribution of animals from a large herd of 95 pigs into two groups of adults associated with large household units in Uruk, and a third comprised of juvenile animals. The juveniles were qualified with a designation borrowed from time accounting metrology to represent animals that had reached the age of one year; one porker, together with ten mature animals, were then, according to this text, possibly slaughtered for the household kitchen.
Figure 3: W 9827 contains an apparent account of a number of groups of male and female laborers, listed individually on the obverse (23+ in the first column, 22+ in the second) and totaled on the reverse (preserved is a notation representing in the sexagesimal system 211+ female and male laborers, in proto-cuneiform SAL KURa).
§3.5.1. During our work on the Uruk III period texts from Jemdet Nasr, Grégoire, Damerow and I noticed that a similar terminology and syntactically motivated text format were visible in accounts of what were, in totals of the texts, qualified as SAL KURa ERIMa and SAL KURa SAG×MA, that is, what we speculated to be “yoked” and “noosed” female and male slaves, following Vaiman’s interpretation of SAL and KURa. With the series of three Jemdet Nasr texts MSVO 1, 212-214, we were able to demonstrate several things. First, that the numbers of individuals qualified as SAL or KURa in archaic texts were not large—at most 211+ recorded on the reverse of the account W 9827, doubtless representing the summation of smaller groups recorded on the obverse (see figure 3). Second, we saw that the accounting procedure of text consolidation, so well attested for later periods of Mesopotamian history, was employed already by household bookkeepers at the dawn of writing. MSVO 1, 213 and 214, were in fact entered, sign for sign, into the larger account MSVO 1, 212. But then third and most significantly, we could see that the accounting format of these texts was very complex, but foresaw the division of individual records into sub-cases with formal differentiations. The first sub-case of one entry contained a numerical notation, an object designation (as we believe, “slave of quality x”) and one or more signs apparently referring to persons or offices. There followed one or more sub-cases, with one exception never with a numerical notation, containing signs that we interpreted to represent the personal names of the designated slaves. Where the initial numerical notation was 1, there were one or two such associated sub-cases; where 2, there were at least two.
and the summation of all entries on the reverse:
§3.5.3. Unfortunately, the complexity of the individual entries in this account makes it very difficult to understand the syntactical relationships among those entities represented by individual sub-cases, and the text would furthermore appear to contradict, with its combination in initial sub-cases of SAL, KURa and 1N1, our belief that SAL denotes a single female, and KURa a single male. I have no convincing explanation for this seeming contradiction. Similar accounts from Uruk with less complex accounting format, however, do help to fill out this picture with terminology more reflective of that known from herding accounts. Where herding texts recorded domesticated animals according to species, gender and age of breeding significance—we expect also qualifying the males as to whether and when they had been castrated—the archaic accounts of groups of humans added new levels of qualification, with clearer differentiation of the terms SAL and KURa, and with designations of slaves that contained greater terminological texture.
§3.6.1 The two Uruk texts in figure 4 are good examples of this accounting procedure. Each has in the left column a total, eight individuals in both texts, corresponding to numerical entries to the right. Clearly enough, the first text lists 1 + 1 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 for a total of 8, while the second has (4+1=) 5 + (1+2=) 3 = 8. The latter text demonstrates that SAL and KURa qualify different objects, probably female and male slaves, that are themselves in the accounting terminology further divided into apparent age qualifications. Thus, in the former text we have, viewed syntactically, the qualifications AL, ENa TUR, 1N57×U4 TUR, BULUG3, U2a A and ŠU; in the second text, SAL, KURa and ŠA3a TUR. Several of these designations are terms well known to Sumerologists. TUR (a presumed pictogram of human breasts) representing young children (Sumerian dumu), 1N57×U4 representing “one year,” and AL (picture of a type of hoe) representing “adult” (with later Sumerian reading mah2, this sign usually qualifies sexually mature domestic animals, but is also possibly an element of two personal names in the ED IIIa period, and is even a qualifier of the capacity unit gur [WF 76 rev. x 3]). Finally, ŠU will be associated by some with later šu(-gi4), “old one,” found in many herding accounts and laborer inventories.
§3.6.2. The most compelling accounting practice that emerged from the analysis of these two proto-cuneiform accounts from Uruk was the clear practice of associating numerical notations and general slave designations with sub-cases of signs and sign combinations that corresponded exactly to the numerical notations. Thus, in the first text of figure 4, 1 AL (i 1a) is followed by one sub-case with nonnumerical signs; 2 1N57×U4 TUR (i 3a) by two subcases, each with non-numerical signs. The case with 4 SAL in the second text (i 1b1a is followed by four subcases, each, again, with non-numerical signs. It appears reasonable to conclude that these sub-cases contain personal names associated with individuals recorded in numerical sub-totals to their left (leaving aside a discussion of the true orientation of the proto-cuneiform texts), and that signs or sign combinations associated with these sub-totals qualified the named individuals in very much the same way as herding and dairy accountants recorded gender and age-specific sub-goups of agricultural units.
§4.1. This format was then the “tracer” to locate further instances of the same phenomenon, which differs from accounting formats of herding accounts chiefly in the inclusion of these non-numerical sub-cases. Due in part to the poor state of preservation of most Uruk texts, only about a dozen comparable accounts have been isolated among the more than 5000 tablets and tablet fragments unearthed there in regular excavations, and some few others from other sites. These numbers have been significantly increased with nearly 40 new reference texts that form part of the Norwegian Schøyen collection. One of these artifacts, first observed in Brussels by Philippe Talon, who recognized its significance and kindly posted to me his carefully done copy and transliteration before it entered the Oslo collection with the manuscript no. MS 3035 (figures 5-6), is of particular note.
§4.2. The large account exhibits the same correspondence between cases with numerical notations and associated sub-cases with non-numerical notations that we have seen in smaller texts above. For instance, the section in the lower left of the tablet’s obverse surface (figure 5) contains a numerical notation representing “12” in the sexagesimal system, qualified by 3N57×U4 TUR, probably “three-year-old children.” Exactly 12 sub-cases follow, each with one or more signs representing as many personal names of the individuals summarized in the left-most case.
Figure 5: The section in the lower left of the obverse of the Schøyen text MS 3035 (figure 6) demonstrates the numerical relationship between the initial notation (sexagesimal “12” qualifying a notation that may be interpreted to mean “three-year-old children”) and the number of sub-cases to the right with ideograms that in all likelihood represent personal names. Note the occurence of the same names in sub-cases 2 and 7 (as well as 1b7 of the same column), and the possibility that sub-case 10 is to be interpreted as (KURx. ZA7=) “ZAGINx” = “Lapis,” “Blue(-eyed one).”
§4.3. The account at a higher structural level employs procedures that are well known from the grain accounting office of Jemdet Nasr. The double dividing line down the middle of the text indicates that it is the compilation of two still quite significant accounts, each beginning with the most valuable objects (here AL, presumably adult slaves) and continuing through numbers of less valuable items. The first sub-account appears to be globally qualified by the sign 2N57 MUNa1, the second 1N57 MUNa1. This MUNa1 is likely to represent some sort of accounting (rationing?) period, possibly connected to the sign combination PAPa SUa discussed below, note 43.
Figure 6: MS 3035, a complex account in the Schøyen collection, contains notations representing numbers of apparent slaves qualified according to age, though not (visibly) gender.
Transliteration of MS 3035:
§5.1. Using this, and the 50 other accounts registering numbers of humans in this way, we may compile a list of general qualifications for what we interpret to be archaic slaves:
§5.2. These then are the higher-level qualifications of persons in proto-cuneiform accounts, quite possibly chattel slaves, or humans in some form of servitude to Late Uruk households. While I must admit to some doubt about the interpretation of the complex signs including “U4” (“day,” but a general anchor for time metrology notations in this period), it may be relevant to mention the analyses by I. Gelb, H. Waetzoldt and others that children of state-dependent laborers will have been assigned full work loads by the age of six or shortly thereafter. If our designation ENa TUR encompasses a period of several years, AL might indeed qualify workers of an age that would appear young to us, but certainly not to many sweatshop owners around the world, and certainly not to the industrialized West prior to such legislation as the British Factory Act of 1833 aimed at curbing abusive child labor in British textile manufacturing. According to this at the time heralded advance in labor rights, children aged nine to thirteen could not be forced to work more than nine hours a day. Nevertheless, why did archaic accountants so exactingly record the ages of children from their first through their third years? This system of dating bears an uncanny resemblance to herding accounts of large cattle and of pigs of later periods, or even of the initial lines of the so-called archaic Pig List. The age designations of domestic animals employed in those accounts are explicit tools known to any dairy or pig farmer; they track age to know when to wean the young, to judge weight gain, and to prepare sexually mature animals for breeding, or to train oxen for the plough. It is difficult to recognize a comparable need in accounting for young children, aside possibly from the intent of accountants to retain strict control of juveniles as they grew to working age. As slave laborers, after all, they would have represented a substantial chattel asset to ancient households.
§5.3. Doubtless, tagging all proto-cuneiform accounts that contain the format for personal names described above will result in a list that is, for a number of reasons, by no means complete. In the first place, H. J. Nissen and his research collaborators have stated again and again that we must understand the nature of the texts taken from Uruk excavations. To make historical, occasionally just aesthetic points, often the best preserved of those accounts are cited and put in illustrative graphics or on book jackets, but these are the tablets that survived more than 5000 years of deposition in Uruk, after having been rudely gathered and tipped, as detritus of a burgeoning administration, into construction projects of the ancients. Most artifacts could not survive such ill treatment intact. Thus the very fragmentary nature of the great majority of our texts gives fair warning that we are missing much of the original depositions, certainly most of the original text material, and that those exemplars we do have are so incomplete as to make a measured judgment of their contents very difficult. In the second place, the state of decipherment of proto-cuneiform approached a natural barrier with publication, in ATU 2 (1987), of the results of research conducted by H. J. Nissen and M. Green on the interpretation of non-numerical signs in the proto-cuneiform texts, and of research conducted by P. Damerow, R. K. Englund and J. Friberg on the numerical signs and sign systems. Advances in the understanding of Late Uruk texts from Mesopotamia have, since that publication, been modest. Particularly the interpretation of much of the source material that is not directly associated with numerical notations, with counted or measured objects, or with signs or sign combinations found attested in the thematically ordered archaic lexical lists whose uninterrupted history of transmission resulted in sign-for-sign copies well into the 3rd millennium, and even into the Old Babylonian period, remains highly problematic. These remaining sets of signs will include personal names.
§5.4. Nevertheless, the limited method of sign and sign string isolation used here has resulted in a list of ca. 450 discrete entries (see the appendix below), each with fair probability representing the given name of an individual. We may look at these personal names in a number of ways. The resolute decipherer will first just count and rank signs, always aware that the sample may be skewed, given that so much now derives from one private collection of inscriptions of unknown provenience. Persons whose names included the sign ENa, possibly the ruler of archaic communities or even of regions, should not surprise us, and this may be the correspondence to lugal in later Early Dynastic personal names. This sign is attested more than twice as often as the runner-up signs BUa (unclear meaning; pictographically “snake,” but its only contextually derived denotation points toward field surveying) and 3N57 (in some and possibly most instances an abstracted form of the sign KURa, “male slave” or perhaps after all also “mountain,” “foreign land”).
§5.5. For comparison, it may be helpful to list the number of attestations of highest frequency signs used in all discovered personal names (left), and the most frequent signs in the proto-cuneiform texts generally (right; excluding lexical list attestations):
§5.6. Although I cannot make out a meaningful pattern in these numbers, at least we now have a basis for comparing the frequency of signs used in personal names versus those used in the texts as a whole; such frequency tables can serve, for instance, to test in Babylonian texts the hypothesis of Meriggi, Vallat and Dahl that proto-Elamite scribes developed a syllabary used exclusively to record proper nouns. It might here be more instructive to consider the signs and sign combinations that are most often found in our list as those representing true names of individuals, and to compare these entries with the most frequently attested names in the texts from the “historical” ED IIIb (ca. 2400-2350 BC) and the Ur III (ca. 2050-2000 BC) periods.
§5.7. Comparing the list of proto-cuneiform personal names with those of the most common personal names or name elements in the Early Dynastic and Ur III periods, we see quite substantial differences. First is, our archaic personal names contain no obvious theophoric elements. Indeed, in this list, there is not one instance of a name that might plausibly be interpreted to include a Sumerian divine element, whereas such names outnumber all other examples in both ED IIIb and Ur III texts. Then also, the common elements ur, amar, a (seed) are nearly unknown in the archaic texts, and those instances of ENa (in bold) that we might consider archaic correspondences to later lugal contain other elements that make no sense if interpreted to be Sumerian. Finally, the Sumerian names of women from later periods find no counterparts in the archaic texts.
§6.1. I have stated elsewhere that this search for personal names among slaves might be skewed in another telling way. We might suspect that as in later periods, and as the designations SAG+MA and ERIMa, as well as seeming prisoner scenes on many Late Uruk seals might tend to support, the chattel slaves were above all taken from foreign populations, their names thus in some non-Babylonian language. But frankly, it would surprise me if the Uruk overlords did not rename their foreign slaves with terms comprehensible to the local population, much as did the buyers of African slaves shipped to the Americas, since it is difficult to imagine that those engaged in the exchange and exploitation of humans, of whole families judged as little better than local livestock, would have made an effort to retain their native names. I can offer only indirect evidence that this may have been true. Contracts of the sale of chattel slaves in the Ur III period followed a standard format that included the name of sold persons in the form “one (slave type), PN his/her name, his/her price n shekels of silver ... .”
§6.2. A quick search of available documents, restricting myself for the present to only those contracts and related court records that included the phrase “PN mu-ni-im,” “PN is his/her name,” demonstrates that some of these names are clearly of foreign origin, or are Akkadian, but that the majority carried a plausible Sumerian pedigree.
§6.3. Isolating personal names in the proto-cuneiform texts represents an important beginning in our efforts to lemmatize all proto-cuneiform transliterations with an eye toward identifying the signs that we do understand, or that we believe we understand, and toward more broadly defining what the sign combinations represent that do not correspond to common entries in our lexical lists. I put these data up to underscore the lingering problems in determining the linguistic affiliation of the earliest Babylonian scribes. It may be debated whether the rough translation “male slave” and “female slave” are correct renderings of the proto-cuneiform signs SAL and KURa, but I think the unbiased observer will not reasonably doubt that most, perhaps all of the sign combinations discussed above in selection, and listed in the appendix below, do in fact represent personal names. They are directly, or by association categorized by Late Uruk scribes using terminology that ultimately points to SAL and KURa; they are found in a distinct text format that removes them from the realm of simple object designations; and they do not correspond to entries in the thematic lexical lists.
§6.4. The list of presumed slave names is by no means definitive, but I think a good indication of problems inherent in the archaic Sumerian postulate. Even under the assumption that the personal names in our texts were those of prisoners of war, or of slaves imported into Babylonian bondage from regions surrounding Mesopotamia, and thus were not of the “Uruk core,” sharing the language and culture of their overseers, it remains difficult to understand the absence of, among other linguistic clues, theophoric elements, Sumerian or otherwise. This reminds us of the fact that we have found no lexical god lists of the pantheistic form well attested in the ED IIIa period—it is in fact difficult to point to any clear evidence of anthropomorphic deities in the Late Uruk period at all, once the presumed depiction of Inanna on the Uruk Vase is put in doubt—and that such theophoric elements have not been identified in any other sign combinations that would be credible candidates for personal names. That would leave us with the common elements for males, lu2, lugal, nin, ur, and ARAD2, and for females nin, geme2 and ama—all exceedingly rare, or missing here. If we exchange SAL for geme2, and KURa or 3N57 or, for skeptics, even ŠUBUR for, say, ur, then the corresponding names in our list are not more reflective of expected early Sumerian forms. How much more agreeable this discussion would be if Langdon, now eighty years ago, had been right and not just en-lil2-ti, but other names in this vein had been uncovered in the proto-cuneiform archives!
Appendix. List of personal names in “slave” accounts
Version: 21 August 2009