Cuneiform Digital Library Journal
§1. Introduction: The Model Contracts
§1.2. The very difficult text was published first by V. Scheil in 1923. The present article is based on a new collation (Musée du Louvre, July 2011) that corrected several errors and helped illuminate the overall structure of the text. MDP 17, 112, is a small clay tablet from Susa, inscribed on both its obverse and reverse in the proto-Elamite script. Dating of proto-Elamite tablets is problematic; however, based on certain criteria established for determining the relative chronology of proto-Elamite texts (such as the thickness of the tablet, the format of the text, and the sign forms), it is likely a relatively late text (Dahl et al. 2013). MDP 17, 112, is an administrative document—with two exceptions the only genre identified in the proto-Elamite corpus thus far—and most likely records a roster or inventory of dependent workers belonging to a particular household or institution.
§2. The Text
Figure 1: MDP 17,
§3. Text Commentary
§3.1.2. The header in MDP 17, 112, is M327+M342, which corresponds to sign M327a in Meriggi’s sign list (1974). This sign occurs in at least 35 published proto-Elamite texts (including MDP 17, 112). It is the header in all of these texts except for MDP 17, 132, and MDP 17, 146, in which it occurs in the body of the texts and appears to be modifying an entry that is being counted.
§3.1.3. Only four tablets containing the header M327+M342 are sealed, and they do not all bear the same seal. The seals associated with M327+M342 are: PES 198 (MDP 6, 233), PES 103 (MDP 17, 489), and an unidentified seal (MDP 17, 50; MDP 26, 52) (Legrain 1921; Scheil 1935; Amiet 1986).
§3.2.2. Many of the sub-entries do not occur in any other proto-Elamite text, which would be unusual if they represented positions or titles. Instead, based on the structure of the strings of signs there is a high likelihood these are syllabically written words or names, which could either designate the individual who fills the position or title preceding the personal name, or indicate an individual who is responsible to the individual holding the position or title preceding the personal name.
§3.3.2. As expected, MDP 17, 112, ends with a total on the reverse of the tablet. In the main body of the text, there are seven groups of entries on the obverse and seven on the reverse. The total on the reverse of this tablet draws attention to a common feature of the proto-Elamite writing system: the sub-grouping of certain signs as other signs in the totals of the texts. The total on the reverse only contains five entries: M317, 1N14 2N1; M54, 1N14 7N1; M373, 3N1; M72, 9N1; M46, 1N1. Therefore only five items (or groups of items) are being totaled. This suggests that some of the items counted in the main body of the text are being grouped with other entries and therefore totaled under a different sign in the summary. All the entries and numbers in the total of the text correspond to the numbers of the entries in the main body of the text except for M54. There are seventeen M54 in the total but only thirteen in the main body of the text. However, there are four M3b in the main body of the text that are not accounted for in the total. If one counts these towards the M54 total then the numbers add up and there are no numerical entries in the main body of the text that are unaccounted for in the summary, and vice versa. Since M3b is subsumed under M54 in the summary we can conclude that these two signs are likely to be semantically related.
§4. General Commentary
§4.1. N2 in Proto-Cuneiform
Figure 2: Sexagesimal System S' in Proto-Cuneiform
§4.1.2. The precise meaning and function of N2 in proto-cuneiform is not known. It has been suggested that N2 in proto-cuneiform is the precursor to the sign BAD, with the later readings uš2/ug7 attested in the Ur III and Old Akkadian periods (Damerow and Englund forthcoming), including at Ebla (Butz 1981: 338), and in these later texts it is clear that it bears the meaning “sacrificed,” or in the case of humans, simply “dead.” In order to evaluate whether or not N2 could mean “dead” or “sacrificed” in the proto-cuneiform texts as well, we must look to the animal husbandry texts; the precise meaning “dead” or “sacrificed” cannot realistically be applied to lexical lists, foodstuffs, or beer products. Even in these texts, the function of N2 is not obvious. Therefore the evidence we have to connect N2 with “dead” animals is suspect. It comes from texts that are 1000 years younger than the proto-cuneiform texts, and from a proposed connection between N2 and later BAD. The proposed sign evolution that lead the trend to associate N2 with BAD—and therefore with the meaning “dead”—is diagrammed below.
§4.1.3. The only possible evidence for the derived sexagesimal System S' being used to denote dead or sacrificed animals in the Uruk corpus comes from Green’s (1980, 7-8) observation on Uruk animal husbandry texts:
The other two subtotals included in the grand total are designated ŠU and X [viz, and ]. Unfortunately, the poor state of preservation of the tablets hinders the interpretation of these entries. The only tablet with both obverse and reverse preserved (no. 48) includes only the subtotal ŠU, which clearly is the sum of the subcases in obv. i. In comparison, text no. 39 has two types of subcase entries, one with additional remarks and one with only a numeral and no remarks, these perhaps corresponding to the subtotals ŠU and X, respectively. A peculiar numeral sign—like the normal impressed circle or semicircle but with a horizontal wedge through it—is used for these entries. In texts with preserved subtotals it is used only for the subtotal X, never for the subtotal ŠU. Comparison of subtotals and totals shows this numeral to be equivalent in value to a numeral without the horizontal wedge. An examination of the bookkeeping remarks associated with the subtotals ŠU and X points to a cultic significance. Where legible they include SIG-dINANNA, dINANNA, and E2-NUN. Perhaps comparable is UDU-ŠU mentioned in two Old Babylonian texts as selected for, or on the occasion of, a “great festival.” If indeed these entries do record animals designated for cultic purposes, a guess for the identification of the sign X is SIZKUR, ‘sacrificial animal.’
§4.1.4. Even if N2 is used to denote dead or sacrificed animals in the Uruk corpora, the evidence for this is weak and the texts themselves are inconclusive. It is more likely that N2 in proto-cuneiform denotes the entities it counts as “other” or “special.” The meaning “dead” may then have been later attributed to it due to the confluence of the N2/“TIL” and “BAD” signs.
§4.2. N2 in Proto-Elamite
§4.2.2. As demonstrated in MDP 17, 112, N2 and N1 do not occur in exclusive contexts: the object represented by the sign counted with N2 can also be counted with N1, even in the same text. This holds true for all objects counted by N2 in the proto-Elamite corpus, including the following signs in ten texts (for the graphic forms of these signs, cf. figure 5 at the end of the article):
Every sign listed above most likely represents some kind of dependent worker (except M346, if that is indeed what is being counted in MDP 17, 350). Therefore it appears that N2 is used exclusively, or almost exclusively, to count various types of dependent workers – as opposed products, commodities, or animals as in the proto-cuneiform corpus. If this is true, then proto-Elamite N2 and proto-cuneiform N2 have nothing in common apart from their graphical similarity.
Figure 3: The Early Convergence of N2 and BAD.
§4.2.3. If we look at the text MDP 17, 120, we can see that N2 is used to count M388 in line 36, as well as M66 and M371 in lines 16 and 30, respectively. On closer inspection though, the sign M388 also occurs in every entry that N2 is present. There are two possible explanations for this: 1) M66 and M371 are in fact the entities being counted and it is a coincidence that M388 occurs in every entry; 2) M388 is being counted in all instances and the presence of other signs after M388 indicates that these signs are most likely modifiers or personal names, and can occur either before or after M388 possibly according to their linguistic class (i.e. personal names, adjectives, etc.) The second possibility is most likely. In fact, if we look at the “syntactic” structure of proto-Elamite entries, we can see a pattern where signs that are most likely modifiers or “adjectives” occur before the noun they are modifying, and strings of signs that are more likely personal names occur after the noun they are governing. Line 20 of MDP 17, 120, illustrates this pattern when compared to line 4 of the reverse (part of the total):
In this text the entity “M387i M387i M388” is being counted, as indicated in the total on the reverse, so those three signs act as a single unit in line 20 on the obverse. Based on other proto-Elamite texts, we know that M388 is a type of dependent worker, so M387i M387i must act as a modifier indicating that the three signs together denote a particular type of M388. The final three signs, which are all likely candidates for signs with syllabic values, might be the syllabically written personal name of this particular “M387i M387i M388.”
§4.2.4. In addition to acting as a numerical sign, N2 also has a non-numerical value (transliterated as M386a); such polyvalence is not uncommon in proto-Elamite (Englund 2004: 113). M386a is classified as one of the 80-120 signs that are likely to carry a syllabic value. It occurs as a non-numerical sign in over 50 texts.
§4.2.5. As is illustrated above, the precise meaning and function of the sign N2 in the proto-Elamite corpus is also not entirely understood. Similar to the proto-cuneiform corpus, N2 carries a numerical value in proto-Elamite and is a graphical variant of N1 with the addition of a single vertical stroke inside the body of the sign. It seems to carry the same numerical value as N1, which represents one unit in both the decimal and sexagesimal numerical and metrological systems. Proto-Elamite N2 on the other hand only exists in the decimal system. It is possible that proto-Elamite N2 is a borrowing from proto-cuneiform, like most other proto-Elamite numerical signs were, and we could therefore look to proto-cuneiform to help deduce how N2 was being used in proto-Elamite. There are several problems with this, however. The first is that the rest of the proto-cuneiform System S' (N15 and N35) is not attested in proto-Elamite. Second, as was already mentioned above, N2 in proto-Elamite only operates in the decimal system so far as is attested, while N2 in proto-cuneiform operates in the sexagesimal system. Third, the function of N2 and the rest of the System S' in proto-cuneiform is not well established, as was illustrated above. Last, the types of entities being counted with N2 in proto-cuneiform (animals, beer jars, foodstuffs, and lexical entries) are incongruent with what N2 is being used to count in the proto-Elamite corpus (dependent workers).
§4.2.6. There is another explanation, however. Derived signs are common in the proto-Elamite script, and can be made by modifying basic signs by the addition of single wedges, dots, lines surrounding the sign, dots surrounding the sign, small wedge-like impressions surrounding the sign, or by other means. The derived signs most likely represent semantic or phonological variants on the original sign. Their prevalence in the writing system indicates that we should not assume that proto-Elamite N2 was necessarily a direct borrowing from proto-cuneiform. I suggest that proto-Elamite N2 was an independent development derived from proto-Elamite N1 (which, along with the other basic numerical signs, was a direct borrowing from proto-cuneiform). Regardless of whether or not it was an independent development in proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite, it is clear that N2 was used to designate whatever it was used to count as “other,” or distinct from the usual or majority object being counted. In the case of proto-Elamite this could possibly indicate a difference in gender, in worker status, or in type or amount of rations to be received. In proto-cuneiform, perhaps N2 indicated that a different type of grain was used to make the beer or different additives were infused into the beer in the case of beer texts, that certain animals were already designated for a certain purpose or function in the case of animal husbandry texts, and similar designations in lexical lists.
§4.3. A Scribal Error
Figure 4: The Peculiarities in MDP 17, 112
§4.3.2. Scribal errors of this sort are very rare in the proto-cuneiform record. This text therefore provides a rare example of such a situation, and from it we can conclude that one method of correcting scribal errors—at least in the proto-Elamite writing system—is to insert the missing sign(s) in the lower margins of a line, directly beneath where the entry should have been written in the first place.
§4.3.3. Scribal errors occur more commonly in the proto-Elamite corpus than in the proto-cuneiform corpus (for examples of errors in proto-cuneiform, see Nissen, Damerow, and Englund 1993: 42), especially as arithmetical incongruities between the entries and the total.
Figure 5: List of Relevant Proto-Elamite Signs
For example, if we look at MDP 6, 361, we can see that there are three entries counting M376 (in the second entry M376 must be implied even though it is not expressly written) on the obverse totaling 39 units; on the reverse, the total was originally written as being 59 units of M376. At least one of the N14’s appears to be erased, but there is still one more than we would expect to find based on the entries on the obverse, which leaves the apparent total at 49 units.
§4.4.2. Although at this stage in the decipherment it is not possible to explain the presence of postscripts on certain Proto-Elamite tablets, preliminary investigations suggest that there may be a relationship between the postscript on a tablet and the header. Otherwise, there does not appear to be any relationship between postscripts and the presence or type of seal on the tablet, the entities being recorded, or other such markers. Due to the wide number of different postscripts, it is unlikely that they all represent a calendrical date, though they could reference festivals or other events. Another possibility is that they are a syllabic or pseudo-syllabic rendering of the name of the scribe who wrote the tablet.
Version: 2 May 2015