Cuneiform Digital Library Notes
2014:10        «              »
Šul-pa’e Re-joined

Klaus Wagensonner
University of Oxford

Cuneiform texts found their way to museum collections not only through official and scientifically conducted excavations, but in many instances through the antiquities market. Antiquities dealers in the second half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries played a crucial part as intermediaries for several European and US tablet collections. Additionally, cuneiform tablets often do not come to us in one piece. They are broken and shattered and pieces of one tablet might end up in various collections and subsequently might be treated as separate textual records, not recognised at first as pieces of one and the same text witness. A good case in point are the witnesses(sic) to the Old Babylonian composition “Pabilsag’s Journey to Nippur.” These are kept in three different collections, the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, the Hilprecht Collection in Jena, and the Arkeologi Müsezi in Istanbul.

Let us have a brief glance at the publication of the witnesses of this composition (the museum numbers are given in brackets:

  • STVC 89 (CBS 11346)
  • SEM 101 (CBS 13961)
  • PBS 13, 44 (CBS 15207)
  • TMH NF 4, 52 (HS 1472)
  • ISET 2, 88 (Ist Ni 04174)

It is clear from this list that every single fragment was published separately. It was recognised only much later that at least four of these texts (the fragment in Istanbul needs to be verified) belong to one and the same tablet. Hence this composition is known, so far, only from one manuscript. Hand-copies often betray this fact and make re-joining based on drawings almost impossible, except for the fact that re-joining is possible due the respective fragment's content. Without proper images or representations re-joining of fragments, which are housed in various collections, is hardly possible in terms of their physical appearance.

In the case of the afore-mentioned Sumerian composition it is, in particular, the palaeography, which allows for proposing a possible (direct) join, which then can be verified on the object itself. But such physical joins are hardly possible, when fragments are housed in various collections. Therefore, scaled images are our best chance to propose candidates for possible joins.

In June 2013 the cuneiform texts in the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh were digitised by CDLI staff at the University of Oxford (Kathryn Kelley and Klaus Wagensonner). The collection holds a very good selection of tablets dating to various periods. Besides texts usually found in cuneiform collections such as, for instance, administrative texts dating to the Ur III period, most notably are several Sumerian literary compositions, among others an important single witness of the composition "Nanna-Su'en's Journey to Nippur" dating to the Old Babylonian period.

A tablet of particular interest for this short note is the well-preserved fragment of a Sumerian literary composition, which is accessioned as NMS A.1909.405.27. Judging from the fragment curvature it originally belonged to a rather elongated tablet. The text is known for quite some time now. Is was published in handcopy by Stephen Langdon in his Babylonian Liturgies (1913). Half a century later Adam Falkenstein edited the fragment together with three other witnesses, which belong to a song of praise for the god Šulpa’e (ms. D). The other three sources available to him are:

  • A: VS 2, 78 (VAT 6110)
  • B: CT 42, 43 (BM 87594)
  • C: TCL 15, 3 (AO 3925)

Already in his edition Falkenstein pointed out that mss. “C und D stammen dagegen sicher, wenn nicht aus einer einzigen Fundstelle, so doch aus einer einheitlichen Schreiberschule, wie die Übereinstimmung in der Handhabung der syllabischen Schreibweise verrät” (Falkenstein 1963: 13). Falkenstein’s statement seems to be based solely on the orthography of both fragments and not as much on their physical appearance. Indeed, as Falkenstein states, both fragments contain the text of the composition in syllabic or non-orthographic Sumerian. Since non-orthographic versions are comparatively rare, the orthographic approach alone is quite indicative for both fragments originally being part of the same tablet. ETCSL 4.31.1 (Šulpa’e A) proposes a connection between these two fragments.

This assumption can now be confirmed thanks to images of both witnesses. Currently the collection of cuneiform artefacts kept in the Musée du Louvre in Paris is being catalogued and digitised by CDLI staff. Among the tablets imaged so far is also ms. C of the afore-mentioned composition. With both tablets being kept in separate collection, it is not possible to verify exactly, whether they join directly or represent loose fragments of one tablet.

Fig. 1: Sketch of the join

As mentioned earlier, NMS A.1909.405.27 + AO 3925 (Fig. 1) is a rather elongated tablet of the im.gid2.da type. Since the song of praise to the god Šulpa’e on the Edinburgh manuscript is followed by another, much shorter, composition, it is difficult to “join” the contents of both fragments, even with the help of the other two manuscripts, which are written in the usual Sumerian orthography.


Falkenstein, A.
1963 “Sumerische religiöse Texte 4,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 55: 11-67.
Langdon, S.
1913 Babylonian Liturgies. Paris.
ISSN 1546-6566    © Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative | Archival: 2014-04-15