Spain’s Montserrat collection in CDLI

The Abbey of Montserrat near Barcelona, Spain, and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI, Los Angeles/Berlin) are delighted to announce the successful digitization of the Montserrat cuneiform collection.

This significant new digital content to CDLI’s web offerings is now available in Catalan, Spanish, French, and English (click on the image to the right go to CDLI’s Montserrat web page).

The origins of the Museum of the Montserrat Abbey and its collection of cuneiform artefacts are related to the journeys of Father Bonaventura Ubach who visited Iraq and several excavations and archaeological sites in 1922-1923. He was one of the early visitors to Woolley’s excavations in Ur. Important pieces acquired during his travel are on display in the museum, where Ubach and his successors created additional space to exhibit extraordinary text artefacts (visitors should request an appointment to view the holdings).

Ubach managed to collect a substantial number of cuneiform objects, mostly tablets, currently numbering approximately 1150 artifacts, that received constant attention through cataloguing and text publications. The majority of these (854 preserved pieces plus fragments) date to the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) and are economic in character. Among these we may mention, for instance, an administrative text still in its envelope and a round bulla whose weathered seal impression and content can be related to a similar object in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, UK, with the same seal impression. A large, relatively well-preserved account dates to the ninth year of the Ur III king Shu-Sîn.

The remaining text artifacts in the collection represent a rather diverse assemblage. Most prominent are 87 copies of a royal inscription of the Early Old Babylonian (ca. 2000-1900 BC) king Sîn-kashid found on both tablets and on small cones. Although always similar in content, these manuscripts make for a valuable addition to the texts edited by Frayne for the “Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia” project (RIME 4.4.1.).

The Old Babylonian period is further represented by important objects. The collection contains some manuscripts of Sumerian literature, most notably a relatively well-preserved manuscript of the “Instructions of Shuruppak”, a fragment of “Gilgamesh and Huwawa B”, and an Akkadian-glossed version of the “Ur-Ninurta Instructions”. Akkadian literature is represented by fragments containing lines of the Erra epic. For the late periods, the collection contains several neo-Babylonian bricks and tablets, but also important text artifacts dating into the Achaemenid and Seleucid periods. Among these, a Late Babylonian manuscript of the epic Atra-hasis can be highlighted, for it adds additional lines and intriguing variants to other known texts. There are, as well, several astronomical and medical texts. The collection also includes fragmentary tablets containing Hittite ritual texts and Elamite royal inscriptions.

The condition of the tablets is fairly good. There are also three boxes of fragments that could join to existing texts in the collection. During the process of imaging, Klaus Wagensonner made five joins that seem to represent new texts, all of them Ur III economic records. The remaining, approximately 80 fragments can to a great extent be dated to the same period, but there are also a number of later bits and pieces. Future work will likely result in more joins.

The cuneiform inscriptions in the collection were digitized in the fall of 2012, using the conventional flatbed scanning methods of the CDLI, thanks to the generous hospitality of the Abbey of Montserrat, the support of the French CNRS and a grant of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (project “Creating a Sustainable Cuneiform Digital Library”). The imaging was a cooperative effort among three partners: the CNRS in Nanterre (Bertrand Lafont), the CSIC in Madrid (Ignacio Márquez Rowe and María Dolores Casero Chamorro), and the University of Oxford (Klaus Wagensonner). The raw images were processed to CDLI-conformant fatcross representations by Wagensonner.

Following this successful digitization, it may be stressed again that our adherence to the principles of open access serves all the Humanities, in particular those in the fields of dead language research dependent on free access to primary sources and accompanying catalogue data. In posting digital facsimiles of its text artifacts for free use by a networked public, the important Montserrat Museum collection joins other cultural heritage and research institutions in CDLI’s “extended family” who support efforts to permanently archive, and freely disseminate all artifacts of shared world history that are in their immediate, or indirect care.

Bertrand Lafont, CNRS Paris
Ignacio Márquez Rowe, CSIC Madrid
F. Pius-Ramon Tragan, Abbey of Montserrat