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Cuneiform Tablets of the NMS

With approx. 250 objects in storage the collection of the NMS is the largest of its kind in Scotland. It is remarkable due to its diversity, which covers various periods of Mesopotamian history and beyond. Although a majority of the corpus consists of cuneiform artifacts made of clay (mainly tablets and bricks), the collection contains several nice examples of Neo-Assyrian reliefs as well.

It is not surprising that administrative records dating to the last century of the 3rd millennium, the so-called Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC), have a fair share in this collection. A publication of this still mostly unpublished corpus is planned for the near future together with further smaller Scottish collection of cuneiform artifacts. Although much of this material consists of small receipts, some larger specimens of Ur III accounts are noteworthy, thus the fragment of a large Ur III account, whose date is unfortunately broken. The account deals with work performed for the house of the third king of the Ur III dynasty Amar-Suen and mentions a variety of workers (those that are present, missing and dead). A similar account is a tablet, whose parts are kept in two different collections, the John Rylands Library in Manchester and the British Museum.

For the early 2nd millennium BC the text corpus in the National Museums Scotland contains a fine selection of nine texts dating to the Old Assyrian period (ca. 1950-1850 BC). These texts originate from the merchants’ colony Kaneš (modern Kültepe) in central Anatolia. NMS A.1909.586 is a nice example of a tablet with well-preserved sealed envelope. The latter contains a copy of the content of the enclosed tablet. Of further interest is the small ‘second page’-tablet NMS A.1963.244, which originally was enclosed within an envelope together with a larger tablet (possibly NMS A.1963.243) and contained text which continues text of the main tablet.

The Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) is well represented by 51 texts. Among these is an interesting group of Sumerian literary texts. The well-preserved tablet NMS A.1909.405.1 is one of the main sources for a Sumerian composition known nowadays as Nanna-Su’en’s Journey to Nippur. The tablet does not cover the whole composition, but just its latter part (lines 260-352). An intriguing fact is that its first line is identical to the last line of another witness, currently in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, which starts in line 199 of the composition. It is rather likely that both tablets belong together and represent the same recension.

Another noteworthy Sumerian literary text in the collection is the upper part of an elongated tablet. Its lower part could be identified in the Louvre (see K. Wagensonner, CDLN 2014:010).

Other examples belonging to this corpus are the witness of a Sumerian literary letter addressed to a king, which is known from several places and uses sophisticated epithets, and a Sumerian love incantation, which has just one duplicate and adds valuable information to the understanding of this composition due to its excellent state of preservation.

Besides Sumerian literary texts there are quite a few well-preserved legal texts dating to the Old Babylonian period in the collection. Due to internal criteria such as names and places mentioned a substantial part of these originate from the site of ancient Kish. Others, such as NMS A.1909.405.28 might originate from Sippar. Fragments of its original envelope are still preserved. Furthermore, there is an Old Babylonian letter written in Akkadian, which deals with the rights to a field.

Although there are no texts in the collection from Mesopotamia proper that date to the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, there is brick with a Middle Elamite royal inscription by the Shutrukid king Shilhak-Inshushinak commemorating the restoration of the temple of Kiririsha-of-Liyan (see K. Wagensonner, CDLN 2014:018).

Besides a couple of tablets the most noteworthy objects held by the collection that date to the Neo-Assyrian period (ca. 911-612 BC) are Neo-Assyrian reliefs. One among these is exhibited at the museum itself and originates from the Northwest palace of the Neo-Assyrian king Ashur-nasir-pal II (ca. 883-859 BC) in Nimrud.

Among the latest datable texts in the collection are those dating to the Neo-Babylonian (ca. 626-539 BC) and the subsequent Achaemenid periods (547-331 BC). The well-preserved text NMS A.1909.405.23 belongs to the vast archive of the Egibi family, whose business spanned over five generations (see C. Wunsch, Das Egibi-Archiv, 2000). This text which dates to the third year of Darius testifies to the purchase of a plot of land and has a duplicate in the British Museum (BM 32180 + BM 33125; see Wunsch op.cit., No. 199A). Due to the better preservation of the Edinburgh tablet, the whole transaction is better understood.

Noteworthy for this late stage in Mesopotamian history is also a royal inscription by the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC), which is inscribed on a clay barrel cylinder. This inscription is known from several examples, among others a similar barrel in the John Rylands Library. Last but not least one should draw attention to a bilingual version of a lamentation, whose copy in Edinburgh dates to the second half of the 1st millennium BC as well. A strikingly similar text in terms of scribal hand and spacing is a bilingual prayer in the Manchester Museum.