Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin

CDLI Home 

Notes on SET 274Robert K. Englund < englund@ucla.edu >University of California, Los Angeles Keywords Umma, labor, workdays This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0000629. 



§1. The Umma text Sumerian Economic Texts from the Third Ur Dynasty (SET) no. 274 represents a good example of what can go wrong in standard Assyriological transliterations of Ur III documents. This large account, a part of the collection of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, was published in 1961 by T. Jones and J. Snyder in their chosen form of transliteration and short commentaries. Doubtless most Ur III specialists have since tried to make sense of the labor day numbers in that text, which also following Assyriological standards were transliterated in decimally interpreted form (see W. Hallo, Fs. Jones [=AOAT 203; NeukirchenVluyn 1979] 413). The “headache” lines in the original publication were: §2.
§3. Of course, the total of the first section of the account, ll. 162163, could be calculated by adding ll. 1415, 4546 and 5354, that is, 4976[+n] + 66,360 + 159 = 71,495[+5440.5]. Now this 5440.5 would have to be found in the reconstruction of ll. 1415, the record of the arrears from the preceding year (AmarSuen 2) of the work crew that was the object of this account. To do this, it is first necessary to break up the decimal number 4976 into its constituent sexagesimal elements, that is, into 1(šar_{2}) 2(geš'u) 5(geš_{2}) 6(diš) and then add before and after that reconstructed notation further sexagesimal signs to complete the total of 10,416.5. However 5440.5 is bent and split, unfortunately, there was no way to fit the remains into this notation in a credible fashion. The eager Sumerologist then moves on to the other postings, but neither seemed to offer much solace. 66,360 of ll. 4546 was clearly the expected result of the calculation of ll. 4144: (170 2/3 + (12 2/3 x 1/2) + 7 1/3) x 360 = 66,360, and ll. 5354 seemed straightforward. The second high irregularity in the text derived from the calculated “offdays” of the female laborers in l. 196 of the account. This number from the second, the credit section of the text should, but unfortunately did not represent some whole fraction (usually 1/6 in Umma) of the total in ll. 4546, or possibly of one of this number’s three constituents. For reasons that we are left to divine, the original editors left off after line 335 with a vague reference to totals “(lines 337482) including notice of “shrinkage” for each item, and ending with the “balance remaining”.” §4. This was the state of affairs when in the mid1980s M. Cooper restudied the SET publication, including copies of tablets from the northern California collection completed, but never published by J. Snyder, and made available in ASJ 8 (1986) 309344 the results of his work (it appears from Cooper’s remarks in ASJ 8, 309, that he never inspected the physical tablets in the Rosicrucian collection). The collation of SET 274 (RC 929) resulted in no substantive changes in the original edition (see R. Englund, JNES 50 [1991] 273 n. 27, 278 n. 37). My frustration was great when John Carnahan and Kent Hillard recollated the Rosicrucian texts with results for SET 274 (ASJ 15, 246251; ASJ 16, 310) that seemed to make matters worse. For Wolfgang Heimpel’s Berkeley graduate students had noted for ll. 1415 the number [7200 + 36]00 + 1376 +[1/2] = 12,176.5, and for ll. 4546 the number 36000 + 3600x7 + 600x5 + 60x6 + 40 = 64,600. I sent a note of protest to Heimpel early in September of 1993, to which he replied on 21 September that the “query on the numbers in SET 274 made us scratch our heads.” Hillard “disappeared, drove down to San Jose, and came back telling me that the collation is correct.” §5. Upon receiving this message from Heimpel, I spent an evening in Berlin working through these numbers again, to discover that the dilemma could be solved with elegant, and as so often, embarrassing simplicity. Lines 4144 were to be corrected to: (170 2/3 + ((12 2/3) x 1/2) + ((7 1/3) x 1/3)) x 360 = 64,600. Once the production norm of the children, dumu, of l. 43 was reduced to 1/3 that of the adult female laborers, everything fell into place, and the basic numerical structure of the text can now be described with the following transliteration excerpts (including several from the full treatment of the final sections by Carnahan and Hillard, all with sexagesimally oriented notations): §6.
§7. Translation: §9. The original mistake of Jones and Snyder can be explained in one of two ways. The benign explanation is that they misread the numbers but did not understand the implicit workforce calculations behind their ll. 4546, with the interesting coincidence that the total made sense assuming the 7 1/3 DUMU of their l. 43 were full laborers. The nonbenign explanation is that they interpreted the DUMU to be full laborers and wrote the total to correspond to the resulting calculation. This latter, as I think likely explanation can well have been the result of posttabletinspection calculations and transliteration manipulations facilitated by decimal interpretations imposed on the text at a too early stage of its edition.
This note is dedicated to my Berkeley advisor and Ur III mentor, Wolfgang Heimpel, currently resident of Etna, CA.




Version: 3 May 2002 