Jennifer R. Pournelle: Inscribed Bricks Recorded In-Situ during Site Reconnaissance in Southern Iraq
From 15–19 September 2010, while conducting initial reconnaissance of major archaeological sites in southern Iraq (reported in Iraq 74) to assess suitability for long-term geoarchaological research, the author photographed stamped and inscribed bricks incidentally noted in situ. Pournelle photographed two additional examples during subsequent visits to Ur and Eridu, during filming by the National Geographic Society (2011)1 and Blink Films UK (2014).2 Our aim was not systematic documentation (for which we did not have permits); rather opportunistic recording of intra-site locations and context for inscriptions which are widely known, but often with no (or poorly recorded) provenance or contextual record.
All photography was conducted at the highest resolution possible with whatever apparatus was available and allowed, with permission from and supervision by accompanying representatives from the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. Routes taken within sites, as well as other sites visited, but where no inscriptions were observed, are indicated on Figure 1. In total, images of fifteen bricks from five sites (Babylon, Nippur, Lagash, Ur, and Eridu) were identified, recorded, assigned publication IDs, and uploaded to CDLI (Table 1). Full listing is here.
Because of the century-long history of casual visitors and tourists displacing or randomly transporting and dropping bricks while visiting these sites, only those still embedded in architectural elements, or remaining in the context of apparently related debris, were photographed. Other inscriptions, presented for inspection by site docents and guards, but reported as recovered from locations within the sites that we did not visit, were not recorded.
Of the fifteen bricks imaged, nine were of late third millennium BCE origin, and the remaining six of mid-first millennium BCE. Four were at Babylon (Neo-Babylonian: Nebuchadnezzar, e.g., CDLI Pno. P498533), two at Nippur (one Neo-Assyrian: Assurbanipal, CDLI Composite No. Q003814; one Early Old Babylonian: Ur-Ninurta, CDLI Composite No. Q001971), three at Lagash (Tell Al-Hiba) (Lagash II: Gudea, CDLI composite No. Q000908), four at Eridu (Ur III: Amar Suen, CDLI composite No. Q000988), and two at Ur (one Neo-Babylonian: Nabonidus, CDLI Pno. P498499; one Ur III: Amar Suen, CDLI Composite No. Q000981). Exact locations, dimensions, material, and condition (whole or fragmented; unbaked, baked, or fired; and whether apparently inscribed or stamped) for all are reported in Table 1.
While all of these bricks are previously known (no doubt having been manufactured in their millions), the Gudea bricks are the first recorded in the CDLI from Lagash (Tell Al-Hiba) itself,3 rather than from Girsu (Tello) (23 examples), or of uncertain provenance (22 examples). As compared to the composite and complete inscriptions catalogued under CDLI No. Q000908), our fragments (from three separate bricks) appear to match CDLI P232761 from Girsu, comprising the top and bottom of column 1, and the top of column 2.
It is our hope that these images may prove useful to scholars who wish to compare them to counterparts with no or poor provenance.
|Location||Royal Inscription||Text (cm)||Object (cm)|
|CDLI||Imaged||Site||Context||Period||Dates BCE||Attestation||X||Y||X||Y||Material and Condition||Photo Credit a|
|P498533||15-Sep-10||Babylon b||Northern Fortress||Neobabylonian||626-539||Nebuchadnezzer||9||4||14||18||clay||fired||fragment||inscribed||A|
|P498497||18-Sep-10||Nippur c||NE of Ekur||Neo-Assyrian||911-612||Assurbanipal||clay||baked||fragment||stamped||A|
|P498498||18-Sep-10||Nippur||NE of Ekur||Old Babylonian||2000-1900||Ur-Ninurta||clay||baked||fragment||stamped||B|
|P498493||27-Sep-10||Lagash d||Area B||Lagash II||2200-2100||Gudea||5.2||7.8||8||9||clay||baked||fragment||inscribed||B,A|
|P498494||27-Sep-10||Lagash||Area B||Lagash II||2200-2100||Gudea||clay||baked||fragment||inscribed||B|
|P498495||27-Sep-10||Lagash||Area B||Lagash II||2200-2100||Gudea||clay||baked||fragment||inscribed||A|
|P498532||23-Apr-11||Eridu e||Top of Ziggurat||Ur III||2200-2100||Amar-Suen||clay||unbaked||fragment||inscribed||A|
|P498490||19-Sep-10||Eridu||Temple debris||Ur III||2200-2100||Amar-Suen||6.5||21||8.5||22||clay||baked||fragment||stamped||A|
|P498491||19-Sep-10||Eridu||Temple debris||Ur III||2200-2100||Amar-Suen||clay||fired||fragment||inscribed||A|
|P498492||19-Sep-10||Eridu||Temple debris||Ur III||2200-2100||Amar-Suen||1.4||7.2||4.3||8.7||clay||unbaked||fragment||stamped||B|
|P498499||19-Sep-10||Ur f||Ziggurat top||Neobabylonian||626-539||Nabonidus||6.7||7.9||13.5||20.5||clay||fired||fragment||inscribed||A,B|
|P498531||8-Jan-14||Ur||Royal Tombs||Ur III||2200-2100||Amar-Suen||13||5.5||27||6.5||clay||fired||whole||stamped||A|
a A = Jennifer R. Pournelle; B = Carrie A. Hritz.
b Unger 1931: 3, Abb. 2 (“Stadtplan von Babylon mit Umgebung”).
c Knudstad & Sanders 1989.
d Pittman 2016.
e Safar & Lloyd 1981.
f Woolley 2009 (1965): 124, Fig. 6 (“Plan of the City of Ur, showing the principal sites excavated”).
in memory of János György Szilágyi (1918–2016)
Private individuals offering a votive object are seldom known from other documents due to the nature of our sources. One of the best examples is a Late Old Babylonian votive inscription, which is known to us in a Middle Babylonian copy (LIH 69), and was edited by E. Sollberger (1969). Another inscription was discussed some years ago by this author (CUSAS 17, 54 with Földi 2012a), and another will be presented here.
Šēp-Sîn son of the chief physician Ipquša has long been known to Assyriologists thanks to his dedication of a jar [http://cdli.ucla.edu/P431824] to the god Amurrum, for the life of Rīm-Sîn (I). The first attested appearance of this extraordinary rock-crystal (see Schuster-Brandis 2008: 457-458, 118a) vessel dates back to 1935 when it was offered for sale to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago by E. S. David (Frayne 1990: 305). It is reasonable to assume that Dussaud’s (1933: 1 n. 2) reference to a rock-crystal vase naming Rīm-Sîn deals, in fact, with the same object.
Half a century later, the same artefact was sold at a Sotheby’s auction on 5th December 1987 (lot 66), as property of the Countess de Béhague. Thereafter it appeared again in the collection of George Ortiz (Geneva, Switzerland). In view of the latter’s death on 8th October 2013, one may expect a new chapter in the object’s history of acquisition. The authenticity of the artefact has often been subject to debate.
The 12-line inscription reads:
“To Amurrum, his master, Šēp-Sîn, son of the chief physician Ipquša, his reverent servant, dedicated (this) rock-crystal sappum-vessel - its rim plated with gold (and) its bottom with silver - for the well-being of Rīm-Sîn, king of Larsa.”
Beside the translation provided in the auction catalogue, the inscription was edited by Frayne (1990: 305-306, RIME 184.108.40.2064) and later by Braun-Holzinger (1991: 201, G. 426) as well (see also Klotchkoff 1994). Two autographs have so far been published, one by Braun-Holzinger (1991: 107, Abb. 2), another by Ortiz (1996: no. 17). As noted by Braun-Holzinger (1991: 112), this object furnishes one of the few examples of such a vessel with a preserved inlay of precious metals (described in detail by the dedicatory inscription). However, the authenticity of these gold and silver bands have also been questioned.
Thanks to Marcel Sigrist, several hundred Old Babylonian archival documents of the Siegfried H. Horn Museum have been published in the last few decades. One of these, AUCT 4, 89 (AUAM 73.3131, former HTS 95), received some attention because of the expression ḫabtāku šasûm (see Wilcke 1992: 75 n. 76, Charpin 1993: 187, Durand 1993, and Sallaberger 1999: 231 with n. 293). In addition, the tablet bears a seal impression of a certain Šēp-Sîn, which reads as follows (collated in Oct. 2015; inscription 1.0 × 2.4 cm; seal 2.5 cm high):
“Šēp-Sîn, son of the chief physician Ipquša, servant of the god Amurrum.”
Such a conclusive identification is most welcome, especially since the name Šēp-Sîn is amply attested in records from Old Babylonian Larsa. Besides the well-known Overseer of Merchants of Larsa, the son of Šamaš-muballi?, there are at least fifteen of them appearing in archival documents (see Reiter 1982: 12 with additions by Földi 2012b: 45, n. 275). One might also consider his possible identity with the rakbûm-official Šēp-Sîn, son of Ipqu-[...] and servant of d[...], who used to witness contracts of the well-known Šamaš-ḫāzir (with seal: BIN 7, 177 [Ḫa 32]; OECT 15, 89 [Ḫa 43]; cf. Stol 2012: 349).
This seal inscription furnishes conclusive evidence on the authenticity of the rock-crystal vessel. Further importance lies in the fact that it designates the owner as a servant of Amurrum. It shows that an individual of high status did not necessarily refer to himself as a servant of the king. On the other hand, it strikingly coincides with the dedicatory inscription, which names the god Amurrum as recipient of the votive offering. It remains unclear, however, whether this is the result of a direct relation or a mere coincidence. Based on numerous parallels, Amurrum’s designation as “his master” must refer to Šēp-Sîn, not the beneficiary (i.e., Rīm-Sîn I). However, it is still unknown whether the family god named in the seal inscription was, in fact, identical to the personal god (Charpin 1990: 72-73; cf. also Kalla 2002: 128-131, Edzard 2004: 594-596 and Richter 20042: 6).
Our sources on the cult of Amurrum at Larsa are quite scarce. His alleged elevation “to high status during the reigns of Warad-Sîn and Rīm-Sîn of Larsa” due to the latters’ Amorite origin (Frayne 2000: 254) is not supported by any year-names or building inscriptions (Richter 20042: 381-384). Such a change in importance and status is much truer of Nergal, the god of Maškan-šāpir (Richter 20042: 392). Nevertheless, it is very well possible that our sappum-vessel to have originated in a hoard of the Amurrum temple - together with other votive gifts which appeared at the antiquities market during the early 1930’s (Dussaud 1933; Braun-Holzinger 1991: 322 with 328f. T.20 and 279f. St 172; Amiet apud Ortiz 1996: no. 17 n. 3; Frayne 2000: 253-254).
This leads to the question: who was, in fact, our Šēp-Sîn? Obviously he was a man of wealth, presumably a high official. Frayne (2000: 253) wants to see him as the king’s chief physician, although the title “chief physician” unmistakably refers to his father Ipquša. In such a case one would rather expect Šēp-Sîn to designate himself as chief physician, not his father. A certain Ubārrum, identified in AUCT 4, 89 as “son of the chief physician”, was obviously his brother. Another chief physician called Sîn-šēmi, is known to us from Tell Sifr 77 and 100 (Kutalla, both dated to the 6th year of Samsu-ilūna); in Tell Sifr 100a ll. 3, 4, 5 and 7 read [dEn.zu]-še-me-i! a-zu-gal for Charpin’s (1980: 274) *[dEn.zu]-še-me dumu a-zu-gal. Note that two of his sons, i.e., Ninurta-mušallim (Tell Sifr 77) and Awīl-Šamaš (Tell Sifr 100) designate themselves as servants of Amurrum in their seal inscriptions. Unfortunately, we cannot know yet if this family was in actuality related to that of Ipquša.
Whether Šēp-Sîn, son of the chief physician offered this artefact to Amurrum as to his personal god or not, its effectiveness cannot be doubted: Rīm-Sîn I reigned 60 years – the longest rule in ancient Mesopotamian history – before he was captured with his sons and brought to Babylon (ARM 27, 158 with Van De Mieroop 1993: 60; for a recent overview see Pientka-Hinz 2007).
The article discusses differently shaped ‘firing holes’, arguing that round, triangular, trapezoidal, or even oval ‘firing holes’ might have been pierced by a tip of the cuneiform stylus. In addition, some ‘firing holes’ suggest that a cuneiform stylus might have had two different ends: one end having been used for writing cuneiform, and the other for making the ‘firing holes’.
1. ‘Firing Holes’
The function of the so-called ‘firing hole’ is unclear. Generally, it is considered that a ‘firing hole’ had nothing to do with the baking of a tablet (see Walker 1987: 24; Fincke 2003–2004: 126, note 124; Taylor 2011: 15–16). However, ‘firing holes’ certainly helped a tablet to dry out faster and more evenly. But was this really essential in hot parts of Mesopotamia? In order to avoid confusion, I will name the ‘firing holes’ simply ‘holes’, but designate them by their shape, i.e., round, triangular holes etc.
Differently shaped holes have appeared on tablets from Old Babylonian times (see 3, below). At a certain point it seems that they ‘became a matter of tradition’ (Walker 1987: 24), and were consequently widespread in the first Millennium BC. Frequently, round holes were arranged in a decorative way, for instance on Maqlū tablets: K 2728+, K 43+. Such careful arrangements would suggest a decorative function for these round holes (Robson 2008: 198), aside from a practical one. But, differently shaped holes were not always found in nice patterns. Therefore, the idea that these holes served only a decorative function can be excluded.
In addition, it has been proposed that oval holes, for instance, might have been used ‘to eliminate open spaces where later additions to the text could be made’ (Jeyes 2000: 371). In other words, the positioning of these holes might have been used to prevent future textual changes (in case the tablet was not baked). This idea also seems to be partly incorrect since occasionally there are a lot of empty spaces with no holes in some parts of tablets, while other parts of the same tablet have holes. For instance, a manuscript of UGU 1 (BAM 480) shows round holes on the obverse, but none on the reverse.
Commonly, round holes tend to get thinner in the deeper parts of tablets, suggesting that they were left by a cone-shaped object. Aside from these common round holes there are also triangular, trapezoidal and oval ones (Fincke 2003–2004: 141; Taylor 2011: 15–16), which are rare in comparison to the round holes.
Ironically, thanks to broken tablets we can see cross sections of the holes.
2. Triangular Holes and Cuneiform Stylus
Let us first look at images of tablets in Assyrian and Babylonian hand, and then discuss them.