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Extremely Rare Neo-Sumerian Palace Messenger Tablet from Iri-Sagrig, Dated 2027 BC

A clay pillow-shaped messenger tablet from an important palace archive of the Sumerian city Iri-Saĝrig, dated to 2027 BC, with cuneiform text on both sides: “1 roasted mutton, 5 sila soup Ur-šu-suen, chancellor’s assistant when he came for the ’secretary’ of Nana’s field; 3 sila soup, 2 fish Laqipum, cup bearer, royal messenger when he went for royal offerings; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Suškin, royal messenger when he came from Der to the king’s place; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Kuganum, royal messenger; /REVERSE/ 1 sila soup, 1 fish Ilianum, royal messenger when they went to Der; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Namhani, royal messenger; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Lu-šulgira, royal messenger when they came to the governor’s place; 2 sila soup, 2 fishŠugatum, royal messenger when he came to capture fugitive soldier-workers, servants of Ninhursag; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Pululu, eguary when he went for the sikum-mules; A disbursement for the month Nigenlila, 19th day.”

This text dates to the second year of King Ibbi-Sin, the last king of the Ur III. The text is particularly rare because almost all of the named messengers are followed by a description their mission: “Suškin, royal messenger when he came from Der to the king’s place.” The tablet records rations of food and drink distributed by the government to royal messengers. According to Prof. David Owen the Iri-Saĝrig archive is probably the archive of the governor whose office was in the local palace. The king and other members of the royal family occasionally traveled to Iri-Saĝrig, perhaps on their way to or from Nippur or other towns. No town in Sumer was visited more often by the king than Iri-Saĝrig. This may explain the presence of so many royal functionaries associated with the town.

The World’s First Female Author, Enhedu’anna

This ancient clay tablet from Babylonia is inscribed in Sumerian cuneiform and dates to the 20th-17th centuries BC. It mentions King Sargon’s daughter Enhedu'anna as the author of a hymn to the goddess Inanna. The tablet has lines written first by the teacher in the first column, with 2 students repeating the hymn in columns 2 and 3.

Enhedu’anna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BC), founder of the first documented empire in Asia. Enhedu’anna emerges as a genuine creative talent, a poetess as well as a princess, a priestess and a prophetess. She is, in fact, the first named, non-legendary author in history. As such she has found her way into contemporary anthologies, especially of women’s literature.

Rare Assyrian Amuletic Bead with Name of King Shalmaneser, 2nd ML BC

A tabular oval agate bead with seven incised cuneiform characters denoting the royal name ‘Shalmaneser’ (šul-má-nu - MAŠ aš-ár-ed).

There were five kings of Assyria with this name, ranging from Shalmaneser I (1274–1245 BC) to Shalmaneser V (727–722 BC), the biblical conqueror.

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It’s a well known fact that Egyptians are credited with the domestication of cats, but did you know that the history of felines in society dates back far longer than that?


Like many things in modern culture, the presence of cats in towns can be traced back to the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia. It is believed that around the same time that livestock such as cattle and goats began to be domesticated– around 10,000 years ago– cats, too, were becoming prevalent amongst humans. For the same reasons that the ancient Egyptians kept our feline companions around, so did the ancient Mesopotamians. Small and crafty hunters meant that farmers’ food stores would be safe from rodents as would their homes. Of course, Egyptians were the first to keep cats as pets, but that would not have been possible without the initial cat-human bond forged by Mesopotamians.

For reasons unknown, it is ultimately rare to find artwork depicting domesticated cats in collections dating back to Mesopotamia, but their relatives are much more commonplace. While the lion seemed to be the favored cat for sculptures and reliefs, the occasional panther made its way into immortalization at the hands of talented artists of the time.

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Akkadian Cylinder Seal, 18th-17th Century BC

A carved banded agate cylinder seal with frieze depicting a seated bearded figure (possibly a deity) in flounced robe holding a cup towards a standing figure  in a robe with herringbone pattern, a second figure in flounced robe, a third figure (worshipper) in tasseled robe, lamp with corrugated stand.

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Sumerian Silver Lyre, from Ur, southern Iraq, c. 2600-2400 BC

This lyre was found in the ‘Great Death-Pit’, one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The burial in the Great Death-Pit was accompanied by seventy-four bodies - six men and sixty-eight women -laid down in rows on the floor of the pit. Three lyres were piled one on top of another. They were all made from wood which had decayed by the time they were excavated, but two of them, of which this is one, were entirely covered in sheet silver attached by small silver nails. The plaques down the front of the sounding box are made of shell. The silver cow’s head decorating the front has inlaid eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. The edges of the sound box have a narrow border of shell and lapis lazuli inlay.

When found, the lyre lay in the soil. The metal was very brittle and the uprights were squashed flat. First it was photographed, and then covered in wax and waxed cloth to hold it together for lifting. The silver on the top and back edge of the sounding box had been destroyed. Some of the silver preserved the impression of matting on which it must have originally lain. Eleven silver tubes acted as the tuning pegs.

Such instruments were probably important parts of rituals at court and temple. There are representations of lyre players and their instruments on cylinder seals, and on the Standard of Ur being played alongside a possible singer.

Underside of a green jasper scarab-amulet, depicting a ruler holding a staff before lotus plants, with a crescent moon above.  Thought to be Mesopotamian (either Neo-Babylonian or Achaemenid Persian), but incorporating Egyptian elements (e.g. the was-scepter held by the ruler).  Artist unknown; ca. 600-400 BCE.  Now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.  Photo credit: Walters Art Museum.