Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cuneiform Inscriptions on U Media

The University of Minnesota owns nineteen artifacts inscribed in cuneiform, the script of ancient Mesopotamia. This collection comprises sixteen clay tablets, two clay cones, and one inscribed and sealed clay tag. These documents include sixteen administrative records from various cities of Sumer in the Ur III period (late 3rd millennium BCE), and three short royal inscriptions from the cities of Isin and Uruk in the early Old Babylonian period (early 2nd millennium BCE). Most of the texts were published in 1961 by Tom B. Jones, then professor of ancient history at the University of Minnesota, and John W. Snyder (Sumerian Economic Texts from the Third Ur Dynasty; a catalogue and discussion of documents from various collections. University of Minnesota Press.) They are now made available on the U Media Archive in new editions, including transliterations, translations, and photographs.

This collection has been available on our unit web site for some time but we thought it was time to migrate the text and images to the U Media Archive. The original site was designed by Matthew James Buell, Mark Gill and professor Eva von Dassow as part of The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) at the University of Minnesota. Professor von Dassow was responsible for the new text editions, Buell designed and programmed the web site, and Gill researched the history of this collection and the career of Edgar J. Banks. Ahn Na Brodie from the Libraries' digital services photographed the inscriptions. Marcel Sigrist also assisted on the text editions.

Gill made the following observations about Banks. "Edgar James Banks was the dealer who sold the University many, if not most, of its cuneiform tablets. He was very active in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and is responsible for most of the small cuneiform collections at universities, seminaries, and museums around the country. Banks led an interesting life, a summary of which can be found in the excellent article, "The Forgotten Indiana Jones," by Dr. Ewa Wasilewska. Dr. Wasilewska is writing a biography of Edgar Banks, and we are very grateful to her for her advice and help in identifying Banks' handwriting. Banks himself wrote several books, and one of them, Bismya or The Lost City of Adab, has been made available online by the University of Chicago Library. As a final note, at least one of the two cones in the collection was purchased from Banks, but we have been unable to determine which one; also, it seems likely that Banks was the source of some of the uncredited tablets."

Mrs. Kate Koon Bovey donated at least one of the tablets, but we don't have enough information to credit her with the donation of any specific tablet.

The most recent addition to our collection is the donation of a three-sided sealed clay label from the Ur III period, UM 19, donated by Karen Moynihan in August 2001.

The digitization of this collection is part of a worldwide effort to provide cuneiform-inscribed texts on the internet. This effort is spearheaded by the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI), a joint project of the University of California at Los Angeles and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

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