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Cuneiform Clay Tablet

This is a cuneiform clay tablet.

This object is not part of the Cooper Hewitt's permanent collection. It was able to spend time at the museum on loan from National Museum of Natural History as part of Tools: Extending Our Reach.

It is dated ca. 2000-1595 BCE. Its medium is clay/mud.

Cuneiform is not a language, but a writing system—one of the world’s oldest—that employs code symbols like the letters and syllables we use today. Everyday cuneiform (from Latin meaning "wedge-shaped") was invented in what is today Iraq around 3200 BCE and used until around 300 CE. With a stiff reed or wooden stylus, people inscribed characters on semihardened clay, ideal for taking impressions. Cuneiform tablets were used in business and schools, to document events and write poetry—virtually everything we use writing for today. Although the purpose of this Old Babylonian tablet cannot be confirmed, it contains the personal name of Ili-bani and the place names Babylon and Isin. This suggests a typical contract, in which one person might sell barley to someone from another city. Babylon, one of the most important cities in Mesopotamia, was known mainly through the stele of King Hammurabi, one of the earliest law codes in cuneiform.

It is credited Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, A315235.

  • Poster, Sustainability
  • offset lithograph on white paper.
  • Gift of William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand.
  • 2008-7-1

Our curators have highlighted 5 objects that are related to this one. Here are three of them, selected at random:

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Its dimensions are

H x W x D: 4.1 x 3.5 x 1.3 cm (1 5/8 x 1 3/8 x 1/2 in.)

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Tools: Extending Our Reach.

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use page.

If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Cuneiform Clay Tablet |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=3 December 2022 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>