Category: cuneiform tablets

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Unsolved Mysteries of Special Collections

 They’ve come to us across four thousand years of history, from at least three different continents, representing many cultural traditions.  We know just enough about them to tantalize us – and we’d like to know more.  Each week we'll be sharing a new mystery from our collections.  Can you solve the Unsolved Mysteries of Special Collections?

 

 

Sorry, not those Unsolved Mysteries.  We’re talking about Special Collections materials we’d like to know more about.

Unsolved Mystery #1: Cuneiform Tablets

Special Collections holds eight cuneiform tablets whose exact provenance is unknown. Seven of the tablets were donated to MU Libraries by the now-defunct Ernest McClary Todd Museum, formerly a part of the School of Journalism. They may have come to the University in the early twentieth century.

Tablet MULC 8 (Z113 .P3 1#1 item 1a) was acquired as part of the Pages from the Past collection, which was a portfolio of leaves and artifacts sold by Foliophiles in the 1960s.

Six of the tablets were recently published by a researcher at the University of Heidelberg. The remaining two tablets are thought to be from the Old Babylonian period (1900-1600 BCE) and are currently unedited.

Where did the tablets come from? What information do the two unpublished tablets contain?  What, if anything, is known about the Ernest McClary Todd Museum?

If you have information about this or any other of our unsolved mysteries, email us at SpecialCollections@missouri.eduStay tuned next week for another Unsolved Mystery from the Special Collections vault.

 

 

MULC 2

 

 

MULC 8

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Posted in Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

What’s the oldest item in Special Collections?

We get this question a lot – and we posed it as a multiple-choice trivia question this week on our Facebook page.  Now it’s time to reveal the answer.   Which is the oldest item in Special Collections?

And the winner is… The Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

Cuneiform tablet, ca. 2500 B.C.E.As far as we know, this cuneiform tablet dates to around 2500 B.C.E., making it the oldest item held in Special Collections (it predates the next oldest item, an Egyptian scarab seal, by about 500 years).

This tablet is one of eight held in the Special Collections department.  Although the other seven tablets have been translated, this one has never been deciphered.  If you read any of the ancient Near Eastern dialects, we’d love to hear from you!

For more information about the cuneiform tablets in Special Collections, see the online exhibit Cuneiform Tablets: Records of Ancient Mesopotamia.

What about the other options?

This was a tough question, because all of the items were the oldest in one way or another.  More information below.

The Hebrew Scroll

Hebrew scroll, seventeenth centuryIf you guessed that the scroll represents the oldest book form in Special Collections, you were right!  The scroll predated the codex (the form we usually associate with a book nowadays) by thousands of years.

In most of the Western world, the codex replaced the scroll gradually, from around 300 to 500 A.D.  However, among Jewish communities, the scroll retained its place as the primary form for storing and transmitting information.  Jewish congregations still use temple scrolls produced to strict specifications in their rituals of worship.

Although it’s old, this parchment scroll is far from ancient.  It dates from the 1600s, contains the Book of Ruth, and was probably not produced for temple reading.  It fits conveniently into the hand, the perfect size for personal study.

The Latin Manuscript Codex

Priscianus, De Constructione, ca 1150This manuscript copy of De Constructione by Priscianus dates to around 1150 A.D.  Although Special Collections holds manuscript fragmePriscianus, De Constructione.  Binding, 15th century.nts that are older, this is the oldest complete book in the collection.  It is a work on grammar, written in Latin with passages in Greek.

The binding of this manuscript was done later than the text, but it is also interesting because it’s a good example of a fifteenth-century German binding in blind-tooled pigskin.  The back board still shows discoloration from the former site of a metal clasp.

The Egyptian Papyrus Fragment

Papyrus fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, ca. 1100-1150 B.C.E.Dating from approximately 1500-1100 B.C.E., this fragment from the Egyptian Book of the Dead isn’t the oldest item in Special Collections – but it is the oldest piece of writing on papyrus in Special Collections.

Papyrus is a plant that grows along the marshy banks of the Nile River, and the ancient Egyptians used it to make a paper-like substance for writing.  Papyrus became one of Egypt’s main exports and was used throughout the ancient world, in Greece, modern-day Turkey, and the Middle East.

 

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Posted in Rare Book Collection, Special Collections, Tuesday Trivia
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