‡ The Kushim Clay Tablet, a large and remarkably fine pictographic tablet recording beer production at the brewery at the Inanna Temple in Uruk, with the apparent personal name 'Kush-im', that perhaps the first attested personal name in history, clay tablet with pictographic inscription
[Sumer (Uruk), Uruk III period (thirty-first century BC.)]
Square clay tablet, with a single case of pictograms in an example of expert pictographic script Uruk III, showing the production of beer from barley or corn, and its placing within the brew-house, the brewery mark and other marks probably depicting numbers, plus two further non-pictographic symbols for 'KU-SIM' probably the personal name of the recorder (or just perhaps his title), reverse blank, a few hairline cracks, else in outstanding condition, 68 by 72 by 19mm.; within morocco-covered folding case
This "exceptionally fine, perfect, administrative tablet" is not only the finest such tablet in The Schøyen Collection; but it also has claim to be the earliest known record of any personal name in history
1. Most probably from the Inanna Temple archives, Uruk, and deposited there about fifty-two centuries ago. This archive is now known from 77 pictographic tablets, all apparently in the same hand, of which 25 tablets and 30 smaller fragments are in in the Freie Universität, Berlin, with a further four tablets in the British Museum and another four in the Louvre.
2. From the formidable antiquities collection of Hans Erlenmeyer (1900-1967), and his wife Marie-Louise Erlenmeyer (1912-1997), housed in Basel; this piece acquired in the 1950s. In 1981 Marie-Louise Erlenmeyer founded the Erlenmeyer Foundation to promote animal and species protection.
3. Sold on behalf of the foundation at Christie's 13 December 1988, lot 48, to Quaritch, London.
4. Schøyen Collection, London and Oslo, their MS 1717, acquired from Quaritch in August 1993.
Sumer, nestled in the fertile land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, supported the growth of one of the world's earliest great civilisations from about 5500 or 4000 BC., with the city of Uruk its largest centre. The people who moved to this region, perhaps from North Africa or India, drained the marshes there to produce farmland, and developed trade and industries. As a by-product of these social and economic developments they also pushed forward record keeping through proto-writing systems, such as the present example. Uruk was larger than any other city-state in the region, and at its height around 2900 BC. probably had 50,000-80,000 inhabitants, making it the largest urban site in the world at that time. The site dwindled after 2000 BC., but was not abandoned until the Islamic conquest of the seventh century AD.
Here the symbols show the viewer the entire industrial process of making beer: from an ear of barley or corn, to a brick-building with a chimney that might be the brewery itself, and finally the barley or corn within a jar signifying the beer. The dots and other impressions most probably indicate numbers, probably recording that the amounts of beer produced were vast, some 134,813 litres of barley to be delivered over 3 years (37 months). At the end of this are two non-pictographic symbols of the greatest importance (here in top left corner). They spell out the two sounds 'KU' and 'SIM', and are most probably the name of the government official responsible. As noted by Harari and publicised by National Geographic in 2015, this apparent signature lays claim to be the first personal name of any human in history, and as Kushim was most likely the scribe, this is the earliest person to employ writing who we can name. He is known from seventeen other tablets, and in some of those addressed as "Sanga" or temple administrator. None of those, however, appears to be recorded in private ownership, and this is probably the only chance to acquire any form of this fundamentally important record.
H.J. Nissen, P. Damerow and R.K. Englund, Frühe Schrift und Techniken der Wissenschaftsverwaltung im alten Vorderen Orient , Berlin, 1991, no. 4.29, pp. 20, 24 and 66-67.
H.J. Nissen, P. Damerow, and R.K. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping: early writing and techniques of economic administration in the Ancient Near East , University of Chicago Press, 1993, pp. 36-37.
L. Alvegård, 'Arkaisk babylonsk matematik: Talpjäser och lerbollar', Teknik & Naturvetenskap , 2 (1994), pp. 38-40.
J. Curtis, 'Early Mesopotamia and Iran: Contact and Conflict 3500-1600 BC', in Mesopotamia and Iran in the Parthian and Sasanian periods : rejection and revival, c. 238 BC - AD 642; Proceedings of a Seminar in Memory of Vladimir G. Lukonin , eds. J. Curtis and V.G. Lukonin, British Museum Press, 2000, pp. 28, 64.
Y.N. Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind , 2011/2014 (Hebrew/English editions) 2:7.
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