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The oldest known signed Sumerian tablet that was recently auctioned for a fortune in England.          Source: Bloomsbury Auctions

Ancient Sumerian Tablet with ‘First Signature’ Sells for a Fortune

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A signed Sumerian tablet that is over 5000 years old, from ancient Mesopotamia, has been sold at auction. This extremely historic artifact is believed to have one of the first-ever signatures and indications of a personal name . Interestingly the signed Sumerian tablet also depicts the brewing of beer and was probably an administrative record.

The signed Sumerian tablet was found in the ancient city of Uruk which was part of the Sumerian culture. Uruk is believed to have been one of the first cities in the world. The tablet was part of the privately held Schøyen Collection , a collection of tablets and manuscripts, dating back to the earliest days of written history.

Sold Signed Sumerian Tablet Has World’s First Signature

The tablet was made of baked clay and inscribed with symbols and impressions. The square item is 3 x 3 inches (7.6 x 7.6 cm) and is in good condition apart from a few slight cracks. However, what makes the tablet so important are the symbols and signs on the object. According to the Daily Mail it is believed to be “the earliest known record of any personal name in history – indicated by symbols translating as 'KU' and 'SIM' in the top left corner.”

Position of the ‘first signature’ on signed Sumerian tablet. (Bloomsbury Auctions)

Position of the ‘first signature’ on signed Sumerian tablet. ( Bloomsbury Auctions )

This “signature” has been interpreted by experts as spelling “Kushim.” Since very few were literate in ancient Sumeria, this individual was likely a government scribe and the object itself a record kept for administration purposes. It has been generally accepted that Kushim spells a personal name, but some have speculated that it is an official title. The signature Kushim is believed to be the earliest example of an autograph. The Daily Mail reports that the name “Kushim is known from 17 other tablets and in some of those addressed as ‘Sanga’ or temple administrator.”

The History of Personal Names, Signatures and Civilization

The name Kashim is not the only name found on ancient Mesopotamian artifacts. One of the earliest names is Turgunu Sanga , who may have been a record keeper for a leading family. Ancient Origins reports that “In another clay tablet, the name of Gal-San can be found.” He was a slave owner and we also know the name of two of his slaves. 

The use of personal names allows us to better understand the ancient Mesopotamians and their views on personal identity and even individuality. Timothy Bolton, an expert at Bloomsbury Auctions, stated “our names are important to us, they are a fundamental part of our identity and probably the first thing any child learns about itself” according to Big World Tale . Therefore, it seems that the Sumerians had a sense of personal identity and even individuality and this may have been partly a result of the invention of writing.

Uruk Archaeological site at Warka, where the 5,000-year old, signed Sumerian tablet was unearthed. (MOD / OGL)

Uruk Archaeological site at Warka, where the 5,000-year old, signed Sumerian tablet was unearthed. (MOD / OGL)

Keeping a Record: Beer Making in Ancient Mesopotamia

The Daily Mail quotes the well-known Israeli author T Y. N. Harari as saying that the clay tablet reads “29,086 measures barley 37 months Kushim.” It appears to be a receipt for barley that was the main ingredient in Sumerian beer. This clay tablet is another illustrative example of how writing emerged from practical needs.

There are several markings on the object that seem to show how beer was produced at a temple in Mesopotamia in 3100 BC. Some images appear to show grains and jars and the process of brewing. The tablet apparently depicts or details the entire process, from the building of the brewery to the transportation of the beverage in jars. The Daily Mail reports that “The dots and other impressions on the clay most likely indicate numbers and probably recorded the amounts of beer being produced.”

The earliest record we have for the brewing of beer is from Sumer. One clay tablet in particular shows Sumerians sipping beers through a long straw. The alcoholic beverage played an important role in the ancient civilization’s myths, religion and society. Beer was even used to pay workers in Mesopotamia, just as in ancient Egypt.

The oldest depiction of beer-drinking shows people sipping from a communal vessel through reed straws. (Brauerstern)

The oldest depiction of beer-drinking shows people sipping from a communal vessel through reed straws. ( Brauerstern)

Auction Bidding War For The First Signed Sumerian Tablet

The tablet was auctioned by Bloomsbury Auctions in London. According to Mr Bolton “One only gets a few chances to work with any item of such importance, marking a milestone in perhaps the most important human invention – writing” reports the Daily Mail .  The clay tablet had a reserve of £90,000 ($120,000) but when the auction started several bidders were keen to secure the artifact. A US collector won the bidding war and the final cost of the object, including fees, was £175,000 ($235,000). Diaz Hub reports that Mr Bolton and Bloomsbury were delighted with the auction: “We were delighted with the result, as well as pleased to be part of this piece passing from one important collection to another on its journey through the ages.”

The clay tablet offers a unique insight into the world of ancient Mesopotamia, located mainly in modern Iraq but also extended to parts of Turkey and Syria. The region produced many empires and cultures, and among the most important of these were the Sumerians. Mesopotamia is often regarded as the cradle of civilization and it was here that writing, the wheel, and other important technologies were invented.

Top image: The oldest known signed Sumerian tablet that was recently auctioned for a fortune in England.          Source: Bloomsbury Auctions

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Hello Ed,

This was a huge surprise about the Sumerian Tablet, an intriguing article. I recall a Western Civilization Text Book that I once used for class the historian author talked briefly about those Clay Tablets in Sumeria as well The Ziggurat Temple.

The other thing that jumped out at me was The K alphabet which appeared to be a word or name Kushim then it appeared to me the word altered from Kushim to Kashim?

Is that like when some people's names are William and the family begins calling them as Billy? Perhaps some one is named James, then they become Jimmy, lastly, Robert becomes Bobby?

The name of Kushim caught my attention well only because Kush is in The Bible; in Genesis Chapter 11, I know, that the (yes I'll say it), Middle Son of Noah, Ham well his First Born Son's name is Cush.

Kushs bloodline becomes identified as Cushites, but, more importantly some history books, appear to interpret Kush as Ethiopia, Cushites or Kushites thanks to the Clay Tablet from Sumeria.

As I understand in Ethiopia, today, people there still through Oral History of Africa; believe that Kush, is their Great-grandfather. From Genesis The Bible says that Kush was the Father of Nimrod who in turned Founded Assyria but, ruled over Assyria apparently from Ur Land of the Chaldees.

Away from The Bible, I remember hearing about the Ancient Epic of Gilgamesh. I had access to the Holy Bible, long before;
I heard of Gilgamesh. When, I did learn about Him, I began feeling as though Nimrod and Gilgamesh were one and the same an idea I know would not go well in The Church.

My feeling on the matter hasn't gone away which is why, I've taken to calling the hero Gilgamesh Nimrod The Mighty Hunter Before The Lord.

However in The Bible 3 names are provided for certain people in the Bible like, that of Jessie Benhad David, I think maybe I got the middle name backwards Ben Had? Getting back to Genesis Chapter 11, so Mighty Hunter Before the Lord Gilgamesh Nimrod Kushim?

Remember Noah's First Born Son is Shem where we get the Name Semite from think Anti-Semitism because of course Shem is The Father of everybody in all Asia save for India which is split between Shems ancestors in India an his younger brother Japheth Father of the Aryan Race, I believe a few people in India, identify themselves as Indo-Aryan?

I guess my final thought is how come people presume that only a few people were educated aside from the temple priest, and Royal houses that everybody else wasn't? How do historians arrive at that conclusion.

I'm African American and way back in America we were taught False Histories of Africa because bigotry, racial philosophical ideology for example, there were no Dynasties, or Empires that existed in Africa. Only savages that swung through trees like monkeys.

So it's only been recent that places said to have been Dynasties and Empires in Africa, are being found through archeology and anthropology; so why presume; in the Ancient World, in Sumeria accept for a minor few none were educated.

Okay maybe women were denied an education back then, but everyone else had to have been Educated, The people built Ziggurat, Ningirsu war-god temple oh wait that was in Turkey, Tyre in The Bible, The Tower of Babel before God changed the languages and could not complete its building, Pyramids & Spinixis.

I am fairly certain that the people of the Ancient world our ancestors could read and write.

Again, great article excited to read the Name Kushim possibly great-grandson of Kush first born son of Ham and Ham the Father of everyone in Africa an Canaan oh that's right The Canaanites live in Lebanon today.

Until next time Ed Goodbye!

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