Cornell University is preparing to forfeit to Iraq a vast collection of ancient cuneiform tablets in what is expected to be one of the largest returns of antiquities by an American university.
The 10,000 inscribed clay blocks date from the 4th millenium BC and offer scholars an unmatched record of daily life in ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization.
New York antiquities collector Jonathan Rosen and his family began donating and lending the tablets to Cornell in 2000. Many scholars have objected to the arrangement, suspecting the tablets were looted in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, which unleashed a wave of plundering in the archaeologically rich expanse of southern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Read more.
OSAKA, June 13 (Bernama) — Japanese archaeologists have found tablets containing census registration records dating back to the seventh century within remains located in Dazaifu city in Fukuoka Prefecture, southwestern Japan.
The tablets are believed to be the oldest census registration records in Japan’s history, Xinhua news agency reported.
The city’s Cultural Assets Section said the team, which examined the tablets with infrared rays, found at least 16 names of families along with their titles and relationships written on both sides of one of the tablets measuring 31 centimeters long and eight centimeters wide.
The description on the tablet also includes some words related to changes of address and historical names of places that were used between the year 685 and 701, leading archaeologists to believe that tablets were used as a form of census registration during that period. Read more.
At a time when black magic was relatively common, two curses involving snakes were cast, one targeting a senator and the other an animal doctor, says a Spanish researcher who has just deciphered the 1,600-year-old curses.
Both curses feature a depiction of a deity, possibly the Greek goddess Hekate, with serpents coming out of her hair, possibly meant to strike at the victims. Both curses contain Greek invocations similar to examples known to call upon Hekate.
The two curses, mainly written in Latin and inscribed on thin lead tablets, would have been created by two different people late in the life of the Roman Empire. Both tablets were rediscovered in 2009 at the Museo Archeologico Civico di Bologna, in Italy, and were originally acquired by the museum during the late 19th century. Although scholars aren’t sure where the tablets originated, after examining and deciphering the curses, they know who victims of the curses were. Read more.
The Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum curates fragments related to five lead curse tablets from ancient Rome. One of these tablets (JHUAM 2011.01) was recently conserved and placed on view, along with the original iron nail (JHUAM 2011.06) associated with it.
Objects such as this one are evidence of a common practice in Greek and Roman antiquity to scratch curses onto tablets which were then deposited in wells or graves. While the earliest tablets only contained the name of the person to be cursed, later examples grew more elaborate, such as this example. Curses could be inscribed on basically anything, ranging from pottery sherds to gemstones, though lead is the most common material used for this purpose. Read more.
Today’s Assyriology scholars study Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform tablets with the help of digital photographs or handwritten copies of the texts, but ideally, they visit collections to see the tablets firsthand.
Technology could introduce a new way to connect researchers to these precious, unique artifacts by creating exact replicas.
Such an effort is under way at Cornell in the lab of Hod Lipson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who specializes in the burgeoning field of 3-D scanning and printing of everyday objects. Read more.