Within the main exhibit of the Museum of Biblical History in Collierville Tennessee is a small table covered by a plexiglas case, wherein lies a small, unfired clay tablet. It is the second-oldest item in the museum, and is dated to 2,200 B.C.
This small tablet, labeled as Tablet 1997.2.1, is 45 mm long, 32 mm wide, and 14 mm in depth. It was discovered in Northern Syria, and was purchased by the museum via a trusted antiquities dealer in New York on December 10, 1997 (Turner). The tablet has writing on both sides: however, wear on Side B has left the writing tragically illegible. On the top edge of Side A, a partial fingerprint can also be seen as left by the tablet’s author during the writing process.
Tablet 1997.2.1 was written in the Sumerian language; a language that stands alone as the first language to find itself in written form. The Sumerians were a group of people who settled in the region of southern Mesopotamia at some point during the fourth Millennium B.C. (Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character 42). The Sumerians didn’t call themselves Sumerians: they referred to themselves simply as The Black-Headed People (Jacobsen, The Eridu Genesis 513), or as Kramer translates as simply the Black-Heads (Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character 285). Sumer is what a later migrant group called the region of southern Mesopotamia; and so today we refer to the culture group by that name (Mark). Sumer was not a unified nation, but a cluster of several city-states and surrounding rural-based groups in the region which shared common cultural traits. Collectively, the Sumerian culture group was one of many “firsts.” They were the first to develop writing, the first to build cities, the first to invent the potter’s wheel – and the list continues (Kramer, History Begins at Sumer xvii-xviii). Continue reading