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clay tablets

Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


The surface on which the cuneiform writing system evolved. Clay is a very durable material. When baked it is virtually indestructible, but even unbaked clay will keep longer than most other writing materials. It is thanks to this property of clay that tens of thousands of documents have come down to us from the earliest period of writing in Mesopotamia. Tablets were inscribed with a pointed stylus when the clay was still moist and hence plastic. When completely dry or baked the inscription can be preserved indefinitely ( figure 21 ). Babylonian clay tablets came in various sizes, but most commonly they were the size of the human palm. Typically inscribed on both sides, this format made them easy to handle for the scribe. Clay was also used for writing in other parts of the ancient world. Many tablets were unearthed in Crete bearing seal impressions and inscriptions. The richest heritage of ancient writing is, however, found on the clay tablets of Mesopotamia. See also cuneiform writing ; writing surface . Reading Chiera 1938. Figure 21 Neo-Babylonian clay tablet with cuneiform inscription (by permission of Staatliche Museen Berlin: Vorderasiatisches Museum zu Berlin) ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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