Several years ago, I published a group of texts belonging to a larger series that recorded labor assignments for teams of workers from the city of Girsu (Allred 2008). At the time of publication, one of those texts, Fs Sigrist 16, no. 4, was available to me in transliteration only. This transliteration was highly problematic, however, as it featured a number of mistakes including both internal computational errors, as well as inconsistencies in relation to the other texts belonging to the series.
As noted in Englund 2010, however, a hand copy of the tablet has appeared in the recently-published YOS 15 as number 105. According to the volume’s catalog, the text belonged to a Robert Garrett of Baltimore, MD. This was almost certainly the former Olympic medalist (he won gold for the shot put and discus, and silver for the high jump and long jump in Athens in 1896) and investment banker who was a well known collector of Middle Eastern manuscripts (Special to the New York Times 1961). The tablet’s current whereabouts remain unknown.
The copy of this text and a corrected transliteration, as well as a commentary on this text, are presented below:
Despite the improvements made from having this copy, some problems remain. In the summary given in line 48, the number provided, 188, is still one shy of the actual total of workers tasked out, 189. The error is due to scribal or, more likely, copyist error. Similarly, a number of expressions remain problematic. For instance, in the Ur III corpus, the term gaba-ri, meaning “(tablet) copy,” is not otherwise attested following a personal name as it does in line 35 of this text.
The section following the second total (lines 49-52) is peculiar (Allred 2008: 17). Normally, the tablets in this group conclude with several la2-ia3 entries, listing the remaining workers from each overseer (nu-banda3) not assigned a task. Some tablets will also list workers qualified as “having not gone out from the city” (iri-ta nu-e3), but in most cases this number is not linked to a particular overseer (e.g., ASJ 18, 224 [HSM 6434] and MVN 11, 85, but cf. Fs. Sigrist 17, no. 5). Our tablet, however, has two iri-ta entries (without the nu-e3), and but a single la2-ia3 entry.
The meanings of the terms la2-ia3 and iri-ta nu-e3 are difficult to understand. It is easy to presume that the la2-ia3 workers were simply those remaining workers who, for whatever reason, were not assigned to a particular task. For instance, the total workers in Fs. Sigrist 16, no. 3, is 141. From those, 116 were assigned to tasks while 25 others are qualified as la2-ia3; presumably these 25 were not assigned tasks that day, but still had to be counted for administrative reasons.
Curiously, though, a number of texts include being sick (du2 or du2-ra) among work assignments. For instance, in the above text both Alla and Lu-Ea were qualified as such. If la2-ia3 workers represented those remaining workers who were not assigned a task, then why were sick workers not included among them and instead placed among the assigned workers? While the answer remains unclear, one possible solution is to speculate that sick workers were still compensated in some way, while remaining (la2-ia3) workers were not (some evidence for this is seen in Heimpel 2009a: 59-63).
More vexing is the case of the workers qualified as iri-ta nu-e3. As is clear from the above text, the expression iri-ta nu-e3 cannot simply be a synonym for la2-ia3; when added together, the seven workers called iri-ta nu-e3 along with the two labeled as la2-ia3 and the 188 who were given work assignments totals exactly the 197 workers given at the beginning of this text. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the iri-ta nu-e3 workers, like the la2-ia3 workers, were not assigned tasks. Maekawa (1988: 70) suggested that the workers who had not gone from the city were “a kind of reserve labor force” but it is unclear why such a force would be needed.