A Neo-Sumerian Administrative Tablet in the University of Tartu Art Museum

CDLB 2021:4

Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin (ISSN: 1540-8760)

Published on 2022-01-26

© The Authors

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License except when noted otherwise and in the case of artifact images which follow the CDLI terms of use.


§1. Introduction[1]

§1.1. The previously unpublished Neo-Sumerian document KMM A 45 is located at the University of Tartu Art Museum. It was transliterated, translated into Estonian and studied for the first time in the unpublished 2001 bachelor thesis of Jaana Strumpe (2001: 14–21). The text was also briefly mentioned in the Estonian popular-scientific journal “Horisont” (Sahk 2004), in the Estonian newspaper “Eesti Ekspress” (Erelt 2006), and in a catalogue dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the University of Tartu Art Museum (Sahk 2006: 30–31). Photographs of the tablet were appended to J. Strumpe’s bachelor thesis and published in the University of Tartu Art Museum catalogue mentioned above (Sahk 2006: 30–31).

§2. The Journey of the Tablet to the University of Tartu Art Museum

§2.1. The tablet was donated to the University Art Museum by Johan Laidoner (1884–1953), a general of the Estonian army, who served as chairman of the committee of the League of Nations in Mosul from October to December 1925, resolving border disputes between the Kingdom of Iraq (under British administration) and the Republic of Turkey. During his stay in Iraq, Laidoner bought several artefacts of ancient Mesopotamian origin. While, in a letter sent from Mosul to his wife Maria Laidoner on the 5th of November 1925, he does mention three artefacts that he bought from an antiquities market in Mosul (a document in a clay envelope (NABU 2019/27),[2] a seal, and a figurine of a lion from Aššur), he does not mention the Ur III document discussed in this article in the same letter (Strumpe 2001, 11). Thus, it is unknown where exactly Laidoner bought this tablet. When Laidoner returned to Estonia he decided to donate some of the Mesopotamian artefacts he acquired in Iraq to the University of Tartu, including the tablet under discussion here (Erelt 2006).

§3. Measurements, Date, and Origin of the Tablet

§3.1. The tablet is made of fired clay and measures 3.7×3.3×1.6 cm (Sahk 2006: 30). The text is written in the Neo-Sumerian variant of the Sumerian language and originates from the 48th year and 11th month of the reign of king Šulgi (2093–2046 BC), as testified by the month and year names mentioned in the text (reverse lines 6-7 and left edge). As the text was probably bought from the market and thus most likely came from an illegal dig, the exact circumstances of its excavation are unknown. The month name udruduru5, however, is known from the Nippur calendar (see Cohen 2015: 156–157, Emelianov 1999: 266) and thus the text is certainly from the city of Nippur or its vicinity.

§3.2. The fact that the temple of the god Šakkan (reverse line 4) and the official Lugalazida (reverse line 5) are mentioned in the text provides additional arguments for the text’s origin being from Nippur. This official is known to have played an active role in the building of Šakkan’s temple in Nippur during the period of the seventh to eleventh month of the same year, according to 11 other Ur III administrative documents.[3] While in ten of these documents Lugalazida is involved in inspecting (gurum2-ak[4]) the male workers (ĝuruš) stationed in the Šakkan temple, in our text and in CUSAS 39, 153 the same official deals with reed-workers (ad-KID) and carpenters (nagar), in all probability with the purpose of providing building materials for the same temple.

§4. Contents of the Tablet

§4.1. As the amounts of listed building materials made of reed and wood are vast and it is unthinkable that either a single reed-worker or a carpenter could produce such quantities in a single day, the collective (without the plural marker enē) should be preferred as the grammatical form for ad-KID and nagar.[5] For the activity of the reed-worker the verb written is definitely sur, as the collation of the tablet in the University Art Museum made clear. The verb sur is commonly used in Ur III administrative documents to denote the activity of twisting and braiding reeds and other substances together.[6] According to H. Waetzoldt, one worker would, for example, manage to braid only four gazi reed-posts/rope (gigilim gazi) a day.[7] It would thus take more than seven years for a single worker to braid the 10,800 gilim gazi listed in this text. To manufacture 10,800 gilim gazi in one day would require about 2700 workers, each preparing 4 units. The construction of a temple is undoubtedly a demanding project and some Ur III administrative texts list even larger numbers of workers.[8] Thus, the option preferred here is to interpret ad-KID and nagar as collective terms (grammatically singular), with the exact number of various reed-workers and carpenters not being mentioned.[9]

§5. Transliteration and Translation

1. 1(u) 3(diš) sar giKID-mah 468 m2[10] of great reed mats
2. 5(geš2gigilim dagal 300 wide reed-posts/rope[11]
3. 3(šar2gigilim gazi 10,800 gazi reed-posts/rope[12]
4. a2 ad-KID-ug-ga2-ke4 labor of hired reed-workers:[13]
5. ib2-sur u4 1(diš2)-še3 braiding for one workday
1. 2(geš’u) 2(geš2) 3(u) 4(diš) gešur3-ḫi-a 1354 various roof-beams[14]
2. a2 nagar-ug-ga2-ke4 labor of hired carpenters:
3. ib2-ur5 u4 1(diš)-še3 collecting for one workday[15]
4. e2 dšakkan2 (for the) temple of Šakkan[16]
5. ki lugal-a2-zi-da-ta from Lugalazida[17]
6. iti udruduru5 (in the) month of udru (=xi)
7. mu us2-sa ki-maški one year after Kimaš (was destroyed)
Left Edge
1. mu us2-sa-bi one year after that (=Šulgi 48)

6. Duplicate KMM A 45 = CUSAS 39, 153

§6.1. The text CUSAS 39, 153, mentioned above, is a duplicate of our text. This text is held in the Schøyen collection in Oslo and was published in CUSAS 39 as No. 153 by Jacob L. Dahl.[18] Looking at the photograph on the CDLI, the differences between the two texts are minor. For example, in CUSAS 39, 153 there are fewer lines in total, as lines obervse 4–5 and reverse 2–3 of KMM A 45 are both squeezed into one line in CUSAS 39, 153. Our new text makes it possible to reconstruct the text CUSAS 39, 153 fully, and we therefore present a new and improved edition of that text here.

1. 1(u) 3(diš) sar giKID-ma 468 m2 of great reed mats
2. 5(geš2gigilim dagal 300 wide reed-posts/rope
3. 3(šar2gigilim gazi 10,800 gazi reed-posts/rope
4. a2 ad-KID-ug-ga2-ke4 ib2-sur labor of hired reed-workers: braiding
5. 2(geš’u) 2(geš2) 3(u) 4(diš) gešur3-ḫi-a-kam 1354 various roof-beams
6. a2 nagar-ug-ga2-ke4 ib2-ur5 u4 1(diš)-še3 labor of hired carpenters: collecting for one workday
1. e2 dšakkan2 (for the) temple of Šakkan
2. ki lugal-a2-zi-da-ta from Lugalazida
3. iti udruduru5 (in the) month of udru (=xi)
4. mu us2-sa ki-maški ba-ḫul one year after Kimaš was destroyed
5. mu us2-sa-bi one year after that (=Šulgi 48)



Figure1: Photo of obverse

Figure2: Photo of reverse


  • Cohen, Mark E. 2015. Festivals and Calendars of the Ancient Near East. Bethesda: CDL Press.
  • Dahl, Jacob L. 2020. Ur III Texts in the Schøyen Collection. CUSAS 39. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Emelianov, Vladimir V. 1999. Емельянов, В. В. Ниппурский Календарь и Ранняя История Зодиака / Nippur Calendar and the Early History of Zodiac. Петербургское Востоковедение (Orientalia).
  • Englund, Robert K. 1988. “Administrative Timekeeping in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 31, 121–85.
  • Erelt, Pekka. 2006. Kindral Laidoneri Trofeed IraagistEesti Ekspress.
  • Espak, Peeter, and Vladimir Sazonov. 2010. “Orja Vabaksostmine Assüürias: Kiilkirjatahvel Tartu Ülikooli Kunstimuuseumist.” Tuna, 83–88.
  • ––––. 2019. “Slave Buying His Own Freedom in Assyria.” Nouvelles Assyriologiques Bréves et Utilitaires 1, 43–45.
  • Goetze, Albrecht. 1948. “Umma Texts Concerning Reed Mats.” JCS 2, 165–202.
  • Heimpel, Wolfgang. 2009. Workers and Construction Work at Garšana. CUSAS 5. Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press.
  • Jagersma, Bram. 2010. A Descriptive Grammar of Sumerian. PhD Dissertation. Leiden University.
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  • ––––. 2006. 200 Aastat Tartu Ülikooli Kunstimuuseumi. Valikkataloog, Tartu: Tartu University Press.
  • Sallaberger, Walther. 1989. “Zum Schilfrohr Als Rohstoff in Babylonien.” In Der Orientalische Mensch Und Seine Beziehungen Zur Umwelt: Beiträge Zum 2. Grazer Morgenländischen Symposion (2.–5. März 1989), edited by B. Scholz, 311–30. Grazer Morgenländische Studien 2. Graz: Dvb-Verlag.
  • Steinkeller, Piotr. 1982. “On the Reading and Meaning of Igi-Kár and Gúrum(IGI.GAR).” Acta Sumerologica 4, 149–51.
  • ––––. 1987. “The Foresters of Umma: Toward a Definition of Ur III Labor.” In Labor in the Ancient Near East, edited by Marvin A. Powell, 73–115. New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society.
  • ––––. 1989. Sale Documents of the Ur-III-Period. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden GmbH.
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  1. The authors would like to thank Jaanika Anderson, director of research at the University of Tartu Art Museum, for giving permission to collate the tablet and publish the photographs, Marcos Such-Gutiérrez and Vladimir V. Emelianov for reading the draft and giving many useful comments and suggestions, and Jacob L. Dahl for providing us with his edition of CUSAS 39, 153. Only the authors are responsible for any errors that may remain. This paper was supported by a personal research grant from the Estonian Research Council (grant number PUT1466).
  2. The enveloped document is a Middle Assyrian cuneiform text dealing with a slave buying his freedom. It was first published in Russian by Jankovskaya 1989; in Estonian by Espak, Sazonov 2010; in English by Espak, Sazonov 2019.
  3. MVN 15 147MVN 15 152Akkadica 140, p. 85, no. 8KM 89496KM 89497KM 89529CUSAS 39, 153MCS 7 13 AO 11739MCS 7 13 AO 11740MCS 7 14 AO 11741Fs. Neumann, p. 209, I.D.1 NUL 13. See, however, Heimpel 2009, 178, who interprets e2 dŠakkan2 as “[...] probably a facility for equids. It would have had stables with stalls like the bull house and the house of fattened rams.” The amount of materials made of reed and wood listed in our text, however, leave the impression that we are dealing with a more capacious building than stalls.
  4. For this term, see Steinkeller 1982.
  5. For cases when a plurality of humans is interpreted as a collective, see Jagersma 2010, 111.
  6. Waetzoldt 1992, 132: “Das Verb sur steht für das Zusammendrehen von Pflanzenfaseren bzw. stark geklopftem Rohr, und auch für das Herstellen von Seilen aus anderen Materialen (z. B. Wolle oder Ziegenhaar) wird sur benutzt.”
  7. Waetzoldt 1992, 133. According to A. Goetze (1948, 182) a reed-mat measuring 6m by 6m (= 1 sar) would take six days to weave, cf. Englund 1988, 170, note 43.
  8. The text Nisaba 15/2 0547 lists numbers as high as 1440 ad-KID and 1533 nagar among some other craftsmen, with the added note “(one) workday” (u4 1(diš)-še3). The number of ad-KID and nagar, however, is usually much lower in Ur III documentation.
  9. Another option is that ad-KID and nagar in our text only stand for the foremen or overseers of the manufacture of the objects, and the number of workers needed for this is not mentioned. Perhaps, however, the term “(one) workday” (u4 1(diš)-še3) is misleading and the work was in fact meant to be done over a longer period of time. The exact period and the number of workers needed were possibly recorded in another document.
  10. 1 sar = 36 m2.
  11. For gigilim, see Waetzoldt 1992, 132–134; Heimpel 2009, 215–216.
  12. P. Steinkeller interprets gigilim gazi as “ropes or cables (gilim) made of the plaited gazi fibers (apparently the licorice plant = Glycyrrhiza glabra, whose rootes [sic!] are known to be a source of fibers, used in modern times as an insulation and as an ingredient of wallboards) [...]” (Steinkeller 2015, 220).
  13. For ad-KID (atkuppu), see Sallaberger 1989, 320 with endnote 89; Steinkeller 1989, 171, note for text 3, line 7; Neumann 1993, 36, note 94.
  14. For gešur3 as roof-beams, see Steinkeller 1987, 92; Van De Mieroop 1992, 158; Heimpel 2009, 173.
  15. Another option would be to interpret the verb (written ḪI×AŠ2) in this line as ur, “to scratch” (as in Strumpe 2001, 14). This would refer to the manual activity of carpenters in preparing the roof-beams, removing the bark from the beams or similar.
  16. For Šakkan/Sumuqan, the cattle deity, see Wiggermann 2011–2013, 308–309.
  17. As the recipient (kišib3 PN or PN šu ba-ti) is missing in the text of the duplicate CUSAS 39, 153, Dahl surmises that “it may originally have been encased in an envelope” (Dahl 2020, 218). While this is also a possibility for KMM A 45, there is, however, no sign of an envelope for this text in the University of Tartu Art Museum.
  18. Dahl 2020, 218.


Version 1.0

Cite this Article
Johandi, Andreas, Vladimir Sazonov, and Sebastian Fink. 2021. “A Neo-Sumerian Administrative Tablet in the University of Tartu Art Museum.” Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin 2021 (4). https://cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/articles/cdlb/2021-4.
Johandi, Andreas, Sazonov, Vladimir, & Fink, Sebastian. (2021). A Neo-Sumerian Administrative Tablet in the University of Tartu Art Museum. Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin, 2021(4). https://cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/articles/cdlb/2021-4
Johandi, Andreas, Sazonov, Vladimir and Fink, Sebastian (2021) “A Neo-Sumerian Administrative Tablet in the University of Tartu Art Museum,” Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin, 2021(4). Available at: https://cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/articles/cdlb/2021-4 (Accessed: December 1, 2023).
	note = {[Online; accessed 2023-12-01]},
	address = {Oxford; Berlin; Los Angeles},
	author = {Johandi,  Andreas and Sazonov,  Vladimir and Fink,  Sebastian},
	journal = {Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin},
	number = {4},
	year = {2021},
	publisher = {Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative},
	title = {A {Neo}-{Sumerian} {Administrative} {Tablet} in the {University} of {Tartu} {Art} {Museum}},
	volume = {2021},

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