Cuneiform Digital Library Notes (ISSN: 1546-6566)
Published on 2017-01-01
© Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The article discusses differently shaped ‘firing holes', arguing that round, triangular, trapezoidal, or even oval ‘firing holes' might have been pierced by a tip of the cuneiform stylus. In addition, some ‘firing holes' suggest that a cuneiform stylus might have had two different ends: one end having been used for writing cuneiform, and the other for making the ‘firing holes'.
The function of the so-called ‘firing hole' is unclear. Generally, it is considered that a ‘firing hole' had nothing to do with the baking of a tablet (see Walker 1987: 24; Fincke 2003–2004: 126, note 124; Taylor 2011: 15–16). However, ‘firing holes' certainly helped a tablet to dry out faster and more evenly. But was this really essential in hot parts of Mesopotamia? In order to avoid confusion, I will name the ‘firing holes' simply ‘holes', but designate them by their shape, i.e., round, triangular holes etc.
Differently shaped holes have appeared on tablets from Old Babylonian times (see 3, below). At a certain point it seems that they ‘became a matter of tradition' (Walker 1987: 24), and were consequently widespread in the first Millennium BC. Frequently, round holes were arranged in a decorative way, for instance on Maqlū tablets: K 2728+, K 43+. Such careful arrangements would suggest a decorative function for these round holes (Robson 2008: 198), aside from a practical one. But, differently shaped holes were not always found in nice patterns. Therefore, the idea that these holes served only a decorative function can be excluded.
In addition, it has been proposed that oval holes, for instance, might have been used ‘to eliminate open spaces where later additions to the text could be made' (Jeyes 2000: 371). In other words, the positioning of these holes might have been used to prevent future textual changes (in case the tablet was not baked). This idea also seems to be partly incorrect since occasionally there are a lot of empty spaces with no holes in some parts of tablets, while other parts of the same tablet have holes. For instance, a manuscript of UGU 1 (BAM 480) shows round holes on the obverse, but none on the reverse.
Commonly, round holes tend to get thinner in the deeper parts of tablets, suggesting that they were left by a cone-shaped object. Aside from these common round holes there are also triangular, trapezoidal and oval ones (Fincke 2003–2004: 141; Taylor 2011: 15–16), which are rare in comparison to the round holes.
Ironically, thanks to broken tablets we can see cross sections of the holes.
Let us first look at images of tablets in Assyrian and Babylonian hand, and then discuss them.