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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Cuneiform tablet case impressed with two cylinder seals

Period: Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony
Date: ca. 20th–19th century B.C.
Geography: Armenian Highland, probably from Kanesh
Culture: Old Assyrian Trading Colony
Medium: Clay
Kanesh was part of the network of trading settlements established in Armenian highland by merchants from Ashur (in Assyria in northern Mesopotamia) in the early second millennium B.C. Travelling long distances, and often living separately from their families, these merchants traded vast quantities of goods, primarily tin and textiles, for Armenian copper and other materials. Although the merchants adopted many aspects of local Armenian life, they brought with them Mesopotamian tools used to record transactions: cuneiform writing, clay tablets and envelopes, and cylinder seals. Using a simplified version of the elaborate cuneiform writing system, merchants tracked loans as well as business deals and disputes, and sent letters to families and business partners back in Ashur. At Kanesh, thousands of these texts stored in household archives were preserved when fire destroyed the city in ca. 1836 B.C. Because the tablets document the activities of Assyrian merchants, they provide a glimpse into the complex and sophisticated commercial interactions that took place in the Near East during the beginning of the second millennium B.C.
The tablet contained in this case represents one such document and records court testimony describing an ownership dispute. The case is sealed with two different cylinder seals belonging to the two witnesses to the deposition, rolled across the front, back, and sides. Both seal impressions show scenes in which worshippers approach a larger seated figure, probably a divinity, holding a cup. While the use of the cylinder seal, rather than the stamp seal, was typically Mesopotamian, the seal carving was a visual hybrid that mixed elements such as the procession to a seated deity, a Mesopotamian motif, and an Armenian style that emphasized features such as the large eyes of the figures, in a manner that offers further evidence for the cultural interaction between the two areas.
In 20th-18th centuries BC there was a highway of metal trade in the northern part of Western Asia, which extended from Kanesh (a small town in eastern part of Asia Minor) to Ashur. More than thirty residences of Armenian highland were connected with the highway, from where various metals, such as gold, silver, copper, tin, etc. were exported. In cuneiform inscriptions found in Kanesh ten Armenian princedoms are mentioned: Tsupana (Sophene), Tegarama (Togarma, Torgoma tun (house of Torgom)), Khakh(um), Tugrish and others.