The growth of a herd of cattle
Artifact: Clay tablet
Period: Ur III (ca. 2100-2000 BC)
Current location: Louvre Museum, Paris (AO 5499)
Text genre, language: Administrative text; Sumerian
Description: Imagine you start with four cows. By breeding them, the herd increases over time. How much milk and cheese can you get in 10 years’ time? And how much is this worth in silver? This tablet provides answers to these questions. The text is significant primarily as an example of the expansion of cuneiform administration into the realm of the hypothetical, as can be seen in many other (usually milder) cases, especially in the Ur III period. Administration had become a complex art-form, and detailed calculations of projected labour and production output were factored in to administrative practices. This tablet also provides clear examples of the signs for various livestock at different stages, the (ideal) outputs of milk for each, and the rate of reproduction (one calf for every two cows each year). Finally, we learn that approximately 10 litres (10 silà) of ì-nun (a kind of butter) cost a shekel (GÍN), that is about 3.8 grams of silver (Nissen et al: p.100-102).
(Kathryn Kelley, Oxford University)
Lineart:Archaic Bookkeeping. Nissen, Hans, Peter Damerow and Robert Englund. (1993) pp. 100-102.
Edition(s): Archaic Bookkeeping. Nissen, Hans, Peter Damerow and Robert Englund. (1993) pp. 100-102. / Englund, Robert K., BBVO 10 (1990) 043-046; Nissen. / Englund, Robert K., OrNS 64 (1995) 388-394