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Lexical texts in the scribal centres of Mesopotamia

The archaic lexical corpus did not end up in the debris of ancient Uruk. Almost the complete corpus is attested in later copies throughout Mesopotamia and beyond. Three findspots are of particular interest for a reconstruction of the lexical corpus in the 3rd millennium: (1) Fara (ancient Šuruppag), (2) Tell Abu Salabikh, and (3) Ebla. The site of Fara yielded a high amount of scholarly texts and the earliest literary compositions (e.g., proverbs and other wisdom literature) known in Mesopotamia. Already Adam Falkenstein noted in his edition of the archaic tablets from Uruk (Falkenstein 1936) that the lexical texts from Uruk dating to the end of the 4th millennium have parallels among the scholarly texts from Fara. Only in the early 1970s the important text finds from the small site of Tell Abu Salabikh added to this corpus. These text finds showed that both sites have more or less the same textual "programme", but with noteworthy differences. A third corpus is represented by the scholarly texts found at the Syrian site Ebla. These merit a separate discussion.

It is noteworthy that the tablet format of the Early Dynastic versions still follows archaic customs. Large square, multi-column tablets are frequent, while the reverse is often left blank or contains a colophon, providing insights into the respective scribal milieu. As their archaic "predecessors" entries are usually introduced by a curvilinear numerical notation, although its use varies between texts and sites. For a group of texts scribes used a circular impression of a stylus in order to mark an entry (in particular on tablets of the southern group of Practical Vocabularies).

The lexical corpus at the afore-mentioned sites can roughly be divided into two groups: (1) versions of word lists known already from earlier (archaic) sources; (2) new compilations of lists, sometimes semi-dependent on established lexical texts. The Early Dynastic versions of the first group form the basis for the reconstruction of the archaic lists. This is due to their good state of preservation. A case in point is the Fara version of a list nowadays called Animals A (SF 81). The predecessor of this list dating to the end of the 4th millennium only preserves a small part of the later text and its reconstruction was merely possible using the almost identical tradition of this list in the 3rd millennium.

There is no indication in the pertinent sources, which would allow a reconstruction of the transmission of the Uruk lists. Although chronological models constantly reshape the relative dates for the first half of the 3rd millennium, there is certainly a considerable gap between the "archaic" texts from Ur and those from Fara. Furthermore, it is not likely to see Ur in the far south as an intermediary stage for the transmission of lexical texts. The site of Kiš is a far more likely candidate and recent identifications of Early Dynastic lexical material from this site prove this point. Kiš lies in relative proximity to the site of Djemdet Nasr, which itself received scribal lore at the end of the 4th millennium.

The compositions were generally transmitted in full editions; extracts are rare and appear so far only to be attested for the "Standard Professions List" Lu A (EDLu-A). The small tablet SF 76 is an interesting example for such extract tablets. Its obverse contains entries 1-22 of the composite text; on the tablet's reverse the scribe drew a design. A clearer case for this text's place in the scribal education is DP 337, a lenticular tablet, which pesumably originates from Girsu. This text resembles later models of school tablets (Type IV), with a teacher's template on the reverse and the pupil's copy on the reverse.

Most of the Early Dynastic versions of archaic word lists came down to us in more than one copy in the afore-mentioned scribal centres. But there are also a couple of exceptions. The list Pots and Garments, which was well attested in Uruk, is only preserved through one manuscript each in Fara and Tell Abu Salabikh, the latter being quite fragmentary. Nevertheless, this text survived until the Old Babylonian period.


Klaus Wagensonner (Freie Universität, Berlin)
For suggestions and corrections please email Klaus Wagensonner

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lexical_texts_in_the_scribal_centres_of_mesopotamia.txt · Last modified: 2016/04/22 12:00 by wagensonner
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