Stele of Ushumgal


Stele of Ushumgal

Period:Early Dynastic IDate:2900–2700 B.C.Geography:Mesopotamia, probably from Umma (modern Jokha)Culture:SumerianMedium:Gypsum alabasterDimensions:H. 22.4 x W. 14.7 x D. 9.5 cm (8 7/8 x 5 3/4 x 3 3/4 in.)Classification:Stone-Reliefs-InscribedCredit Line:Funds from various donors, 1958Accession Number:58.29



Among the earliest written documents from Mesopotamia are records of land sales or grants, often carved in stone with associated images, perhaps for public display. The Sumerian inscription on this stele records a transaction involving three fields, three houses, and some livestock. Ushumgal, a priest of the god Shara, and his daughter are the central figures of the transaction, but because of the archaic script, it is not clear whether Ushumgal is buying, selling, or granting these properties. The smaller figures along the sides very likely represent witnesses to the transaction.

In addition to their importance to understanding the development of writing, these early land documents provide evidence that land could be privately owned in early Mesopotamia, although a significant proportion was still owned by the gods and managed by their temples. While this development is not surprising from a modern point of view, in antiquity it represented a momentous conceptual and cultural shift.





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