Griffin Gallery Antiquities

Sumerian Terracotta Foundation Cone with Cuneiform Writing

Sumerian Terracotta Foundation Cone with Cuneiform Writing

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Ancient World: Pre AD 1000: Item # 1152949

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Sumerian (Mesopotamia) Pottery Foundation Cone with Cuneiform Script, ca. 1900 BCE. The foundation cone was the last piece inserted in the building upon its completion. It was dedicated to a high ranking official or to a God, and was to insure good fortune for the edifice and its surroundings. 6" high x 2 1/4" diameter. On custom stand height is 7 1/4". Intact and in excellent condition. Mesopotamia is also called the Fertile Crescent and encompasses the area between and around two important rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. Another name for this area is the cradle of civilization, due to the multiple ancient civilizations that rose in the area, such as the Sumerians and the Akkadian Empire. The two rivers provided enough water and fertilized land to support settlements, so the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was no longer necessary. On this land, settlers were able to begin farming and domesticating animals, which led to complex civilizations. According to Ancient Scripts the Sumerians were one of the earliest urban societies to emerge in the world, in Southern Mesopotamia more than 5000 years ago. They developed a writing system whose wedge-shaped strokes would influence the style of scripts in the same geographical area for the next 3000 years. Eventually, all of these diverse writing systems, which encompass both logophonetic, consonantal alphabetic, and syllabic systems, became known as cuneiform. t is actually possible to trace the long road of the invention of the Sumerian writing system. For 5000 years before the appearance of writing in Mesopotamia, there were small clay objects in abstract shapes, called clay tokens, that were apparently used for counting agricultural and manufactured goods. As time went by, the ancient Mesopotamians realized that they needed a way to keep all the clay tokens securely together (to prevent loss, theft, etc), so they started putting multiple clay tokens into a large, hollow clay container which they then sealed up. However, once sealed, the problem of remembering how many tokens were inside the container arose. To solve this problem, the Mesopotamians started impressing pictures of the clay tokens on the surface of the clay container with a stylus. Also, if there were five clay tokens inside, they would impress the picture of the token five times, and so problem of what and how many inside the container was solved. Subsequently, the ancient Mesopotamians stopped using clay tokens altogether, and simply impressed the symbol of the clay tokens on wet clay surfaces. In addition to symbols derived from clay tokens, they also added other symbols that were more pictographic in nature, i.e. they resemble the natural object they represent. Moreover, instead of repeating the same picture over and over again to represent multiple objects of the same type, they used diferent kinds of small marks to "count" the number of objects, thus adding a system for enumerating objects to their incipient system of symbols. Examples of this early system represents some of the earliest texts found in the Sumerian cities of Uruk and Jamdat Nasr around 3300 BCE. he Sumerian writing system during the early periods was constantly in flux. The original direction of writing was from top to bottom, but for reasons unknown, it changed to left-to-right very early on (perhaps around 3000 BCE). This also affected the orientation of the signs by rotating all of them 90° counterclockwise. Another change in this early system involved the "style" of the signs. The early signs were more "linear" in that the strokes making up the signs were lines and curves. But starting after 3000 BCE these strokes started to evolve into wedges, thus changing the visual style of the signs from linear to "cuneiform".