4,000 year old tablet recording temple offerings


This 4,000-year-old tablet contains a list of cattle and donkeys offered as gifts to the a temple by a person called Ba-a. The item survived together with its original envelope, a clay case which contained details of the recipient and the seal of the sender to confirm their identity.

Scholars generally agree that the earliest form of writing appeared almost 5,500 years ago in Mesopotamia. Early pictorial signs were gradually substituted by a complex system of characters representing the sounds of Sumerian and other languages. These were impressed in wet clay with a reed stylus making wedge-shaped marks, known as cuneiform.

Full title:
Old Babylonian clay tablet
2350-1794 BC, Southern Iraq
Clay tablet
© Trustees of the British Museum
Usage terms
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike licence
Held by
The British Museum

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Why did humans start writing?

Article by:
Ewan Clayton
The origins of writing

We travel back to the ancient Middle East, to look at why, over 5,000 years ago, we first came to write.