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   Columbia University Cuneiform Collection , circa 3100 BCE - 2018 CE bulk circa 3100 BCE - 539 BCE

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Columbia University Cuneiform Collection; Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1947
Bib ID:13504676 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Columbia University
Title:Columbia University Cuneiform Collection , circa 3100 BCE - 2018 CE bulk circa 3100 BCE - 539 BCE
Physical description:62.5 Linear Feet (30 artifact boxes, 3 half-document boxes, and one standard document box)
Language(s):Ancient items in Sumerian or Akkadian, in cuneiform script; modern material about the collection in English.
Access: This collection is located on-site. AVAILABLE CULC 460 (i.e., Plimpton 322) is viewable only by appointment. CULC 157 is labelled as moldy, and would only be viewable after consultation with the conservation department.  More information »

Arrangement

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in 3 series. Series I. Tablets and contemporary objects, ca. 3100-539 BCE Series II. Casts of tablets, 1907 – 1990 Series III. Paper files relating to the collection, 1907 - 2018

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Description

Scope and Content

The collection consists of 625 cuneiform tablets (dating from circa 3100-539 BCE), and some ancient clay objects. Accompanying these are some twentieth century casts, and a collection of catalogs of the collection, articles about various parts, especially Plimpton 322, and correspondence about the tablets, including a number of letters, mostly from Edgar J. Banks, to George A. Plimpton, and others about tablets now in the Columbia collection.

Series I: Tablets and contemporary objects, circa 3100-539 BCE

625 cuneiform tablets dating from circa 3100-539 BCE, four cylinder seals, with modern impressions of them, and fourteen clay and stone objects, nine of which are labelled A through I. Provenance of these items is mostly unclear.

The tablets are most thoroughly described at the CDLI (at least those tablets for which descriptive information existed), and images of most of the tablets can be found there. This finding aid identifies each tablet by its Columbia University Libraries Cuneiform number (e.g. CULC 001); its identifier at CDLI, and by the references to the more complete published catalogs of the collection (Garfinkle, Freedman, and Mendelsohn; for citations see the section Other Finding Aids.

Series II: Casts of tablets, 1907-1990

22 casts are from David Eugene Smith; some are copies of tablets from “the Imperial Ottoman Museum at Constantinople,” some from tablets at the University of Pennsylvania museum, all made circa 1907-1908 for Smith through the agency of Herman Hilprecht (see Hilprecht correspondence in the Smith Professional papers). One additional cast was made for Plimpton, also by Hilprecht, in 1907 (see correspondence in box 34, folder 8).

There are three casts of CULC 460 (Plimpton 322). In 1957, a cast was commissioned from Mr. Laurits C. Eichner by Derek J. Price of the Smithsonian Institution; Mr. Eichner gave the library a trial version, with inadequate coloring. In 1990, 50 copies were commissioned from a specialist who did work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sold to aficionados; a copy (additional to the 50, this one with rejected painting), was given to Jane Rodgers Siegel in 1990 and later returned to the collection. The collection now contains three casts, two colored and one plain, none labelled as to their origin.

Series III: Paper Files, 1907-2018

Files on the collection’s history and growth, catalogs of the collection, articles about the collection or parts of it, and correspondence about the tablets. The latter includes a number of letters, mostly from Edgar J. Banks, to George A. Plimpton, J.G. Phelps Stokes, and Frances Henne about tablets now in the Columbia collection, as well as correspondence between Plimpton and Theophilus Pinches, Herman Hilprecht, and R.D. Messayeh.

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Using the Collection

RBML

Access Restrictions

This collection is located on-site. AVAILABLE

CULC 460 (i.e., Plimpton 322) is viewable only by appointment. CULC 157 is labelled as moldy, and would only be viewable after consultation with the conservation department.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies of paper materials may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Columbia University Cuneiform Collection; Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Other Finding Aids

Use the CDLI to identify tablets by date, genre, etc., and to see images.

Printed catalogs of parts of the collection:

1896. Arnold, William R. Ancient Babylonian Temple Records includes 20 tablets. (CLIO record )

1906. Lau, Robert Julius. Old Babylonian Temple Records includes 258 tablets. (CLIO record )

1943. Mendelsohn, Isaac Catalogue of the Babylonian Tablets in the Libraries of Columbia University (Columbia University Libraries. Catalogue series ; no. 1), includes 380 tablets. (CLIO record )

1971. Freedman, Robert D. Ur III Economic Texts [Freedman's Columbia masters essay], includes 320 tablets. (CLIO record )

2010. S. Garfinkle, H. Sauren, and M. Van De Mieroop Ur III Tablets from the Columbia University Libraries Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press (Cornell University studies in Assyriology and Sumerology ; v. 16), includes 322 tablets. (CLIO record )

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to determine when each tablet entered the collection, which has been reorganized a few times, most drastically in 1971, when Robert David Freedman made a catalog of the Ur III texts as a Master’s Thesis at Columbia University.

In 1993, the collection, which had been housed in 46 boxes (the tablets either wrapped in tissue and kept in individual microfilm boxes, or just piled into boxes), was rehoused. The tablets were put in artifact cartons, retaining any old numbers or notes found on the old boxes or with the tablets, and retaining the earlier order. In 2011, needing to number the 300 or so previously unnumbered tablets because of the CDLI scanning, the decision was made to renumber the entire collection in one numerical sequence (the CULC numbers). While we attempted to keep items largely in the old order, some rearrangement was made to put like items together; for example, the F numbers. The casts and the non-inscribed objects were put at the end of the collection.

In 2011-2012, Columbia’s tablets were added to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) in a collaboration funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Every tablet is described to a greater or lesser extent there, based on available data, including the text of the 2010 Garfinkle catalog; each tablet which was physically sound enough was scanned by someone from the CDLI. In 2018, in the process of creating this finding aid, boxes 30-33 were reordered to divide cleanly the ancient material from the modern casts, and the box of paper files collected together and described for the first time. A concordance between the various publication numbers exists.

This collection was processed by Jane Rodgers Siegel in 2018, after being partially cataloged by Isaac Mendelsohn in 1943, reorganized by Robert Freedman in 1971, and rehoused by Anne Simms in 2000. Finding aid written by Jane Rodgers Siegel in May 2018.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion September 6, 2018 Finding aid written in English.
    2018-09-06 File created.

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Genre/Form

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
CuneiformPortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Cylinder sealsPortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

History

The collection began with 435 cuneiform tablets were purchased for Columbia in 1895, and grew over the decades with purchases and gifts. Another description of the collection and its history is found on the Columbia page at CDLI. [link: https://cdli.ucla.edu/collections/columbia/columbia_intro.html]

435 cuneiform tablets were purchased in 1895 from the New York antiquities dealer, David Z. Noorian for Columbia by friends of the University, and 32 tablets were bought from Dikran Kelekian, December 1895, with funds from Mr. L.S. Bernheimer. These acquisitions were organized by Professor Richard Gottheil. In 1902, Professor John Dyneley Prince presented 18 tablets. In 1934, Professor David Eugene Smith donated 16 cuneiform tablets, and in 1936 George Arthur Plimpton gave 34, including the now famous mathematical tablet, Plimpton 322 (CULC 460). In 1959, the collection of 75 tablets belonging to Paul Monroe, Professor at Teachers College, was donated in his memory by his children, Jeanette Monroe Bassett and Ellis Monroe. There were also several small gifts: one tablet from Mr. Philip Coan, reported in Columbia Library Columns 8:2, Feb 1959, p. 35; two tablets from Dr. J.G. Phelps Stokes in 1960, four tablets in 1965 from Harry G. Friedman, two from Professor Lynn Thorndike in 1966, three from Professor Frances Henne in 1973, one tablet from Otto W. Fuhrman (undated gift), and a tablet transferred from the Art Properties in 2011. A cylinder seal in hematite was purchased in1962 (CU Columns 12:1, Nov 1962, p. 30); another was purchased with funds from Dallas Pratt & Aubrey Cartwright (CU Columns 13:1, Nov 1963, p. 40).

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