A Record of Sales of Fields
(An Ancient "Kudurru")

Basalt
Early Dynastic IIIa (ca. 2600-2500 B.C.)
Purchased in New York, 1943
OIM A25412

 

During the earliest years of recorded history, the ancient Mesopotamians were experimenting with ways to count, measure, and solve mathematical problems. They were the first to give a number a place value and to recognize the concept
of zero.


The inscribed object to the left is a document recording the sale of parcels of land, possibly to a single buyer. Such a record is called a "kudurru." The nine columns of text written on both the obverse (top image) and reverse (bottom image) describe the sales transaction in great detail. Although it is shaped like a clay tablet, the document is made of stone, a rare and expensive commodity in ancient Mesopotamia. The fact that this kudurru is made of stone shows that this document was considered quite significant and that it was intended to be a permanent and indestructible record. Sales records like this one were kept in temples to give them the protection of the gods and, at the same time, make them accessible to public scrutiny. The document records the areas of the fields acquired and the amounts of silver and other commodities used to buy the land. These commodities included sheep fat, wool, and bread.


The ancient Mesopotamians did not have a money economy, so they developed a standardized system of weights to carry out their many commercial transactions. The original medium of exchange was barley. The smallest unit of weight was called a barleycorn, the approximate weight of one grain of barley. Other standard units of weight were the shekel, the mina, and the talent or load. Eventually, silver replaced barley as the medium of exchange, not as coinage but rather as small pieces that had the same weight as a shekel of barley.