October 18, 2005

5,000-year-old treasure rediscovered in library storage room

Valdosta State University Odum Library has uncovered an ancient treasure that excites even the mildest Indiana Jones wanna-be.

The treasure is a collection of 5,000-year-old Babylonian cuneiform clay tablets, dating back from 2300 BC to 500 BC. Cuneiform is one of several writing systems of the ancient East, in which wedge-shaped impressions were made in soft clay tablets. These tablets, delicate in nature, literally fit in the palm of one's hand, measuring only 1.5 inches squared.

Dr. Richard Holmes Powell, first president of South Georgia State Normal College (now VSU) acquired a collection of ten of these tablets from Edgar Banks, an archaeologist working in Iraq in the early 20th century. Powell intended the tablets to provide learning opportunities for the school's students; however, over the years, the tablets remained preserved in a library storage room. It wasn't until a few years ago, that the tablets were found by Deborah Davis, Archivist. In an effort to make them available to the public without frequent handling, the tablets were scanned and made available for viewing on the web, even though, no one could interpret the inscriptions.

Before long, Cale Johnson, a cuneiform scholar from UCLA, saw the tablets on the web and offered to translate them. Through his translations, many things can be studied about this ancient time of history. A detailed interpretation of these tablets and an explanation of their significance can be found at http://books.valdosta.edu/arch/Babylonian/babylonian.htm .

Odum Library Archivist Deborah Davis opens ten small boxes, each containing a unique historical clay tablet.
Odum Library Archivist Deborah Davis opens ten small boxes, each containing a unique historical clay tablet.

Davis said these tablets are some of the earliest samples of writing, but just as important, they reveal a significant part of business exchange, religion, medicine, etc., of ancient everyday life. "And now, we have a part of it," said Davis.

For more information, contact Davis at 333-7150 or dsdavis@valdosta.edu.

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