Clay Tablets
In ancient times writing was done on papyrus, parchment, potsherds, and clay tablets. The latter were made of clean-washed, smooth clay. While still wet, the clay had wedge-shaped letters (now called "cuneiform" from Latin cuneus, "wedge") imprinted on it with a stylus, and then was kiln fired or sun dried. Tablets were made of various shapes - cone-shaped, drum-shaped, and flat. They were often placed in a clay envelop. Vast quantities of these have been excavated in the Near East, of which about a half million are yet to be read. It is estimated that 99 percent of the Babylonian tablets have yet to be dug. The oldest ones go back to 3000 B.C. They are practically imperishable; fire only hardens them more. Personal and business letters, legal documents, books, and communications between rulers are represented


One of the most famous is the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian king who lived long before the time of Moses. The tablets reveal intimate details of everyday life in the Near East and shed light on many obscure customs mentioned in Old Testament. Some tell the story of the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood. They do much to verify the truth of the Biblical record.

Fragment of a clay tablet from Nineveh, with the Assyrian epic of Creation called enuma elish ("when the gods"), which tells of how Marduk slew the monster Tiamat and created the world out of her body.


Fragment of a clay tablet from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, with an Assyrian account of the Flood


A Babylonian tablet from 87 B.C. repots the arrival of the comet now known as Halley.



Page 96
National Geographic Magazine,
December. 1997

comet_final.jpg (13128 bytes)
map_babylon.JPG (15814 bytes) An early world map, circa 600 B.C., shows Babylon as a rectangle intersected by two vertical lines representing the Euphrates River. Small circle stand for surrounding kingdoms, and an ocean encircles the world



Page 18
National Geographic Magazine,
February. 1998