A trip to Babylon (part 1)

We have all heard about Babylon.  Already legendary in antiquity for its great walls, its man-made terraces of flora known as the Hanging Gardens — one of the Seven Wonders of the World — and especially for its great learning and culture.  But what happens when the past meets modern technology?

Recently, YDC2 had the opportunity to partner with the Yale Babylonian Collection.  This collection has the largest assemblage of seals, documents and other ancient Mesopotamian artifacts in the U.S. and is one of the leading collections of cuneiform tablets in the world.  This collection is also noteworthy for its close ties to an academic department where it upholds the University’s mission of teaching and learning.  To learn more about the Yale Babylonian Collection, please visit their website.

The major aim of this joint demonstration project is to create documentation of cuneiform tablets for application in research.  Fourteen objects have been selected with a variety of themes. Here are some of the highlights: For Old Assyrian tablets, we have a marriage proposal and a fragment of an envelope.  An interesting feature of this fragment is that it still retains the ‘mirror’ image of the letter it once enveloped because the clay was still wet when it was wrapped around the letter.  There are a few mathematical tablets to be imaged.  One is a demonstration of finding the diagonal of a square using the square root of 2.  One is an unsolved math problem which scholars, to this day, are still trying to solve.  We will also be imaging a letter from Nebuchadnezzar, as well as the first known example of a contract killing and a tablet containing part of the story of Gilgamesh.

For the first time ever, these pieces will be imaged using RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging), 3D imaging and MSI (Multispectral Imaging) as well as having high resolution photos taken of them.

Imaging of these objects began this week so stay tuned for the next part of this three part story!


The Babylonian Collection Reading Room contains an extensive Assyriological research library. In the background is a replica of the famous Stele of Hammurabi.  Photo taken by Lee Payne.


Several rooms of Sterling Memorial Library were designed specifically for the Babylonian Collection, as a result the window medallions display Mesopotamian themes.  Photo taken by Lee Payne.

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An example of an unopened envelope, with the tablet visible inside. This is a record concerning barley for beer, ca. 2100 B.C.E.  Photo taken by Lee Payne.


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