These cuneiform tablets were donated to Lehigh by alumnus Harvey Bassler, 1908, who traveled the world working for the Standard Oil Company. These tablets are the oldest “books” or written records held by the Lehigh Libraries at an estimated 4,000+ years old. While we are not aware of anyone at Lehigh who is able to read Sumerian writing, many similar tablets have been translated. Most represent records of business transactions, much like modern day receipts or bills of sale. Why does Lehigh keep these tablets if we can’t read what they say? Because these tablets offer a wealth of information about the development of written language, communication, and technology from ancient civilization to the modern world. When contrasted with digital technology, such as Apple’s iPad tablet, it becomes clear that most contemporary written communication involves computer assistance to be transmitted and read. These tablets, made from fire-hardened clay, also demonstrate the longevity of physical writing. These tablets have survived the destruction of the city (possibly the ancient Urr) in which they were stored, fire, being exposed to the elements, and buried for thousands of years, and are still legible to the naked eye.
Sumerian Tablets, Mesopotamia (currently Iraq), circa 2000 B.C.E.