An Ancient Complaint

A while ago, whilst making headway in my mission to read The Internet in it’s complete, unabridged form -an activity that’s probably some form of ‘Digital Archaeology’- I stumbled across a curious cuneiform artefact.

One of those brilliantly odd bits of rock that show that, fundamentally, people never change. I enjoyed the object so much I shared it the blog’s Facebook page…

That’s where I thought this story would end, a Museum-geek sharing something that’s a bit silly.

But, no, there’s a bit more left to this tale.

As it was shared around the social space, more and more details were fleshed out. Annoyingly, in the original post, it isn’t revealed in which museum you can find this ancient letter of complaint and you can’t see what else is displayed around it, giving it its all important context.

Let’s have another look at the picture. Given the traditional nature of the display, the Cuneiform Complaint Letter could be from almost any museum that writes labels in English and has a Middle Eastern Collection. Yes, there are some clues to be had here, but the identity of the institution is still shrouded in mystery.

Enter the internet and before you know it – boom! Someone drops the name of the museum like it’s no big deal: it’s the British Museum. Of course it’s the British Museum.
Naturally I had to investigate the next time I was there, and here it is in all its glory! BEHOLD!
An Ancient Complaint Letter
An Ancient Complaint Letter

If you’re wondering about the specifics (let’s face it, who wouldn’t be?) the museum can tell us that it is a letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery.

And you though Amazon were rubbish at delivering things.

Let’s have a look at what else was displayed with it, to see what the museum-folk were thinking when they put this display together…

Other Artefacts
Other Artefacts

There is a list of gifts and a contract. All in all, this is a fairly mundane group of objects, even with the hilarity of the Ancient Complaint Letter.

Let’s stop and think for a second.

Not all ancient writings left to us are stories, tales and literature of epic proportions or grand in theme. Not by a long shot. Mostly it’s fragments of this and pieces of that.

Let’s pause again.

Writing was mainly used for boring stuff. It really still is. No one really puts pen to paper, or however you choose to make a mark, to write something profound or entertaining. It’s to make lists, to do some work or sometimes to doodle a bit. It makes me wonder how many other innocuous, but kind of hilarious items are hiding in the museum’s storage.

By the way, here is the British Museum’s official data on the Letter.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Elaine Jones says:

    Love it! I was once told that the origin of writing came in cuneiform, and mostly so they could add up what people owed in taxes.

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