Sumer, modern-day Iraq, ca. 4th to 3rd millennium BCE. An egg-shaped grey terracotta envelope, hollow on the interior, and stamped all over its surface with oval seals, some of which are still clear and have avian designs. Size: 1.45" W x 2" H (3.7 cm x 5.1 cm)
As Sumerian agriculture grew, farmers and traders realized they needed a recording system to track the movement of animals and goods. This led to the development of the first known writing system, cuneiform. The writing style - at first pictographic but later more abstract - was used on square clay tablets mainly to record agricultural transactions. Small tokens were also used to represent units of goods. Hollow clay balls or ovoids like this one, called bulla (pl. bullae), were used as envelopes for holding tablets or tokens. They were sealed with geometric impressions that would need to be broken in order to access the contents within. Some were made with the same number of impressions as the records within, so that the seal would not need to be broken to count the records.
Provenance: Ex-Private East Coast, USA Collection
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