What is this object?
Thank you all for participating in this weekend’s What is it? discussion. We’ve updated the page with the answer and details on the artifact below.
A. Sumerian bread stamp
B. Assyrian cutting board
C. Persian maze game
D. Babylonian priestly record
E. Map to the temple of Baal at Ugarit
This small, 6-inch-tall clay tablet from Iraq depicts the twisted, sinuous path of the coiled entrails of a sacrificial sheep slaughtered by Babylonian priests sometime during the second millennium B.C.E. In ancient Mesopotamia, priests sought to divine future events by examining the intestines and innards of slaughtered animals. If when “reading” the entrails (a practice known as extispicy) the priests observed something unexpected or unusual, they noted the anomaly and its meaning with simple clay models that would allow future priests to understand and interpret the omen. In this model, the priest has drawn the curved path of the sheep’s entrails and, in cuneiform, made a brief note along the tablet’s bottom margin about whatever oddity he observed: “Left and right meet on the right, where they break off.” While it is difficult for us to know what strange phenomenon is being described, a Babylonian priest studying this tablet no doubt found the information useful in making sense of some puzzling arrangement of sheep’s innards.