A Sumerian Cuneiform Sealed Envelope with Tablet, ca. 2199—2119 BCE
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This fine ancient Mesopotamian clay envelope still has the original clay tablet sealed inside. Few envelopes survive, since the act of opening them meant breaking them apart and the broken pieces would then be discarded. The purpose of envelope tablets was security. The document was written in duplicate: once on the tablet, once on the enclosing envelope. Therefore, the document could be read from the envelope, but should any dispute arise, the document inside would be binding.
On this example, however, the original text is completely obscured on the exterior by a seal roll showing a human figure standing in front of an enthroned king with text behind him. The seal was used to roll all six sides of the envelope but inscribed over the rolls on one side are three lines of text that read:
“sealed by Gu2-TAR-la2, PA NI NI, /x-x/ [x].”
Gutarla is a well-attested name and the element –arla in the name is typical of Gutian names helping to date this piece to around the Gutian Dynasty (ca. 2199—2119 BCE) that ended by the accession of Ur-Nammu, founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur.
Condition: The envelope is intact and in excellent condition overall.
Dimensions: 1 3.4 x 1 3/4 inches (4.4 cm)
Provenance: Private NYC collection, by descent from Frishman Galleries, Tel Aviv, acquired 1970s, thereafter private Virginia collection, acquired from the NY trade.