Clay tablet

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Storage medium
Clay tablet
Egyptian Museum Leipzig 287.jpg
Clay tablets with cuneiform in the Egyptian Museum in Leipzig
lifespan if properly treated, thousands of years
size around 30 centimeters
Weight usually a few hundred grams
predecessor Cave painting
successor Scroll

The clay tablet (more generally and colloquially also called a writing tablet or stone tablet ) is one of the oldest writing materials known to mankind. It took place especially in the area of ​​the fertile crescent moon in a predominantly dry and hot climate since the middle of the 4th millennium BC. Application.


A clay tablet is a plate made of clay or loam into which symbols can be scratched or imprinted with a stylus . Then the board hardened. The engraved writing can be erased or corrected by scraping off the top layer; burning the clay tablet, often unintentionally due to fire disasters, makes it durable. The cuneiform writing was created through the special handling of the stylus as a stamp wedge .

The shape of the clay tablets and the way in which they were described changed over time and, like the development of writing and language, enables a rough chronological classification.


Clay tablets were used in Mesopotamia . They represent one of the oldest permanent media in cultural history, which made it possible to fix both image and written records . In addition, inscriptions were carved in stone and carved into bones (China).

The earliest texts in cuneiform written on clay tablets record entries from taxation and accounting . Later diplomatic correspondence, liturgy and poetry were added. About 2300 BC A map was carved into the so-called clay tablet of Nuzi (also Ga-Sur), today's Jorgan Tepe , southwest of Kirkuk in Iraq . Mountains, rivers and cities are drawn on the approximately 7 × 7 cm large clay tablet.

The use of clay tablets, along with cuneiform writing, spread to Assyria , Anatolia ( Hittites ), Syria, the Levant and Egypt ( Amarna archive ), Cyprus and Urartu (since Rusa II ). In the late Assyrian period, the clay tablet was increasingly replaced as a storage medium by papyrus , which was described in Aramaic .

Also, Linear A and the Greek Linear B -Schrift in Crete were written on clay tablets, as well as the Cyprian syllabary .


The ancient empires of the Bronze Age civilizations had palace archives of economic and diplomatic correspondence, as well as administrative documents. Significant archives have been found in Babylon , Uruk , Ugarit , Hattuša , Aššur , Nineveh and Amarna in Egypt. There were also private archives in which promissory notes, title deeds and court judgments were kept. They come from z. B. from Kaneš in Anatolia, Isin and Ḫana . The archive of Ur-Utu, which comprised almost 2,000 tables and covers 250 years, comes from Sippar , and the archive of Ilī-amranni, which covers 180 years , comes from Dilbat .

Significant archives:


Prepared but unwritten clay tablets are known, for example from Terqa . As Erasers served a axtförmiges device could be removed with both individual characters or entire lines.


  • Alan R. Millard: In Praise of Ancient Scribes. In: The Biblical Archaeologist. Vol. 45, No. 3, 1982, ISSN  0006-0895 , pp. 143-153, JSTOR 3209809

Web links

Commons : clay tablets  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: clay tablet  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Amanda H. Podany: The Land of Hana. Kings, chronology and scribal tradition. CDL Press, Bethesda MD 2002, ISBN 1-883053-48-X , p. 3.
  2. Paola Demattè: The Origins of Chinese Writing: the Neolithic Evidence. In: Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Vol. 20, No. 2, ISSN  0959-7743 , 2010, pp. 211-228, doi : 10.1017 / S0959774310000247
  3. Amanda H. Podany: The Land of Hana. Kings, chronology and scribal tradition. CDL Press, Bethesda MD 2002, ISBN 1-883053-48-X , p. 20.
  4. ^ Giorgio Buccellati, Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, Mario Liverani: The scribes of Terqa. In: Archeology at UCLA. Vol. 2, No. 14, 1983, online (PDF; 991 KB)  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /