Friday, September 10, 2010

Our Oldest Item

A photograph of a cone-shaped piece of clay, marked with cuneiform. One of the questions we get asked most is "what's the oldest item in the library?"  The answer is a cuneiform cone from ca. 1930 B.C.  This type of cone was typically embedded in the foundation of a temple and gave the name of the king responsible for erecting the structure and the deity to whom the structure was dedicated. This terra-cotta cone is from the reign of Lipit-Ishtar, King of Isin, and was purchased from Edgar Banks in 1934 by Harold Rugg, the assistant librarian at the time.

A partial transcription of the cuneiform inscription can be found in one of the letters housed with the cone.  The transcription was made by an unnamed Harvard professor and according to the letter reads:

The divine Libit-Ishtar, the humble shpherd of Nippur,
the faithful husbandman of Ur, who does not change the face of
Edridu, a lord who befits Erech, the king of Isin,
the king of Sumer and Akkad, (Col. 2)
who captivated the heart of Inninni, am I.
When justice in Sumer and Akkad he had established,
The temple of justice he built.

Ask for Codex 001558 to see the cone and associated letters.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New Boston

A simple drawn map on a rough piece of buckskin. If "the media is the message," then what is this colonial-era survey map of New Boston, New Hampshire, trying to tell us? The plat appears to be on buckskin, suggesting the surveyor used the media that was closest at hand to plot out the township. It notes a stand of beech trees, a birch tree, and a "heap of stones" as key markers. The raw earthiness of the document, combined with the rigid lines imposed on the irregularly shaped animal skin, shows an overlaying of one culture upon another. The area being mapped was a border between controlled, legislated space, and what the new settlers saw as chaotic wilderness.

A close-up of the map, showing a spot labeled "Heap of stones."
Another image of the map.
In 1736. the General Court of Massachusetts Bay granted New Boston to John Simpson and fifty-two others veterans (or their descendants) of a 1690 expedition to Canada. This map, executed early in the town's history, shows numbered house lots, the mill, and lots dedicated to a school and a minister.

Ask for Manuscript 740940.