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Counting Sheep in Sumer
The tablets pictured below come from Puzrish-Dagan, the site of a livestock-processing bureau on the Euphrates River in south-central Mesopotamia.
Clicking on the pictures will take you to more detailed information about the tablets.
A Sumerian accounting record typically begins with the object of transaction, then says who performed what type of transaction, and concludes with the date of the record. On the left edge the scribe would often summarize the tablet's content. Even the tiniest tablet is dated!
Because the years were named, not numbered, these date formulae serve to inform us about some of the important events that happened year by year.
Periodically, all the little tablets in each bureau were collected, and the information was transferred from them onto large summary tablets, like this balanced account statement, which records incoming and outgoing sheep and goats for a ten-day period during year 8 of Amar-Suen's reign.
Puzrish-Dagan was an administrative center where revenues in livestock, mainly oxen, cows, sheep, and goats, were registered and disbursed. It was an "internal revenue service" bureau of the Ur III state. The animals registered by the accountants at Puzrish-Dagan were designated for various uses – some would serve as sacrificial offerings for the gods, others as food for dignitaries, state employees, or troops.
Numerous livestock, received from different sources and allotted for different purposes, are listed on this tablet.
Livestock were also managed and recorded in texts at other places. This tablet from Umma, a major city in southern Mesopotamia, lists several sheep and a goat which were collected from the woods along the river, where they had evidently gone astray.