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Weighing Artefacts in the Ancient Near East: For a Dialogue between Epigraphy and Archeology

Abstract : The ancient Near East has left us a sizeable body of written documents, of which the archives about metal make up a not inconsiderable part. Metal was a rare material, and its circulation gave rise to detailed book-keeping. To an administrator in antiquity it was not the object’s appearance that primarily mattered, so much as its mass. The important thing was to be able to note the weight of the metal changing hands. The texts from the ancient city of Mari in Syria, dating from the 19th and 18th centuries BC, provide us with some particularly interesting certifications. Among the 15,000 to 20,000 tablets discovered, at least a thousand of them have to do with accounting for metal. But, despite this plentiful documentation, it is hard to correlate the written data with the objects coming from the archeology digs. Indeed, the great majority of archeology studies, one finds, are based on typological analysis and so do not take weight into account as a datum (besides objects made of precious materials or a few extraordinary discoveries). The point is not to deny the contributions of typology, essential as it is for the scientific analysis of artefacts, but rather to draw attention to the benefits of collecting one objective piece of information: mass. The information would be the more worthwhile for not entailing damage to the object. This would enable us to compare the written sources with the archeology data, and perhaps then to identify and date objects with more confidence.
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Denis Lacambre. Weighing Artefacts in the Ancient Near East: For a Dialogue between Epigraphy and Archeology. Paolo Matthiae; Frances Pinnock; Lorenzo Nigro; Nicolò Marchetti. Proceedings of the 6th International Congress of the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE), 5 May-10 May 2008, »Sapienza«, Università di Roma, vol. 1, Harrassowitz, pp.351-367, 2010, 978-3-447-06175-9. ⟨halshs-02949447⟩

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