3D Scanning a Tablet: The Maštuk Family in Leiden

Even especially enigmatic agreements recorded more than 2500 years ago can make sense, when their archival context is known. Using the example of a chance discovery, the significance of embedding ancient documents into their contextual framework becomes evident: If the landlord wasn’t dead, and his widow to be protected, why should third parties prevent that goods are carried off to another man’s home? 

The small pillow-shaped cuneiform tablet labelled LB 2043 was chosen as a first test case of 3D scanning conducted by Annelies van de Ven in the Leiden Böhl Collection in June 2018. It is especially well-preserved with a clearly readable script:



Eventually, we ended up with even more than just a nice 3D sample of a beautiful artefact: A closer survey of this tablet showed that we are dealing with a document from the archive of the Maštuk family in Sippar (formerly also known as the “archive of Ardia”). This archive covers five generations, and a comparably long time-span of about 125 years. It consists of some 50 tablets predominantly housed in the U.S., namely in the NBC collection at Yale and in the Free Library of Philadelphia with a stray in the Royal Ontarion Museum (plus LB 2043 respectively). Although this archive remains to a large degree still unpublished – a comprehensive edition is currently prepared by Melanie Groß – the main protagonist of LB 2043, Bēl-iddin, son of Nādinu, from the family of Maštuk, is already known to us from a study on endogamy in Neo-Babylonian Mesopotamia (C. Waerzeggers, 2002): Bēl-iddin married Busasa, daughter of Nergal-iddin, from the Balīḫû family, and died young, leaving his widow with five children. She turned to her family for help, and one of her daughters, Tabluṭu, was first married to her (i.e. the mother’s) brother Ardia, and later, after Ardia had died, to Nergal-ušallim, a brother of the deceased Bēl-iddin, whose exact life span has not been determined yet. He was certainly alive between the 10th year of king Nabonidus and the 7th year of the Persian king Cyrus, but probably dead by the day that LB 2043 was drafted: the 22nd of Kislimu in the accession year of Cambyses. It is likely that this tablet was written not too long after his death, because it attests to the transfer of property from Bēl-iddin’s house to the house of a certain Mušallimu. He seems to be a creditor of the deceased, trying to get some of his assets back from the young widow by seizing her household goods. Alternatively, one might also assume that she tried to sell items in order to pay back her husband’s debts, or, perhaps she even prepared to leave the house completely, so as to settle down at her father’s place with her five children. Her brother Ardia is mentioned first amongst the witnesses, who watched this agreement being documented: “When something is given from the house of Bēl-iddin, son of Nādinu, (from the) Maštuk family, to the house of Mušallimu, son of Nabû-uballiṭ, (the) witnesses will establish (it) for him, and he will pay tenfold (for everything with which) he will be debited.” Thus Bēl-iddin’s widow was optimally defended against fraud.


  • Waerzeggers, C. 2002: “Endogamy in Mesopotamia in the First Millennium BC”, in C. Wunsch (ed.), Mining the Archives: Festschrift for Christopher Walker on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, Dresden, 319-324.


Author: Julia Giessler
Published on 29 November 2018