A cuneiform tablet from the ancient city of Ur has been dated to 1,600 BC or so. Since most people were illiterate then, and inscribing clay tablets was not a simple process, these type of records are often something important, like historic records or inventories. This particular tablet, however, contains the story of an argument between a clothes cleaner and a customer as they arrange a job. The points made are completely familiar to modern audiences, and even quite funny in places. It’s a rare “slice of life” record of ancient Mesopotamia. But why would such a conversation be committed to clay?
Roth says that the text was likely used to educate scribes. The text is modeled after dialogues and riddles that would have been classics at that time. The garment the cleaner is tasked with washing is a luxury item, with many features that require special treatment, such as fringes, complex weaving, and embroidered adornments. These details offer the opportunity to bring in a technical vocabulary, as well as grammatical quirks. Like the school exercise in which children have to instruct an alien in how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in excruciating detail, this basic task is used to illustrate a great deal about many aspects of the culture at once—and is entertaining to boot.
Read what was said between the picky customer and the annoyed launderer at Atlas Obscura.
(Image credit: Aziz1005)