Artifact #1: Foundational Deposit (1834-1823 B.C.)
Foundational deposits are inscribed bricks (or other objects) that were set into the foundations of temples for future generations to find and use to remember the rulers who commanded the building of the temple.
This specific foundational deposit is a stone brick with a slightly rounded surface that is completely covered with a carved prayer to the goddess Nininsinna. The amount of tiny detailed writing that fit onto this deposit shows the care and effort put into creating the block. As mentioned earlier, the intended audience of foundational deposits was not the people of the same era; instead, future generations of rulers were supposed to see the stone when rebuilding the temple, and remember and commemerate the first ruler as a result.
Artifact #2: Lawsuit Record (1270-1240 B.C.)
The second textual artifact is a cuneiform lawsuit record from Carchemish, created during the Hittite period.
The tablet is made out of clay, and the cuneiform writing pressed in (most likely using a specially carved stylus). After the record was created, a viceroy’s seal was pressed into the material, distorting the text and changing the shape of the record. The tablet itself is roughly 3.5”-2.5”, and contains at least 20 lines of tightly-packed writing. The seal’s impression in this record implies that the purpose of creating and writing the record was not to have every single fact about the trial, but merely a piece of documentation that the event occurred. It would be nearly impossible to go back to the tablet and read all the recorded proceedings, as the seal covers at least 1/3 of the writing surface and erased the writing underneath. The audience is most likely just record-keepers, or those who have some amount of investment in the trial.
Although both objects can be very roughly categorized as tablets covered in cuneiform writing, they give insight into distinctly different audiences and cultures. As the lawsuit record came after the foundational stone, we can infer that the use of writing became more common across populations over time. Instead of being limited to kings and religious artifacts, writing spread to lower classes and became more regularly used for relatively mundane tasks. Additionally, the materials used to store writing became cheaper and easier to manipulate.
The first artifact is a perfect example of what Gleick outlines in The Information:
“With words we begin to leave traces behind us like breadcrumbs: memories in symbols for others to follow. … Now people leave paper trails. Writing comes into being to retain information across time and across space.”
The foundational deposit, although not made of paper, is a piece of media whose sole purpose is to be retained across time.
But the new channel does more than extend the previous channel. It enables reuse and “re-collection”—new modes. It permits whole new architectures of information. Among them are history, law, business, mathematics, and logic.
The second tablet is an extension of the first - not only does it expand the possible uses of written word, but the form of writing it held enabled and became integral to the law system in ancient times. Over the span of time from 1800 B.C. to 1200 B.C, the value of the written word did not decay, but shifted in scope to uphold more institutions, in greater numbers.