Among the thousands of clay tablets datable to different epochs and of various proveniences that are known to be from ancient Mesopotamia, a small yet notable percentage presents holes placed on their surface alongside the written text, and/or the (unwritten) edges. Such marks are commonly referred to as “firing holes”, as the first and prevailing hypothesis regarding their function holds that they were impressed on the tablets in order to prevent them from exploding during the baking process. While it is widely acknowledged, today, that such a label is intrinsically incorrect, scholars have hitherto failed to propose a valid alternative definition, so much so that – except for a few attempts which still maintains the same basic meaning, such as “drying holes” – the term “firing holes” is still currently used in Assyriology. The aim of the contribution is to review the emergence and use of the term “firing holes” in literature, assessing all the hypotheses which have been put forward over time in order to explain the meaning of these marks on cuneiform tablets. Then, building on the results of a preliminary investigation of a small sample of tablets with holes belonging to the collections of the British Museum, to suggest how a different approach to the topic may help to elucidate the reasons for the use of these marks on the tablets.

"Firing Holes": New Perspectives on an Old Question

Paola CORO
;
Stefania Ermidoro
2020-01-01

Abstract

Among the thousands of clay tablets datable to different epochs and of various proveniences that are known to be from ancient Mesopotamia, a small yet notable percentage presents holes placed on their surface alongside the written text, and/or the (unwritten) edges. Such marks are commonly referred to as “firing holes”, as the first and prevailing hypothesis regarding their function holds that they were impressed on the tablets in order to prevent them from exploding during the baking process. While it is widely acknowledged, today, that such a label is intrinsically incorrect, scholars have hitherto failed to propose a valid alternative definition, so much so that – except for a few attempts which still maintains the same basic meaning, such as “drying holes” – the term “firing holes” is still currently used in Assyriology. The aim of the contribution is to review the emergence and use of the term “firing holes” in literature, assessing all the hypotheses which have been put forward over time in order to explain the meaning of these marks on cuneiform tablets. Then, building on the results of a preliminary investigation of a small sample of tablets with holes belonging to the collections of the British Museum, to suggest how a different approach to the topic may help to elucidate the reasons for the use of these marks on the tablets.
17 (2020)
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10278/3739586
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