the history of writing at the slemani museum


Located in the city of Sulaymaniyah, in northeastern Iraq is the Slemani Museum, established in 1961. It is the second largest museum in Iraq and the largest in Kurdistan with a substantial and varied collection dating from prehistory to modern times. The museum’s mission statement is dedicated to the “collection, preservation, and interpretation of the movable heritage, history and culture of Iraq and in particular Iraqi Kurdistan.”

The museum has had a difficult recent history. It was closed between 1980 and 1988 due to the Iran-Iraq war, and then opened again only to close again a few years later due to the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War. In the summer of 2000 it was finally reopened. During this long period of turmoil and uncertainly, many artifacts were stolen by looters. This led the government, in 2011, to embark on a program of paying smugglers to recover stolen artifacts. While controversial within the scientific community, it did lead to the safe return of artifacts such as a priceless full Sumerian text written during the old Babylonian period for which the looters asked only US$600 for.

I was privileged to be able to see the exhibit “In Writing: Objects from the Collections of the Slemani Museum.” The idea behind this exhibit was to present a view of human development through the history of writing via a variety of languages and scripts. The age of the artifacts dates back several millennia B.C.E. and these pieces are quite impressive not only due to their pristine condition but in regards to their relation to the history of the development of writing.

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Stela of Iddi-Sin, Old Babylonian period, 2003-1595 B.C.E. The Stela of Iddi-Sin, King of Simurrum, celebrates the wars and victories of the King. This stone, carved with 108 lines of cuneiform inscriptions, was found in Qarachatan village in the Peramagron Mountains.



The Tablet of King Lugalbanda. Old Babylonian period, 2003-1595 B.C.E. This tablet contains the story of “Lugalbanda and the Mountain Cave.” It is a large document inscribed in Sumerian concerning King Lugalbanda, father of the famous Gilgamesh, when he was lost in the mountains of Kurdistan.


Year names of the Kings of Ur. Early Dynastic period, 2800-2300 B.C.E. This tablet contains formulas naming the years by historical events.