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Clay head from Old Babylonian period

Clay head from Old Babylonian period

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Kitchen-tested recipes from four thousand years ago for your next dinner party.

Courtesy of the Office of Public Affairs and Communications, Yale University.

Millennia before the Columbian Exchange brought potatoes, tomatoes, maize, and pepper from the New World, many of the Old World’s core food plants and animals were domesticated in the region of Upper Mesopotamia in what is today Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. This includes barley and wheat, sheep, goat, cow, and pig, which to this day account for more than half of all calories consumed by humans on the planet.

It is therefore not surprising that the oldest known culinary recipes also come from ancient Mesopotamia. These recipes can be found on a group of clay tablets kept in the Yale Babylonian Collection.

Dishes known from ancient Mesopotamia include breads, cakes, pies, porridges, soups, stews, and roasts. A larger proportion of the food than is the case today was probably eaten raw. Unlike the modern Western tradition, there seems to have been no essential distinction between sweet and savory dishes, and no conventions about the order in which to eat them. As in many other traditions, presentation took precedence over order, with many dishes served together and continuously during a seating. Texts often reflect a close concern for the form and appearance of food, and elaborate utensils and molds found in excavations show great attention to its visual display

A cuneiform text about a Babylonian jester includes a passage, sometimes referred to as “The Infernal Kitchen,” that presents a series of caricature menus clearly meant to combine authentic elements with burlesque and evidently disgusting ones to create a comic mockery of the preparation and presentation of food. A short excerpt will suffice:

Month of Kislīmu, what is your food?

—You shall eat donkey dung on bitter garlic and chaff in spoiled milk.

Month of Tebētu, what is your food?

—You shall eat the egg of a goose from the poultry house resting on a bed of sand and a decoction of Euphratean seaweed.

Month of Šabātu, what is your food?

—You shall eat still hot bread and the buttock of a donkey stallion stuffed with dog poop and the excrement of dust flies.

Although the recipes are obviously not to be taken at face value, they reveal both a concern with the seasonality of ingredients and an interest in combining and presenting components that presumably also went into actual cooking.

Three of the four tablets in the collection date to the Old Babylonian period, no later than about 1730 bc . A fourth tablet belongs to the Neo-Babylonian period, more than a thousand years later. The three Old Babylonian tablets were not written by the same hand, and a physical analysis of the clay shows that it originated from at least two different sources. The tablets all list recipes that include instructions on how to prepare them. One is a summary collection of twenty-five recipes of stews or broths with brief directions. The other two tablets contain fewer recipes, each described in much more detail. All three tablets are damaged, and only the summary tablet with the stews preserves a few recipes in their entirety. The reason why the recipes were compiled is unknown, and so far, the collections that they represent are unique.

Cooking the recipes, even to the best of our ability, may not reproduce the almost four-thousand-year-old dishes in a form close to the intended one. After all, the cultural chasm that separates us from their authors is so wide that it may be impossible to bridge. Taste, aesthetics, even the fundamental ways of cooking, change over time. On the other hand, several factors work in favor of the experimental approach. A first obvious point is that the physical and chemical processes of food preparation remain the same. Charring, boiling, fermenting, caramelizing, salting, or baking all follow certain principles that do not change. Second, although taste is heavily influenced by culture, there is a set of outer bounds to what is acceptable to the human palate. We are able to detect bitter-tasting compounds at molecular concentrations that are a thousand times lower than many sweet-tasting molecules. Too much of a given taste is simply off-putting, and although sensitivities may vary, the physiology of our taste buds presents an upper limit to how bitter or salty food can be.

Third, each time we cook a given recipe, it comes out slightly different. Consistency takes years to achieve and is rarely perfect. With a given set of simple ingredients, it is therefore likely that with some experimentation we can get within the parameters of what would have been an acceptable and recognizable version of the given dish. And finally, like most other intangible cultural traditions, core procedures and customs can sometimes last for centuries and even millennia. The obvious danger of overinterpretation based on the faulty view of contemporary tradition as an “ethnographic deep freezer” can to some extent be alleviated through careful study of continuities as evidenced, for example, in classical and medieval sources from the region.

Comparing the Babylonian recipes to what we know of medieval cuisine and present-day culinary practices suggests that the stews represent an early stage of a long tradition that is still dominant in Iraqi cuisine. Today’s staple of the region is stew, aromatic and flavorful, cooked with different cuts of lamb, often slightly thickened, enhanced with rendered sheep’s tail fat, and flavored with a combination of spices and herbs and members of the Allium family, such as onion, garlic, and leek. These seem to be direct descendants of the Babylonian versions found on the culinary tablet with stew recipes.

Like most premodern cooking manuals, the Babylonian recipes rarely list the quantities of each ingredient, and so basic experimentation is needed to determine viable proportions for the assembly of a dough or the salting of a stew. The “experimental” approach likewise offers answers to questions that can only be addressed through trial and error. For example, many of the identifications of herbs proposed by modern scholars are based mainly on medical compendia, and some of the plants thus identified can produce an extremely bitter or perhaps pungent taste when used in food.

Here we translate and comment on four recipes from the Yale culinary tablets. Cooking instructions are the result of our repeated experimentation in a modern kitchen. The tablet with the stew recipes abbreviates instructions to a minimum, and nouns are not always inflected in the correct grammatical case, not unlike many modern food recipes.

Recipe for pašrūtum “Unwinding”

This is a simple recipe and one of just four largely vegetarian dishes on the tablet. Before serving, some dried sourdough is crushed and added to the dish for richness and flavor. The recipe comes out fairly bland, but with a pleasant mild taste of cilantro and onion. It looks to be a kind of “comfort dish” known also from later medieval tradition. Perhaps this explains the name of the stew, or perhaps the “unwinding” refers to what happens when the dried sourdough is added to the soup before serving. One can experiment with the proportions of the ingredients, but lots of leek and cilantro works well.

Recipe for m. puhādi “Stew of Lamb”

This is also a simple recipe. The cut of meat is not specified. We chose shanks. For risnātu, we used parboiled barley mixed with emmer flour and fat and toasted into small hard cakes that were later crumbled into the dish. The meat is sautéed in sheep’s fat, and then the barley and vegetables are added. Finally, whole milk is poured in, and the cakes are crumbled into the stew. As the pot is left to simmer for a couple of hours, the milk curdles, and the meat and grain soften. The resulting dish is delicious when served with the peppery garnish of crushed leek and garlic. The plural noun risnātu is derived from the verb rasānu (“to soak, to steep”) and clearly refers to a function in the dish—“soakies” or the like. We could have used wine, water, milk, or beer to soak the grain and join it through pressure to produce the risnātu. We know from other texts that the cakes could be spicy and variously scented, but because nothing is specified by the recipe, we chose a neutral option to intrude the least on the overall taste of the dish. We broke up and crumbled the cakes to incorporate them in the broth and allowed a few to dissolve in the dish on their own for texture.

Recipe for m. elamūtum “Elamite Broth”

Blood is not a common ingredient in modern Western cooking and can be hard to find. It is prohibited in Jewish and Islamic tradition and is not found in Iraq today. We could only get pig’s blood, but the blood of sheep would be better. The mixture of sour milk and blood may sound odd, but the combination produces a rich soup with a slight tartness. The reason we include it here is mainly for its foreign origin—Elam in modern-day Iran—and its use of dill, which otherwise is not among the ingredients on any of the tablets.

Recipe for “Tuh’u”

The meaning of the name of this dish is unclear. A similar stew is made to this day in Baghdad using white turnip instead of red beet. The Jews of Baghdad before their expulsion used red beet. It is tempting to link the recipe to the continental European borscht with its close ties to the Ashkenazi community. We have cooked the stew many times with students, and the recipe works well for large groups by scaling the ingredients. Students brewed a beer using barley and left it to ferment for a few days. The result was a light drink with some acidity and only trace amounts of alcohol. The closest modern substitute in terms of taste is perhaps a mix of sour beer and German Weissbier. Bitter India Pale Ales will not work. The garnish is raw and crunchy and adds peppery zest, and the coriander seed releases a perfumed flowery taste when crushed.

Our recipe includes the following ingredients:

1 pound of diced leg of mutton
½ cup of rendered sheep fat
½ teaspoon of salt
1 cup of beer
½ cup of water
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup of chopped arugula
1 cup of chopped Persian shallot
½ cup of chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 pound of fresh red beets, peeled and diced
½ cup of chopped leek
2 cloves of garlic

2 teaspoons of dry coriander seeds
½ cup of finely chopped cilantro
½ cup of finely chopped kurrat

Heat the fat in a pot wide enough for the diced lamb to spread in one layer. Add lamb and sear on high heat until all moisture evaporates. Fold in the onion, and keep cooking until it is almost transparent. Fold in red beet, arugula, cilantro, Persian shallot, and cumin.

Keep on folding until the moisture evaporates and ingredients emit a pleasant aroma. Pour in the beer. Add water. Give the pot a light stir. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat and add leek and garlic that you crush in a mortar. Let the stew simmer until the sauce thickens after about an hour. Chop kurrat and fresh cilantro and pound them into a paste using a mortar. Ladle the stew into plates and sprinkle with dried and coarsely crushed coriander seeds and the finely chopped kurrat and cilantro. The dish can be served with steamed bulgur, boiled chickpeas, and naan bread.

From Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks: Highlights of the Yale Babylonian Collection, edited by Agnete W. Lassen, Eckart Frahm, and Klaus Wagensonner, distributed by Yale University Press for the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in April 2019. From chapter nine, “Food in Ancient Mesopotamia: Cooking the Yale Babylonian Culinary Recipes,” by Gojko Barjamovic, Patricia Jurado Gonzalez, Chelsea A. Graham, Agnete W. Lassen, Nawal Nasrallah, and Pia M. Sörensen. Reproduced by permission.

Architecture in Babylonia

Although Babylon’s first period of growth before its destruction was very important from an architectural point of view, the neo-Babylonian period brought much variety and splendor in its artistic representations that would continue until the Empire fell. In this extended period that began in the year 2000 B.C., certain artistic advances were made that have great importance in art history, such as the improvement of the application of architecture of the arch and the vault, which had previously been used but was refined during the neo-Babylonian Empire.

In this era, Nabucodonosor’s magnificent palaces were built. Nabucodonosor was a renowned king of Babylonia who ordered the construction of numerous prestigious buildings. Furthermore, this king was rewarded great merit for the flourishing of Babylonia. He achieved things that other kings had not been able to do we know this because testimonies have been found in clay tablets recorded in cuneiform writing.

The characteristics of art in Babylonian culture are closely related to the construction materials that were available to them. Stones were, of course, scarce but there was an abundance of mud and clay. There were hardly any big trees that they could use to effectively make beams in the construction of buildings. Following these limitations, their structures were mainly made of adobe and brick, cemented with stones, similar to the Sumerian method. Many of the grand palaces had arches and roofed vaults.

Adobe was used to build terraces and thick external walls. The walls were made of adobe or molded bricks (whose subsequent assembly made it possible to build gigantic walls with big ceramic embossments made of baked clay and pieces of stones containing embossments and inscriptions, which were known as Kudurrus).

Kudurrus were blocks of stones, usually black diorite, which were used to define the limitations of estates. They contained inscriptions which described the property’s boundaries and had terrifying spells which would apply to those who tried to change the boundaries. The Kudurrus of the Babylonian culture contained sculptures of the Gods or animals that represented the culture so they would appear more imposing and would defer perpetrators who tried to invade the property.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

There is a well-known legend about a tall building known as “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon” which seems to have been a building with a terrace which contained many plants. The gardens didn’t really “hang” in the sense that they were not suspended from ropes or anything of the sort.

It seems that translation errors have determined how the legend has been told throughout time. As there are no suitable records available, or at least ones that aren’t descriptions made by Greek historians, it still hasn’t been possible to clarify the true facts about this mystical building with a garden.

There is, however, an interesting description by the Greek geographer Estrabon. He described the gardens around the first century B.C. and wrote that they consisted of vaulted terraces raised one above the other and resting on square pillars. He also explained that these pillars were hollow and filled with earth in order to allow larger-sized trees to be planted. He added that the pillars, vaults, and terraces were built with constructed with baked brick and asphalt.

Recent studies conducted to find a possible correct location of the gardens have drawn new light on the fact that they were probably not in Babylon. There is still much work for the historians, archaeologists, and specialists to do in order to find out the truth about these mystical and mesmerizing gardens of Babylon that have held human imagination captive for centuries.

Characteristics of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The structures they built had a simple design due to a difficult terrain and a scarcity of materials. The bricks used in the construction of buildings were covered with colored ceramic (baked and glazed clay) or with white stucco on which they painted frescoes.

It is amazing how these craftsmen managed to create such beautiful bricks in a process which they perfected so that the bricks sparkled in the light of the sun, leaving the spectator breathless.
If we take into account that the mixing process to make the blue pigments required rigorous proportion control (to the nearest millimeter) of the substances used, added to the fact that these mixtures were made in large quantities, always achieving the same flawless result, we can only wonder at the skills and knowledge that these craftsmen had in such ancient times.

They drew beautiful plants, some of them exotic, and fantasy animals where the artists’ imagination equaled to the stories of the legends. They also made geometric figures with designs that in some cases are slightly reminiscent of the legacy of the Sumerians with other new elements which adapted to the physical space that they decorated.

The sequential and narrative designs on the buildings whose fragments are still preserved have provided important facts about the history, traditions and the conception of the life of the Babylonian culture and of the Mesopotamian region in general.

The people of Babylon used a white stone called alabaster which is abundant in certain parts of the River Tigris, on which they carved embossments to decorate the most important buildings.

Cuneiform writing also often formed part of the decorations, adding to the narrative of the scene, and both methods adapted to space without any rivalry as the balance of the two reinforces the message and drama of the artwork instead of being detrimental to it.

Cuneiform writing also often formed part of the decorations, adding to the narrative of the scene, and both methods adapted to space without any rivalry as the balance of the two reinforces the message and drama of the artwork instead of being detrimental to it.

It is interesting how this ancient custom of presenting text alongside images has been used throughout art history by many cultures and still is present today. They placed slabs on the horizontal surfaces of their palace walls which related chronicles of the battles, victories, and hunts, as well as the tree of life which also appears on cylindrical seals, ceramic tablets, and stamps.


The oldest Babylonian texts on medicine date back to the First Babylonian Dynasty in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. The most extensive Babylonian medical text, however, is the Diagnostic Handbook written by the ummânū, or chief scholar, Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa.

The Babylonians introduced the concepts of diagnosis, prognosis, physical examination, and prescriptions. The Diagnostic Handbook additionally introduced the methods of therapy and etiology outlining the use of empiricism, logic, and rationality in diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. For example, the text contains a list of medical symptoms and often detailed empirical observations along with logical rules used in combining observed symptoms on the body of a patient with its diagnosis and prognosis. In particular, Esagil-kin-apli discovered a variety of illnesses and diseases and described their symptoms in his Diagnostic Handbook, including those of many varieties of epilepsy and related ailments.

Clay head from Old Babylonian period - History

Holy Land Oil Lamps
Jewish and Christian lamps from the time of Moses through Herod the Great and Jesus Christ's lifetime in Judaea!

A large crème/gray steatite head of a bovine, Palestine, c. 2nd Millennium BC, well-formed with recessed eyes, suspension hole drilled through the neck. 34 mm x 18 mm (1 5/16” x 3/4”). Light deposits. Ex-East Coast private collection ex-California Museum of Ancient Art, deaccession (acc. #0520). #AP2381: $399
Holy Land, c. 2nd Millennium BC. Very rare large shell amulet in the form of a harnessed, horned animal head facing down. Remains of incised lines of detail still visible, suspension loop at top. 37 x 17mm. Rare! Ex East Coast private collection Ex California Museum of Ancient Art, acquired 1989. #AP2397: $250
"Star of Bethlehem" - An Incredibly Fine Example!
Roman Provincial, under emperor Augustus. Autonomous bronze coin struck Actian Year 44 (13/14 AD) at Antioch, Syria, under Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus Silanus as Governor of Syria. Laureate head of Zeus right / Ram running right, looking back, star above, Date DM below ANTIOX-E-WN MHTPO-POLEWS. 20mm, 7.67 g. ref: McAlee 99 RPC I 4269 for type. Struck at Antioch, which was one of the centers of early Christianity, and the ram symbolized Judaea and its posture symbolized regnal divinity. Orangish earthen dark green patina. VF. From the Thomas B. Lesure Collection. Ex Ponterio 108 (1 August 2000), lot 213 Ex Classical Numismatic Group (CNG). #CR3269: $450 SOLD
Aramaean/Canaanite, ex-Museum Deaccession!
Holy Land, Aramaean/Canaanite, c. 1000 - 800 BC. Very rare Aramaean/Canaanite black Steatite stamp seal, consisting of a disk with knob handle, the base with incised pseudo-script or animal designs. Dia: 24 mm. Light deposits and interesting. Rare! Ex California Museum of Ancient Art de-accession (acc. # SS4606). #AH2365: $350
Canaanite, c. 1630 - 1500 BC. Neat steatite scarab. The base engraved with a human-headed sphinx. L: 14mm. Likely was worn as part of a finger ring in antiquity. Ex Rilling collection, Orange County, CA. #AE3090: $350
Canaanite, c. 1700 - 1630 BC. Steatite scarab, on base two columns of symmetric signs. L: 16mm, silvery-white tone, stunning contrast. A beauty! Ex Rilling collection, Orange County, CA. #AE3110: $399 SOLD

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Israelite or Canaanite. Holy Land, c. 1st millennium BC. Fantastic small limestone plaque, depicting a king in a chariot pulled by horses. 27 x 21mm. Minor chipping, light earthen deposits. Ex Los Angeles, CA private collection. Rare! #AH2012: $399 SOLD

Ancient Syria, c. 3rd - 5th Century AD. Small stone amuletic male figure. Carved from serpentine in the form of a cloaked bearded man in contemplative pose. L: 29mm. Drilled for suspension. Ex Joel L. Malter private collection. #AP2021: $175 SOLD

Holy Land Oil Lamps
Jewish and Christian lamps from the time of Moses through
Herod the Great and Christ's lifetime in Judaea!

Holy Land. Bronze Age, c. 1500 - 1000 BC. Nice bronze socketed spear head. Long mid-rib and short socket. Still very sharp, with narrow blades from weathering and re-sharpening in antiquity. Nice brown "river" patina. Petrified wood remains inside the socket! Measures over 9 1/2" long. Very very cool. Ex-Midwest USA museum deaccession. #WP2007x2: $350 SOLD

Holy Land. Bronze Age, 1st millennium BC. Bronze dagger blade. Narrow blade with midrib, the tang short with a hole for the attachment of a handle. 197 mm (7 3/4") long. Intact with nice red to green patina, some earthen deposits. Ex-Midwest USA museum deaccession. #WP2006x2: $275 SOLD

Holy Land. Canaanite, c. 1200 BC. Superb and huge Canaanite ceramic face of a deity, from Jaffa, Israel. With large angular nose, large deep-set eyes and narrow mouth, the backside concave with flat border. A nice example with well-preserved red-slip and attractive deposits. Old collection numbers on the backside. 61x58 mm (2 7/16" x 2 1/4"). Mounted on custom stand. Lovely red color. Ex Archaeology Center, Tel-Aviv. Rare! #AH2075: $750 SOLD

Time of Biblical Abraham!
Fine cuneiform tablet from the collection of Ernest Freemark (1882-1966), collected between 1913 - 1915

Sumerian, Ur Dynasty, from Umma, 2111 BC. Exquisite small cuneiform tablet. A Messenger Text, standard format listing quantities of beer, bread, oil, potash, garlic for “messengers” (couriers) who travelled among cities delivering offical goods and messages. The individuals named here are: Shu-Ishtar, Gi-nu-lum, x […..], and Ur-Sin. Month 7, the 4th day, Year Shu-Sin 3. Shu-Ishtar, Gi-nu-lum, x […..] and Ur-Sin). Month 7, the 4th day, Year Shu-Sin 3, from Umma. Beautiful surfaces with extremely fine, small cuneiform text. Measures 24x21x8 mm (7/8" x 13/16" x 5/16"). A mini masterpiece! Freemark reference #6 with his numbered tag inked on edge. Also included is Mr. Freemark’s handwritten envelope reading “No. 6 Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet 2117 BC Ur Dynasty, Time of Abraham." From the collection of Ernest Freemark (1882-1966), collected between 1913 and 1915 ex-R. Knickerbocker collection, New York, by descent (the famous Knickerbocker family of New York). Comes with a full copy of the envelope, letter, and identifications provided. This includes: Letter from the University of Michigan, dated April 29, 1952, from George G. Cameron, Chairman, Department of Near Eastern Studies. "Cuneiform Documents in the possession of E.C. Freemark, Elmore, Ohio." "The tablets were all rebaked and translated by Albrecht Goetze of Yale University". #AP2065: $950 SOLD

Holy Land / Levant, c. 1st Millennium BC. Excellent bronze figurine of a humped bull. With great form, dark olive-green patina with light deposits. Small hole on bottom where it was once affixed to a stand. L: 3.9 cm (1 1/2"). #AP2401: $250 SOLD
Ancient Holy Land (Palestine), c. 3000 BC. An early mace-head amulet with four knobs, copying 5,000-year-old weapons of war. Well-carved in a crème marble, the tall handle with horizontal hole for suspension. 19 mm x 14 mm x 8.5mm. Mottled deposits and light weathering. Ex-East Coast private collection, acquired between Aug. 1980 and Aug. 1983 Ex-California Museum of Ancient Art, donated 1989 (acc. #0021). #AP2380: $350 SOLD
Holy Land. Roman period, early 1st century AD. Great bronze fish hook! H: 35mm (1 3/8"), olive-green patina with earthen deposits. Directly relates to the Bible, Matthew chapter 4:19. as Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee he sees Simon and his brother Andrew. "Come follow Me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men." Ex-David Liebert, The Time Machine, New York. #AH2275: $199 SOLD
Holy Land. Roman period, early 1st century AD. Great bronze fish hook! H: 36mm (1 1/2"), olive-green patina with earthen deposits. Directly relates to the Bible, Matthew chapter 4:19. as Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee he sees Simon and his brother Andrew. "Come follow Me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men." Ex-David Liebert, The Time Machine, New York. #AH2282: $199 SOLD
Holy Land, c. 2nd Millennium BC. A bronze open-work cylindrical pendant with suspension loop at top. Deep olive-green patina, earthen deposits. L: 34mm. Perhaps once held within a small object of significance. Rare! Ex East Coast private collection Ex California Museum of Ancient Art, acquired 1989. #AP2399: $175 SOLD

Holy Land, c. 2nd Millennium BC. A lovely mother of pearl amulet in the form of a stylized human figure. Lovely iridescent silvery-blue color, suspension loop at one end. L: 31mm. Rare! Ex East Coast private collection Ex California Museum of Ancient Art, acquired 1989. #AP2398: $250 SOLD
Holy Land. Old Testament Period. Iron Age III, c. 800 - 586 BC. A rare Iron Age grey stone cosmetic bowl, of thick construction with narrow flattened base and wide flat rim decorated with incised hatched bands and circles around a central rounded bowl. W: 4 3/8 in (11 cm). Light deposits. Ex Avraham Halbersberg estate Ex Clark collection, Santa Barbara. #AH2417: $450 SOLD
Canaanite, c. 1700 - 1630 BC. Excellent glazed steatite scarab. The base engraved with a central cartouche (oval) enclosing signs for luck and good tidings, above and below addorsed red crowns flanking 'en-ra' formula. L: 19mm. Ex Rilling collection, Orange County, CA. #AE3111: $399 SOLD

Ancient Holy Land, Levantine, c. 1st Millennium BC. Nice bronze amuletic male figure. Depicts a man wearing long robes, his right hand to his face in the manner of Harpokrates, left hand behind his base. Intact with suspension loop at back. L: 27mm. Ex Joel L. Malter private collection. #AP2023: $250 SOLD

Ancient Syria, c. 3rd - 5th Century AD. Small stone amuletic male figure. Made of black serpentine, in a stylized form of a cloaked bearded man in contemplative pose. L: 25mm. Drilled for suspension. Ex Joel L. Malter private collection. #AP2022: $125 SOLD

Holy Land. Canaanite, c. 1200 - 600 BC. A beautiful bust from a terracotta fertility goddess. Frontally molded with detailed features, wearing a tall headdress, necklaces, earrings and clutching a tablet to her breast. H: 1 5/8" (4.2 cm). Light deposits, mounted on a wide, metal disk base. Ex Wiltshire, UK private collection: From the estate of Amold Walter Lawrence, 1900-1991, younger brother of TE Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"). Historian who participated in, among others, the excavation of UR. Collected prior to WWII. #AP2119: $599 SOLD
Holy Land, c. 2nd-1st millennium BC. A huge rectangular alabaster stone bead with a central hole. A massive 44 mm (1 3/4") across and very thick and heavy! Clear white iridescent surfaces. ex-Los Angeles, CA collection. #AB2021: $99 SOLD
Star of David?
Holy Land, c. 1000 BC. Fantastic hematite cylinder seal with a 6 pointed star! Undrilled with central depressions on either side for mounting into a handle or similar, and depicting a stylized seated figure amongst stylized animals and cult objects, a six-pointed star at center. Made right around the time of Biblical King David (c. 1010-970 BCE). 13 x 16mm. Ex Robert Wilson Collection, acquired in Beirut in 1967. RARE! #AP2267: $950 SOLD
Holy Land, c. 325-638 AD. Great bronze cross pendant. The round area in the center once likely held a stone or glass inlay. H: 37 mm (1 7/16"), with olive-green patina and heavy earthen deposits, large suspension loop. Found in Israel! ex-Jerusalem, Israel gallery. Rare! #JM2287: $250 SOLD
Holy Land, c. 2nd Millennium BC. Great crème marble cylinder seal. Depicts two standing men holding long spears, all within a dotted border. H: 2.9 cm. Ex Wiltshire, UK private collection. #AH2228: $550 SOLD
Holy Land. Canaanite, Late 2nd Millennium BC. Nice black chlorite cylinder seal. Engraved with a standing figure with other stylized figures & two rows of dots. Nice stone, good patina, light deposits. Cf. Marcopoli 662. ref: L 1.93cm. Well worn from ancient use! Ex California Museum of Ancient Art De-Accession (Inv. #CS5016), acquired in 1989. Comes with museum-quality rollout. #AP2230: $399 SOLD
Holy Land. Roman period, 1st - 3rd Century AD. Large terracotta plaque with a facing bull's head. Depicted filleted, with the noseband from the harness visible. Nicely detailed with suspension hole at top. 2 3/8 in x 2 1/8 in (6 x 5.4 cm). Light deposits. Ex David Liebert, Time Machine, NY. #AH2274: $325 SOLD
Holy Land. Roman period, c. 1st-3rd century AD. Cute little bronze frog amulet! L: 2 cm (3/4"), suspension loop intact and strong. Olive-green patina, reddish earthen deposits. In the ancient Near East the frog was a symbol of fertility. In the season after the Nile flooded, the fields in the Nile Delta were extremely fertile. At the same time, and also due to the floods, there was a large abundance of frogs. Because of this, the ancients associated the frogs as a symbol of fertility. Accompanied by a photo-authenticity receipt signed by David Hendin, author of Guide to Biblical Coins. #AH2281: $250 SOLD
Holy Land! Ancient Samaria, Judaea, c. 7th century AD. Fantastic and very rare small bronze cross ring worn by an early Christian in the Holy Land! The bezel an ornate "Latin" cross, the ring diameter is just 16 mm, about a US size 1 1/2. Olive-green patina, heavy earthen deposits. ex-Jerusalem, Israel collection. #JR2293: $350 SOLD
Holy Land or Anatolia, c. 2nd-1st millennium BC. Huge black stone ribbed cylindrical pendant. H: 5.37 cm. Provenance: From a major New York collection before 1989 Ex California Museum of Ancient Art Deaccession (acc. #0013). #AP2443: $275 SOLD
Holy Land. Canaanite, c. 1200 - 1000 BC. A small black chlorite cylinder seal, depicting a pair of seated figures facing one another. L: 1.35cm. Rollout not included but I can include a bit of clay for you to roll it out on. Ex California Museum of Art De-Accession, originally donated to the museum in 1989. #AP2232: $399 SOLD

Holy Land, c. 1st century BC - 1st Century AD. Large iron fishing-hook! Found outside Galilee, Israel. Ex-Los Angeles, CA private collection. 81 mm (3 1/4") long! #AR2051x2: $225 SOLD

Holy Land. Canaanite, c. 1550 - 1200 BC. Rare Canaanite faience cylinder seal depicting a horned goat looking back at a large altar. L: 20 mm. Intact with light white coloration, some traces of blue. Minor edge chipping. Ex Los Angeles private collection. #AH2069: $450 SOLD
Holy Land, c. 1st Millennium BC. A charming calcite votive statuette depicting a standing couple, both wearing dress-like costume and clasping hands, the woman clutching a small bag which is suspended by a strap. An interesting piece, the figures with almond-shaped eyes, the woman's hair tied with a fillet. On integral base with stylized script across the front and vertical lines on the back. Stands 6" (15.2 cm) tall. Ex Joseph C. Morton collection. Fabulous! #AH2067: $1200 SOLD

Holy Land. Canaanite, c. 1200 BC. Great Canaanite ceramic face of a deity, from Jaffa, Israel. With hand-modeled features: large angular nose, heavy brow ridges, pierced ear and a narrow chin. Heavy mineral deposits throughout. 1 1/2" (38 mm). Mounted on custom stand. Ex Archaeology Center, Tel-Aviv. #AH2076: $650 SOLD

Holy Land, c. 5th-7th Century AD. Fantastic and enigmatic HUGE carved triangular ceramic pendant. One side incised with a horseman facing right, flanked by stars, horizontal line above. The other side with an uncertain design. Large suspension hole through the top. Some surface wear and deposits. Worthy of further study! H: 2 1/4" (5.6cm). Ex-New York City private collection. #AP2142: $475 SOLD
Ancient Holy Land, c. 1st millennium BC. Nice carnelian bead. Measures 12 mm (7/16"). with nice color and lighter swirling veins. ex-Los Angeles, CA private collection. #AP2281: $60 SOLD
Roman fishing-net tool with Biblical relevance!
Ancient Rome, c. 1st-2nd century AD. Bronze fishing-net mending tool, the same type used by Jesus’ disciples. Similar tools found near Galilee, Israel. See Matthew:4 in the New Testament, Verses 18 to 22 describe the calling of the first four fishermen, who become his first disciples: two, Simon Peter and Andrew, were casting a net into the sea, and two, James, and John, working with Zebedee their father, were repairing their nets. The disciples abandon possessions and family to be what Jesus calls "fishers of men". For type, cf. Mendel Nun, "The Sea of Galilee and its Fishermen in the New Testament" p. 31. 12.5 cm (4 7/8”) long with nice light olive-green patina. ex-Santa Barbara County, CA scholastic collection. #AR2802: $250 SOLD
Holy Land, c. 1st Millennium BC. Fantastic terracotta pendant depicting a musician! Oval in shape, the front bearing the impression from an intaglio, depicting a seated figure facing right, both hands outstretched, playing a lyre or other musical instrument suspension loop at top. A depiction that has been compared to King David! And dating from his time. 27 x 20mm. Light deposits. Ex-East Coast private collection Ex-California Museum of Ancient Art, donated 1989. (0008). De-accessioned to raise funds for its Ancient Art Acquisition Fund in order to build its growing collections. #AP2264: $325 SOLD

Holy Land. Bulla of the True Cross. An incredible and very rare ancient holy relic! A terracotta token showing the busts of Saints Peter and Paul either side of the Cross. Date: Circa 625 AD. Size: 20.28 mm. 2.21 grams. Condition: Intact with natural find patina. Much clearer representations on the obverse than usual for the type. From the original find that came Baldwins in London circa 1993. Provenance: The original find was purchased by Baldwins in London circa 1993. There were two main types in the find: the type shown here and a smaller group showing piece of a different type showing legend around the cross. An example of the second type is in the British Museum collection. Mitchiner devotes a full page to the examples in his collection. During the war between the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires during 7th Century AD, Khusru II captured Jerusalem and took the true cross as spoils of war. Taken back to Persia it was regained by Heraclius and taken to Constantinople and then across Asia minor back to its resting place at Jerusalem. During its return travel legend has it that a piece of the cross was taken and burned , the ashes were then mixed with clay and tokens were made commemorating the return of the true cross to Jerusalem. The tokens show an impression of the true cross with the heads of St Peter and St Paul in the angles of the cross. Reference: Mitchiner 1062-70 cf. Pilgrimage: Becket to Elvis, 1995, no. 82. Ex Baldwin's in 1980's. #AH2283: $675 SOLD

Holy Land, 1st millennium BC. Fantastic and very rare carved bone head of an ibex. Shown in profile looking left, with nicely incised features, long curved horn. W: 25 mm (1 inch) with nice brown patina. Ex-David Liebert, The Time Machine, New York. #AH2273: $299 SOLD
Holy Land. Bulla of the True Cross. An incredible and very rare ancient holy relic! A terracotta token showing the busts of Saints Peter and Paul either side of the Cross. Date: Circa 625 AD. Size: 17 mm. 1.62 grams. Condition: Intact with deep reddish-brown color. Much clearer representations on the obverse than usual for the type. Provenance: The original find was purchased by Baldwins in London circa 1993. There were two main types in the find: the type shown here and a smaller group showing piece of a different type showing legend around the cross. An example of the second type is in the British Museum collection. Mitchiner devotes a full page to the examples in his collection. During the war between the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires during 7th Century AD, Khusru II captured Jerusalem and took the true cross as spoils of war. Taken back to Persia it was regained by Heraclius and taken to Constantinople and then across Asia minor back to its resting place at Jerusalem. During its return travel legend has it that a piece of the cross was taken and burned, the ashes were then mixed with clay and tokens were made commemorating the return of the true cross to Jerusalem. The tokens show an impression of the true cross with the heads of St Peter and St Paul in the angles of the cross. Reference: Mitchiner 1062-70 cf. Pilgrimage: Becket to Elvis, 1995, no. 82. Ex Baldwin's in 1990's ex-David Liebert, The Time Machine, NY. #AH2297: $675
SOLD - Alternate available!
Canaanite, c. 1630 - 1500 BC. Neat steatite scarab. The base engraved with signs for luck and prosperity including a gold sign, red crowns and Horus falcons flanking a central kheper (scarab beetle). L: 17mm. Gorgeous bone color, glossy surfaces. Nice high-arched body and well-defined legs reminiscent of New Kingdom Egyptian types. Ex Rilling collection, Orange County, CA. #AE3088: $375 SOLD

Clay head from Old Babylonian period - History

Other visible human characteristics, such as facial features, change considerably with age but fingerprints are relatively persistent. Barring injuries or surgery causing deep scarring, or diseases such as leprosy damaging the formative layers of friction ridge skin, finger and palm print features have never been shown to move about or change their unit relationship throughout the life of a person (and injuries, scarring and diseases tend to exhibit telltale indicators of unnatural change).
In earlier civilizations, branding or maiming (cutting off hands or noses) were used to mark persons as criminals. The thief was deprived of the hand which committed the thievery. Ancient Romans employed the tattoo needle to identify and prevent desertion of mercenary soldiers.
Before the mid-1800s, law enforcement officers with extraordinary visual memories, so-called "camera eyes," identified previously arrested offenders by sight alone. Photography lessened the burden on memory, but it was not the answer to the criminal identification problem. Personal appearances change.
Around 1870, French anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon devised a system to measure and record the dimensions of certain bony parts of the body. These measurements were reduced to a formula that, in theory, would only apply to one person and would not alter over the course of his or her adult life. Bertillon also pioneered the concept of arrest photos (mugshots) taken simultaneously with bodily measurements and fingerprints.
The Bertillon System was generally accepted in many countries for the next three decades, however the anthropometric measurement system never recovered from the events of 1903, when a man named Will West was sentenced to the US Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. It was discovered there was already a prisoner at the penitentiary, whose Bertillon measurements were nearly the same, and his name was William West.
Upon investigation, it was determined there were two men who looked very similar. Their names were William and Will West. Their Bertillon measurements were similar enough to identify them as the same person. However, fingerprint comparisons quickly and correctly determined the biometrics (fingerprints and face) were from two different people. (According to prison records made public years later, the West men were apparently identical twins and each had a record of correspondence with the same immediate family relatives.)
Ancient artifacts with carvings similar to friction ridge skin have been discovered in many places throughout the world. Picture writing of a hand with ridge patterns was discovered in Nova Scotia. In ancient Babylon, fingerprints were used on clay tablets for business transactions.
BC 200s - China
Chinese records from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) include details about using handprints as evidence during burglary investigations.
Clay seals bearing friction ridge impressions were used during both the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC - 220 AD).

AD 1400s - Persia
The 14th century Persian book "Jaamehol-Tawarikh" (Universal History), attributed to Khajeh Rashiduddin Fazlollah Hamadani (1247-1318), includes comments about the practice of identifying persons from their fingerprints.
1684 - Grew
In the "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London" paper in 1684, Dr. Nehemiah Grew was the first European to publish friction ridge skin observations.
1685 - Bidloo

Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo's 1685 book, " Anatomy of the Human Body " included descriptions of friction ridge skin (papillary ridge) details.

Table 4 from " Anatomy of the Human Body ."
1686 - Malpighi
In 1686, Marcello Malpighi, an anatomy professor at the University of Bologna, (in Italy) noted fingerprint ridges, spirals and loops in his treatise. A layer of skin was named after him the "Malpighi" layer, which is approximately 1.8 mm thick.
No mention of friction ridge skin uniqueness or permanence was made by Grew, Bidloo or Malpighi.
1788 - Mayer

German anatomist Johann Christoph Andreas Mayer wrote the book Anatomical Copper-plates with Appropriate Explanations containing drawings of friction ridge skin patterns. Mayer wrote, "Although the arrangement of skin ridges is never duplicated in two persons, nevertheless the similarities are closer among some individuals. In others the differences are marked, yet in spite of their peculiarities of arrangement all have a certain likeness" (Cummins and Midlo, 1943, pages 12-13). Mayer was the first to declare friction ridge skin is unique.

1823 - Purkinje

In 1823, Jan Evangelista Purkinje, anatomy professor at the University of Breslau, published his thesis discussing nine fingerprint patterns. Purkinje made no mention of the value of fingerprints for personal identification. Purkinje is referred to in most English language publications as John Evangelist Purkinje.
1856 - Welcker

German anthropologist Hermann Welcker of the University of Halle, studied friction ridge skin permanence by printing his own right hand in 1856 and again in 1897, then published a study in 1898.
1858 - Herschel

The English began using fingerprints in July 1858 when Sir William James Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly District in Jungipoor, India, first used fingerprints on native contracts. On a whim, and without thought toward personal identification, Herschel had Rajyadhar Konai, a local businessman, impress his hand print on a contract.

The purpose was to ". to frighten [him] out of all thought of repudiating his signature." The native was suitably impressed and Herschel made a habit of requiring palm prints--and later, simply the prints of the right Index and Middle fingers--on every contract made with the locals. Personal contact with the document, they believed, made the contract more binding than if they simply signed it. Thus, the first wide-scale, modern-day use of fingerprints was predicated not upon scientific evidence, but upon superstitious beliefs.

However as Herschel's fingerprint collection grew, he began to realize the inked impressions could, indeed, prove or disprove identity. While his experience with fingerprinting was admittedly limited, Sir William Herschel's private conviction that all fingerprints were unique to the individual, as well as permanent throughout that individual's life, inspired him to expand their use.
1863 - Coulier

Professor Paul-Jean Coulier, of Val-de-Grce in Paris, published his observations that (latent) fingerprints can be developed on paper by iodine fuming, explaining how to preserve (fix) such developed impressions and mentioning the potential for identifying suspects' fingerprints by use of a magnifying glass.
1877 - Taylor


American microscopist Thomas Taylor proposed that finger and palm prints left on any object might be used to solve crimes. The July 1877 issue of The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science included the following description of a lecture by Taylor:    
Hand Marks Under the Microscope. - In a recent lecture, Mr. Thomas Taylor, microscopist to the Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., exhibited on a screen & view of the markings on the palms of the hands and the tips of the fingers, and called attention to the possibility of identifying criminals, especially murderers, by comparing the marks of the hands left upon any object with impressions in wax taken from the hands of suspected persons. In the case of murderers, the marks of bloody hands would present a very favorable opportunity. This is a new system of palmistry.
1870s-1880 - Faulds

During the 1870s, Dr. Henry Faulds, the British Surgeon-Superintendent of Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, took up the study of "skin-furrows" after noticing finger marks on specimens of "prehistoric" pottery. A learned and industrious man, Faulds not only recognized the importance of fingerprints as a means of identification, but devised a method of classification as well.
In 1880, Faulds forwarded an explanation of his classification system and a sample of the forms he had designed for recording inked impressions, to Sir Charles Darwin. Darwin, in advanced age and ill health, informed Dr. Faulds he could be of no assistance to him, but promised to pass the materials on to his cousin, Francis Galton.
Also in 1880, Dr. Henry Faulds published an article in the Scientific Journal, "Nature" (nature). He discussed fingerprints as a means of personal identification, and the use of printers ink as a method for recording such fingerprints. He is also credited with the first latent print identification - a greasy fingerprint deposited on an alcohol bottle.    
1882 - Thompson

In 1882, Gilbert Thompson of the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico, used his own thumb print on a document to help prevent forgery. This is the first known use of fingerprints in the United States. Click the image below to see a larger image of an 1882 receipt issued by Gilbert Thompson to "Lying Bob" in the amount of 75 dollars.

1882 - Bertillon

Alphonse Bertillon, a clerk in the Prefecture of Police of at Paris, France, devised a system of classification, known as anthropometry or the Bertillon System, using measurements of parts of the body. Bertillon's system included measurements such as head length, head width, length of the middle finger, length of the left foot and length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. Bertillon also established a system of photographing faces - what became known as mugshots.


In 1888 Bertillon was made Chief of the newly created Department of Judicial Identity where he used anthropometry as the primary means of identification. He later introduced Fingerprints, but relegated them to a secondary role in the category of special marks.
1883 - Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens)

A murderer was identified using fingerprint identification in Mark Twain's book "Life on the Mississippi." A dramatic court trial, including fingerprint identification, was depicted in a later book, "Pudd'n Head Wilson." This book was adapted into a movie in 1916, and a made-for-TV movie in 1984.
1888 - Galton

Sir Francis Galton, British anthropologist and a cousin of Charles Darwin, began his observations of fingerprints as a means of identification in the 1880's.
1891 - Vucetich

Juan Vucetich, an Argentine Police Official, began the first fingerprint files based on Galton pattern types. At first, Vucetich included the Bertillon System with the files.

    Right Thumb Impression and Signature of Juan Vucetich
1892 - Alvarez

At Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1892, Inspector Eduardo Alvarez made the first criminal fingerprint identification. He was able to identify Francisca Rojas, a woman who murdered her two sons and cut her own throat in an attempt to place blame on another. Her bloody print was left on a door post, proving her identity as the murderer. Alvarez was trained by Juan Vucetich.

                Francisca Rojas' Inked Fingerprints
1892 - Galton

Sir Francis Galton published his book, "Finger Prints" in 1892, establishing the individuality and permanence of fingerprints. The book included the first published classification system for fingerprints. In 1893, Galton published the book "Decipherment of Blurred Finger Prints," and 1895 the book "Fingerprint Directories."

Galton's primary interest in fingerprints was as an aid in determining heredity and racial background. While he soon discovered fingerprints offered no firm clues to an individual's intelligence or genetic history, he was able to scientifically prove what Herschel and Faulds already suspected: that fingerprints do not change over the course of an individual's lifetime, and that no two fingerprints are exactly the same. According to his calculations, the odds of two individual fingerprints being the same were 1 in 64 billion.

Galton named the characteristics by which fingerprints can be identified. A few of these same characteristics (minutiae) are still in use today, and are sometimes referred to as Galton Details. Most Galton Detail terms describing friction ridge skin and impression features have been abandoned in modern forensic science terminology.
1896 - Hodgson

On 8 May 1896, Dr. Ralph Hodgson gave a lecture on the value of fingerprint identification at the Sydney School of Arts in Sydney, Australia. The lecture included discussion of the great value of fingerprints and also the limited adoption of fingerprint records for identification by worldwide agencies already using Bertillon measurements. A diagram used in the lecture is shown above.
1897 - The first National Bureau of Identification in the US

On October 20, 1897, the National Association of Chiefs of Police of the United States and Canada opened the National Bureau of Identification (NBI) in City Hall at Chicago, Illinois. NBI files included mugshots, fingerprints and related Bertillon records from criminals. In 1902, the parent organization's name was changed to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the NBI moved from Chicago to Washington, DC.
1897 - India's Fingerprint Pioneers

Qazi Azizul Haque

Hem Chandra Bose
On 12 June 1897, the Council of the Governor General of India approved a committee report that fingerprints should be used for the classification of criminal records. The Anthropometric Bureau in Kolkata (now Calcutta) became the world's first Fingerprint Bureau later that year. Qazi Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose worked in the Calcutta Anthropometric Bureau (before it became the Fingerprint Bureau).
Haque and Bose are the two Indian fingerprint experts credited with primary development of the Henry System of fingerprint classification (named for their supervisor, Edward Richard Henry). The Henry classification system is still used in many countries (primarily as the manual filing system for accessing paper fingerprint card archive files which have not been scanned and computerized).

1900 - E.R. Henry

The United Kingdom Home Secretary Office conducted an inquiry into "Identification of Criminals by Measurement and Fingerprints." Mr. Edward Richard Henry (later Sir ER Henry) appeared before the inquiry committee to explain the system published in his recent book "The Classification and Use of Fingerprints." The committee recommended adoption of fingerprinting as a replacement for the relatively inaccurate Bertillon system of anthropometric measurement, which only partially relied on fingerprints for identification.
1901 - New Scotland Yard

The Fingerprint Branch at New Scotland Yard ( Metropolitan Police ) was created in July 1901. It used the Henry System of Fingerprint Classification.
1902 - de Forest
Dr. Henry Pelouze de Forest pioneered the first American use of fingerprints. The fingerprints were used to screen New York City civil service applicants.

In 1903, the New York City Civil Service Commission, the New York State Prison System and the Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas were using fingerprinting.


In 1903, Will and William West's fingerprints were compared at Leavenworth Penitentiary after they were found to have very similar Anthropometric measurements.
The use of fingerprints in America began at the St. Louis Police Department. They were assisted by a Sergeant from Scotland Yard who had been on duty at the St. Louis World's Fair Exposition guarding the British Display. After the St. Louis World's Fair, more and more US police agencies joined in submitting fingerprints to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Bureau of Criminal Identification in Washington, DC.

U.S. Army begins using fingerprints.

U.S. Department of Justice forms the Bureau of Criminal Identification in Washington, DC to provide a centralized reference collection of fingerprint cards.

U.S. Navy begins using fingerprints.

In 1907, the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Bureau of Criminal Identification moves from Washington, DC to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas where it is staffed at least partially by inmates. Suspicious of inmates involvement with the identification process, the International Association of Chiefs of Police BCI (still located in Washington, DC), refused to share with the DOJ BCI in Kansas. The lack of communication between local, state, and federal law enforcement presented great challenges at all levels in locating and identifying wanted criminals, especially those moving from state to state. The disconnect was not remedied until 1924.

U.S. Marine Corps begins using fingerprints.
1910 - Brayley
In 1910, Frederick Brayley published the first American textbook on fingerprints, "Arrangement of Finger Prints, Identification, and Their Uses."
1914 - Edmond Locard

Dr. Edmond Locard published his fingerprint identification conclusions and the criteria that should be used to ensure reliability based on a statistical analysis study in 1914. His research revealed the following three-part rule, which can be summarized as follows:

1. If more than 12 concurring points are present and the fingerprint is sharp, the certainty of identity is beyond debate.

2. If 8 to 12 concurring points are involved, then the case is borderline and the certainty of identity will depend on:

2.a. the sharpness of the fingerprints

2.b. the rarity of its type

2.c. the presence of the center of the figure [core] and the triangle [delta] in the exploitable part of the print

2.d. the presence of pores [poreoscopy]

2.e. the perfect and obvious identity regarding the width of the papillary ridges and valleys, the direction of the lines, and the angular value of the bifurcations [ridgeology / edgeoscopy]. Dr. Locard also realized the value and the importance of, and rendered qualified conclusions to the identification process.

3.If a limited number of characteristic points are present, the fingerprints cannot provide certainty for an identification, but only a presumption proportional to the number of points available and their clarity.
(Modified from: Christophe Champod, Institut de Police Scientifique et de Criminiologie BCH/Universite de Lausanne, " Edmond Locard - Numerical Standards & "Probable" Identifications, Journal of Forensic Identification, 45 (2) 1995, pp136-155)
The idea of INTERPOL was born in Monaco at the first International Criminal Police Congress (14 to 18 April 1914). Officials from 24 countries discussed cooperation on solving crimes. In addition to laying the foundation for INTERPOL, the meeting proposed laying the foundations for establishing:
(1) An international identification file
(2) A classification system for such files and
(3) A list of categories for ordinary-law "international" or "cosmopolitan" offenders.
Electronic Encoding of Fingerprints - Denmark Police

In 1914, Hakon Jrgensen with the Copenhagen, Denmark Police lectures about the distant identification of fingerprints at the International Police Conference in Monaco. The process involved encoding fingerprint features for transmission to distant offices facilitating identification through electronic communications. In 1916, the book "Distant Identification" is published and used in Danish police training. The NIST (NBS) 1969 technical note reviewing Jrgensen's system is online here . The 1922 English version of a book describing Jrgensen's "Distant Identification" system is online here .

Inspector Harry H. Caldwell of the Oakland, California Police Department's Bureau of Identification wrote numerous letters to "Criminal Identification Operators" in August 1915, requesting them to meet in Oakland for the purpose of forming an organization to further the aims of the identification profession. In October 1915, a group of twenty-two identification personnel met and initiated the "International Association for Criminal Identification" In 1918, the organization was renamed to the International Association for Identification (IAI) due to the volume of non-criminal identification work performed by members. Sir Francis Galton's right index finger appears in the IAI logo. The IAI's official publication is the Journal of Forensic Identification. The IAI's 100th annual educational conference was held in Sacramento, California, near the IAI's original roots.
1923 - US Department of Justice Fingerprint Repository Returns to Washington, DC
Following a meeting between the US Attorney General and representatives of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the US Department of Justice Bureau of Criminal Identification fingerprint collection was transferred from Leavenworth Penitentiary back to Washington, DC, in October 1923.
1924 - FBI's Identification Division is formed
In 1924, an act of congress established the Identification Division of the FBI. The IACP's Bureau of Criminal Identification fingerprint repository and the US Justice Department's Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) fingerprint repository were consolidated to form the nucleus of the FBI Identification Division fingerprint files (originally including a total of 810,188 fingerprint cards). During the decades since, the FBI's fingerprint national fingerprint support (both through Criminal Justice Information Services and the FBI Laboratory) has been indispensable in supporting American law enforcement. (FBI, The CJIS Link, 2000)

Fingerprint Clerks in the Technical Section of the FBI's Identification Division in 1930. The job title Fingerprint Clerk was later changed to Fingerprint Examiner.
By the end of World War II, most American fingerprints experts agreed there was no scientific basis for a minimum number of corresponding minutiae to determine an "identification" and the twelve point rule was dropped from the FBI publication, "The Science of Fingerprints."
By 1946, the FBI had processed over 100 million fingerprint cards in files maintained manually. In 1947, the FBI's fingerprint repository was moved from the Washington DC Armory Building to a new building at 2nd and D Streets Southwest in Washington, DC.
With the introduction of automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) technology, the files were later split into computerized criminal files and manually maintained civil files. Many of the manual files were duplicates though, the records actually represented somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 million criminals, and an unknown number (tens of millions) of individuals represented in the civil files.
In 1963, the FBI's Latent Print Unit completed 9,668 latent print cases from local, state and federal American law enforcement, including 76,309 specimens (evidence items) for latent print examination. The Latent Print Unit identified suspects in 795 of the cases.
As of 1 May 1964, the FBI's Identification Division had more than 170 million fingerprint records (170,681,473 records), including almost 45 million criminal fingerprint records (44,926,750 criminal fingerprint records).

On 15 December 1971, the FBI began accepting only arrest fingerprint cards with light red (pinkish) boundary lines conforming to FD-249 specifications. Before that date, many US law enforcement agencies used their own 8 inch x 8 inch fingerprint cards with slight variations of the height and width of blocks wherein fingerprints would be recorded. The change was needed for two reasons:
● To standardize the location of fingerprints for automated fingerprint scanning (flying spot laser scanning in the early years) and
● To eliminate artificial bifurcations (artifacts) created when inked fingerprints extended over black ink finger block boundary lines. The light red ink eliminated such artifact problems.


INTERPOL's Automated Fingerprint Identification System repository exceeds 150,000 sets of fingerprints for important international criminal records from 190 member countries. Over 170 countries have 24 x 7 interface ability with INTERPOL expert fingerprint services.
The International Association for Identification celebrated it's 100th Anniversary
2021 - America's Largest Databases

The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM was formerly US-VISIT), contains over 120 million persons' fingerprints, many in the form of two-finger records. The US Visit Program has been migrating from two flat (not rolled) fingerprints to ten flat fingerprints since 2007. "Fast capture" technology currently enables the recording of ten simultaneous fingerprint impressions in as little as 15 seconds per person.
As of July 2018, the FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) conducts more than 300,000 tenprint record searches per day against more than 140 million computerized fingerprint records (both criminal and civil applicant records). The 300,000 daily fingerprint searches support 18,000 law enforcement agencies and 16,000 non-law enforcement agencies7. At 70% more accurate that the FBI's previous version of automated latent print technology, NGI is the FBI's most valuable service to American law enforcement, providing accurate and rapid fingerprint identification support.
FBI civil fingerprint files in NGI (primarily including federal employees and federal employment applicants) have become searchable by all US law enforcement agencies in recent years. Many enlisted military service member fingerprint cards received after 1990, and most (officer, enlisted and civilian) military-related fingerprint cards received after 19 May 2000, have been computerized and are searchable.
The FBI continues to expand their automated identification activities to include other biometrics such as palm, face, and iris. Direct face search capabilities in NGI are a reality for some US law enforcement agencies, and all others can submit faces to CBI CJIS' Face Services Unit by opening collaborative investigations through their supporting FBI offices.
Every state in the America, as well as many large cities, have their own AFIS databases, each with a subset of fingerprint records which are not stored in any other database. Palmprints are also stored and searched in many of these databases. Law enforcement fingerprint interface standards are important to enable sharing records and reciprocal searches to identify criminals.
International Sharing
Many European nations currently leverage multiple fingerprint information sharing operations, including the following: Schengen Information System (SIS) Visa Information System (VIS) European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC) and Europol. Additionally, a biometric-based Entry Exit System (EES) is in planning stages. Many other countries exchanges searches/fingerprint records in a similar manner as Europe, with automated and non-automated interfaces existing in accordance with national/international privacy laws and the urgency/importance of such searches.
2021 - World's Largest Database

The Unique Identification Authority of India is the world's largest fingerprint (and largest multi-modal biometric) system using fingerprint, face and iris biometric records. India's Unique Identification project is also known as Aadhaar, a word meaning "the foundation" in several Indian languages. Aadhaar is a voluntary program, with the goal of providing reliable national identification documents to most of India's estimated 1.25 billion residents.

With a biometric database many times larger than any other in the world, Aadhaar's ability to leverage automated fingerprint and iris modalities (and potentially automated face recognition) enables rapid and reliable automated searching and identification impossible to accomplish with fingerprint technology alone, especially when searching children and elderly residents' fingerprints (children are fingerprinted and photographed as young as age 5). As of January 2020 , the Authority has issued more than 1.25 billion (more than 125 crore) Aadhaar numbers.

Like most attempts to document history, this page strives to balance what happened first with what matters. The result does not mean this fingerprint history page (or any other historical account) is complete or entirely accurate. This page is maintained by an American fingerprint expert, biased by English language scientific journals and historical publications. Other countries' experts (especially from non-English language countries) may have completed important fingerprint-related scientific accomplishments before the above dates. Please email recommended changes and citations for those modifications to ed "at" onin.com.

Science is a set of provisional explanations, also known as hypotheses, which are updated as new evidence becomes available. For example, the 12-point rule for identifying fingerprints utilized in America during the early 1900s was abandoned by the FBI in the 1940s when it was realized 12 poor-quality points having relatively low specificity were less rare (had lower specificity) for "identification" than fewer very clear points having relatively rare shapes and unit relationships.

Nowadays, friction ridge science is improving to attempt to express subjective opinions with greater accuracy (not positive identification). until evidence supports the next advancement, perhaps a well-validated algorithm stating likelihood ratios.

As of 2016, the term positive identification (meaning absolute certainty) has been replaced in reports and testimony by most agencies/experts with more accurate terminology, including variations of wording such as the following:

Examination and comparison of similarities and differences between the impressions resulted in the opinion there is a much greater support for the impressions originating from the same source than there is for them originating from different sources.

A related 2014 paper titled "Individualization is dead, long live individualization! Reforms of reporting practices for fingerprint analysis in the United States" by Simon Cole, Professor at University of California, Irvine is linked here .

FBI, The CJIS Link vol. 4, no. 23, page 10, by US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Fall 2000.

Jenkins, J. J. (1902). National Bureau of Criminal Identification (No. 429). U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary.

Moore, Greg Some of the above wording is credited to Greg Moore, from his previous fingerprint history page at www.brawleyonline.com/consult/history.htm (no longer online).

Von Minden, David L. provided input for this page involving typos his students kept cutting and pasting into their homework.

Interpol, "General Position on Fingerprint Evidence," by the Interpol European Expert Group on Fingerprint Identification (accessed March 2010 at www.interpol.int).

Coulier, P.-J. Les vapeurs d'iode employees comme moyen de reconnaitre l'alteration des ecritures. In L'Annee scientiJique et industrielle Figuier, L. Ed. Hachette, 1863 8, pp. 157-160 at http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k7326j (as of March 2010).

Margot, Pierre and Quinche, Nicolas, "Coulier, Paul-Jean (1824-1890): A Precursor in the History of Fingermark Detection and Their Potential Use for Identifying Their Source (1863)", Journal of forensic identification, 60 (2), March-April 2010, pp. 129-134, (published by the International Association for Identification).

Herschel information is from a Fingerprint Identification presentation by T. Dickerson Cook at the annual meeting of the Texas Division, International Association for Identification, at Midland, Texas on 9 August 1954 (documented in Identification News, April 1964, pp. 5-10).

August 2018 presentation by FBI Biometric Services/NGI Section Chief William G. McKinsey at the International Association for Identification's annual educational conference.

William and Will West images courtesy of Joshua L. Connelly, CLPE, whose research into fingerprint history archives continues to enlighten the friction ridge community.

Victorian Period Fancy Pipes and the 20th Century Decline

A very common pipe design occuring with dozens of variations and still made today. These were produced from about 1850 but most often date from about 1860 to 1930. They are usually short "cutty" (4 inch working men's pipe) with thick bowls or "straw" (slightly longer narrow stem of about 7 inches) with thinner more elegant bowls.

The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalo's is a society which was formed in the mid 19th century. Records show that the seeds were first sewn in about 1822 by the theatrical fraternity but the Buffs as we know it surfaced some years later. The first charter formalising the RAOB was written in 1866. There are records of early ceremonies and the first mention found of clay pipes being used was in 1848. In that Initiation ceremony the pipe was broken over the candidates head. There is no mention of the design or style of the pipe used and sometimes a plain churchwarden pipe is used instead of the type with horns on the bowl. In the modern initiation ceremony the candidate breaks the pipe near his heart (its less traumatic). In senior ceremonies a pipe is broken on the candidates shoulder. The RAOB are still very active today doing much charity work.
(Information kindly supplied by an RAOB member with thanks.)

Pipes were also made for Freemasons, Druids and other Friendly Societies which used to meet in the local taverns where clay pipes were given out free.

Noah's Ark: the facts behind the Flood

In the year 1872 one George Smith, a bank­note engraver turned assistant in the British Museum, astounded the world by discovering the story of the Flood – much the same as that in the Book of Genesis – inscribed on a cuneiform tablet made of clay that had recently been excavated at far-distant Nineveh (in present-day Iraq). Human behaviour, according to this new discovery, prompted the gods of Babylon to wipe out mankind through death by water, and, as in the Bible, the survival of all living things was effected at the last minute by a single man.

For George Smith himself the discovery was, quite plainly, staggering, and it propelled him from back-room boffin to worldwide fame. Much arduous scholarly labour had preceded Smith’s extraordinary triumph, for his beginnings were humble. Endless months of staring into the glass cases that housed the inscriptions in the gallery resulted in Smith being “noticed”, and eventually he was taken on as a “repairer” in the British Museum in about 1863.

The young George exhibited an outstanding flair for identifying joins among the broken fragments of tablets and a positive genius for understanding cuneiform inscriptions there can be no doubt that he was one of Assyriology’s most gifted scholars.

At first, Smith was unable to decipher the tablet that would change his life, because a lime-like deposit obscured the text. Only once this had been painstakingly removed – an agonising wait for the highly strung Smith – could all the words be read. A contemporary observer reported what happened next:

“Smith took the tablet and began to read over the lines which… had [been] brought to light and when he saw that they contained the portion of the legend he had hoped to find there, he said, 'I am the first man to read that after more than two thousand years of oblivion.’

“Setting the tablet on the table, he jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself!”

Smith’s dramatic reaction achieved mythological status, to the point that all subsequent Assyriologists keep the tactic in reserve just in case they too find something spectacular.

Smith announced his discoveries at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Archaeology in London, on December 3, 1872. August dignitaries were present, including the Archbishop of Canterbury – since Smith’s findings had serious implications for church authority – and the classically-disposed prime minister, WE Gladstone.

For Smith’s audience, as it had been for the man himself, the news was electrifying. In 1872 everyone knew their Bible backwards, and the announcement that the iconic story of the Ark and the Flood existed on a barbaric-looking document of clay in the British Museum that pre-dated the Bible and had been dug up somewhere in the East was indigestible.

A hundred and thirteen years after Smith’s breakthrough, a similar episode of British-Museum-curator-meets-amazing-cuneiform-flood-story befell me.

Irving Finkel, assistant keeper at the department of the Middle East at the British Museum (Benjamin McMahon)

People bring all sorts of unexpected objects to the British Museum to have them identified. In 1985 a cuneiform tablet was brought in by a member of the public already known to me, for he had been in with Babylonian objects before. His name was Douglas Simmonds. Gruff, non-communicative and to me largely unfathomable, he had a conspicuously large head housing a large measure of intelligence.

He owned a collection of miscellaneous objects and antiquities that he had inherited from his father, Leonard. Leonard had a lifelong eye for curiosities, and, as a member of the RAF, was stationed in the Near East around the end of the Second World War, acquiring interesting bits and pieces of tablets at the same time.

I was more taken aback than I can say to discover that one of his cuneiform tablets was a copy of the Babylonian Flood story. The trouble was that, as one read down the inscribed surface of the unbaked tablet, things got harder turning it over to confront the reverse for the first time was a cause for despair. I explained that it would take many hours to ­wrestle meaning from the broken signs, but Douglas would not leave his tablet with me. He blithely repacked his Flood tablet and more or less bade me good day.

Nothing happened about “my” tablet until much later, when I spotted Douglas staring at Nebuchadnezzar’s East India House inscription in our Babylon: Myth and Reality exhibition early in 2009. I picked my way carefully through the crowds of visitors and asked him about it. The bewitching cuneiform tablets strewn around the exhibition must have had a good effect because he promised to bring his tablet in again for me to examine. And he did.

Decipherment proceeded in fits and starts, with groans and expletives, and in mounting – but fully dressed – excitement. Weeks later, it seemed, I looked up, blinking in the sudden light.

I had discovered that the Simmonds cuneiform tablet (henceforth known as the Ark Tablet) was virtually an instruction manual for building an ark.

The Ark Tablet, which dates from around 1900BC (Benjamin McMahon)

The story of a flood that destroyed the world, in which human and animal life was saved from extinction by a hero with a boat, is almost universal in the world’s treasury of traditional literature. Many scholars have tried to collect all the specimens in a butterfly net, to pin them out and docket them for family, genus and species. Flood stories in the broadest sense have been documented in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Syria, Europe, India, New Guinea, Central America, North America, Australia and South America.

The story of Noah, iconic in the Book of Genesis, and as a consequence a central motif in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, invites the greatest attention. In all three scriptures the Flood comes as punishment for wrongdoing by man, part of a “give-up-on-this-lot-and-start-over” resolution governing divine relations with the human world. There is a direct and undoubted Flood continuum from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek New Testament on the one hand and the Arabic Koran on the other.

Since the Victorian-period discoveries of George Smith it has been understood that the Hebrew account derives, in its turn, from that in Babylonian cuneiform, much older and surely the original that launched the story on its journey.

People have long been concerned with the question of whether there really was a flood, and been on the lookout for evidence to support the story, and I imagine all Mesopotamian archaeologists have kept the Flood at the back of their mind. In the years 1928 and 1929 important discoveries were made on sites in Iraq that were taken to be evidence of the biblical Flood itself. At Ur, excavation beneath the Royal Cemetery disclosed more than 10ft of empty mud, below which earlier settlement material came to light. A similar discovery was made at the site of Kish in southern Iraq. To both teams it seemed inescapable that here was evidence of the biblical Flood itself.

In more recent times scholars have turned to geological rather than archaeological investigation, pursuing data about earthquakes, tidal waves or melting glaciers in the hunt for the Flood at a dizzying pace.

Another big Flood question is where did the Ark end up? Ask anyone and they will say “Mount Ararat”. But what, we have to ask, is Ararat? There is more than one candidate mountain. The Assyrians in the Epic of Gilgamesh thought it was Mount Nitsir in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Islamic tradition has always favoured Cudi Dagh in Turkey. Rival set-ups allowed for vigorous local trade in Ark mementoes.

A traditional depiction of Noah's Ark by the 16th-century painter Aurelio Luini (Alamy)

The Ark Tablet, like many documents of its period, is designed to fit comfortably in the reader’s hand it is much the same size and weight as a contemporary mobile phone.

The tablet was written during the Old Babylonian period, broadly 1900–1700BC. The document was not dated by the scribe, but from the shape and appearance of the tablet itself, the character and composition of the cuneiform and the grammatical forms and usages, we can be sure that this is the period in which it was written. It was composed in Semitic Babylonian (Akkadian) in a literary style. The hand is neat and that of a fully trained cuneiform scribe. The text has been written out very ably without error and for a specific purpose it is certainly not a school practice tablet from a beginner, or anything of that kind. It measures 11.5cm by 6cm and contains exactly 60 lines.

The front (or obverse) is in fine condition and virtually everything can be read. The back (or reverse) is damaged in the middle of most lines, with the result that not everything there can be read now, although much of substantial importance can be deciphered some parts are simply missing altogether and other parts are very badly worn.

The most remarkable feature provided by the Ark Tablet is that the lifeboat built by Atra-hasıs – the Noah-like hero who receives his instructions from the god Enki – was definitely, unambiguously round. “Draw out the boat that you will make,” he is instructed, “on a circular plan.”

Confronting the fact comes, initially, as a shock. For every­one knows what Noah’s Ark, the real Ark, looks like: a squat wooden affair with prow and stern and a little house in the middle, not to mention a gangplank and several windows. No respectable child’s nursery at one time was without one, with its chewed pairs of animals.

The tenacity of the conventional Western vision of the Ark is remarkable, and remains, at least to me, inexplicable, for where did it come from in the first place? The only “evidence” that artists or toymakers had before them was the description in the Old Testament where Noah’s Ark is altogether a different proposition. (Indeed, the key words in the description of the Ark are used nowhere else in the Bible, and no one knows what language they are written in.)

As I stared into space with the tablet precariously poised over the desk, the idea of a round ark began to make sense. A truly round boat would be a coracle, and they certainly had coracles in ancient Mesopotamia a coracle is exceptionally buoyant and would never sink, and if it happened to be difficult to steer or stop from going around and round that would not matter, because all it had to do was keep its contents safe and dry until the waters receded.

A Twenties photograph of Iraqi coracle-builders

Coracles, in their unassuming way, have played a crucial and long-running role in man’s relationship with rivers. They belong, like dugout canoes and rafts, to the most practical stratum of invention: natural resources giving rise to simple solutions that can hardly be improved upon. The reed coracle is effectively a large basket, sealed with bitumen to prevent waterlogging. Its construction is somehow natural to riverine communities coracles from India and Iraq, Tibet and Wales are close cousins. These traditional craft remained in use, unchanged, on the rivers of Mesopotamia into the first half of the last century.

Before the arrival of the Ark Tablet, hard facts for the boatbuilder were sparse. We have had to wait until now for the statistics of shape, size and dimensions, as well as everything to do with the matter of waterproofing. The information that has now become available could be turned into a printed set of specifications sufficient for any would-be ark-builder today.

Enki tells Atra-hasıs in a very practical way how to get his boat started he is to draw out a plan of the round boat on the ground. The simplest way to do this would have been with a peg and a long string. The stage is thus set for building the world’s largest coracle, with a base area of 38,750sq ft, and a diameter of, near enough, 230ft. It works out to be the size of a Babylonian “field”, what we would call an acre. The walls, at about 20ft, would effectively inhibit an upright male giraffe from looking over at us.

Atra-hasıs’s coracle was to be made of rope, coiled into a gigantic basket. This rope was made of palm fibre, and vast quantities of it were going to be needed. Coiling the rope and weaving between the rows eventually produces a giant round floppy basket, which is then stiffened with a set of J-shaped wooden ribs. Stanchions, mentioned in lines 15-16, were a crucial element in the Ark’s construction and an innovation in response to Atra-hasıs’s special requirements, for they allow the introduction of an upper deck.

These stanchions could be placed in diverse arrangements set flat on the interlocked square ends of the ribs, they would facilitate subdivision of the lower floor space into suitable areas for bulky or fatally incompatible animals. One striking peculiarity of Atra-hasıs’s reports is that he doesn’t mention either the deck or the roof explicitly, but within the specifications both deck and roof are implicit. (In line 45 Atra-hasıs goes up to the roof to pray.)

The next stage is crucial: the application of bitumen for waterproofing, inside and out, a job to be taken very seriously considering the load and the likely weather conditions. Fortunately, bitumen bubbled out of the Mesopotamian ground in an unending, benevolent supply. Atra-hasıs devotes 20 of his 60 lines to precise details about waterproofing his boat. It is just one of the many remarkable aspects of the Ark Tablet that we are thereby given the most complete account of caulking a boat to have come down to us from antiquity.

Johan Huibers' full-scale model of Noah's Ark was built according to the instructions given in the Bible (EPA/Ed Oudenaarden)

Boat-building notwithstanding, one cannot help but worry about the various Noahs, Babylonian and otherwise, and all their animals: the thought of rounding them up, marching them up the gangplank and ensuring good behaviour all round for a voyage of unknown length…

At first sight, the very broken lines 51–52 of the Ark Tablet looked unpromising. The surface, if not completely lost, is badly abraded in this part of the tablet. I needed, then, to bring every sophisticated technique of decipherment into play: polishing the magnifying glass, holding it steady, repeatedly moving the tablet under the light to get the slightest shadow of a worn-out wedge or two. Eventually the sign traces in line 51 could be seen to be “and the wild animal[s of the st]ep[pe]”.

What gave me the biggest shock in 44 years of grappling with cuneiform tablets was, however, what came next. My best shot at the first two signs beginning line 52 came up with “sa” and “na”, both incompletely preserved. On looking unhopefully for words beginning “sana” in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, I found the following entry and nearly fell off my chair as a result of the words: “sana (or sanâ) adv. Two each, two by two.”

This is a very rare word among all our texts – when the dictionary was published there had only been two occurrences. To me, it is the world’s most beautiful dictionary definition.

For the first time we learn that the Babylonian animals, like those of Noah, went in two by two, a completely unsuspected Babylonian tradition that draws us ever closer to the familiar narrative of the Bible. (Another interesting matter: the Babylonian flood story in cuneiform is 1,000 years older than the Book of Genesis in Hebrew, but reading the two accounts together demonstrates their close, literary relationship. No firm explanation of how this might have really come about has previously been offered, but study of the circumstances in which the Judaeans exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II found themselves answers many crucial questions.)

There is a further consideration raised by these two lines in the Ark Tablet: they only mention wild animals. I imagine domestic livestock might well be taken for granted, especially if some of the animals were going to be part of their own food chain.

Today the question of Noah’s animals is no longer a preoccupation of scientific inquiry, but there was a time when serious scholars, especially the great polymath Athanasius Kircher (c1601–80), thought a good deal about them, just when knowledge of natural history was on the increase.

Kircher’s Ark taxonomy ran to only about 50 pairs of animals, leaving him to conclude that space inside was not such a difficulty. He developed the explanation that Noah had rescued all the animals that then existed, and that the subsequent profusion of different species in the world resulted from postdiluvian adaptation, or interbreeding among the Ark species so that giraffes, for example, were produced after the Flood by camel and leopard parents.

The relationship between Enki and Atra-hasıs is conventionally portrayed as that between master and servant. If Atra-hasıs was not a king but a private citizen, this does raise the question of the grounds on which these “proto-Noahs” were selected to fulfil their great task. It is not evident that either was an obvious choice as, say, a famous boatbuilder. There is some indication of temple connections, but nothing to indicate that the hero was actually a member of the priesthood. Perhaps the selection was on the grounds that what was needed was a fine, upright individual who would listen to divine orders and carry them out to the full whatever his private misgivings, but we are not told.

In each case the right man seems to have been offered the job. All the stories agree that the boat, whatever its shape, was successfully built, and that human and animal life was safely preserved so that the world could go on. A story that recommends foresight and planning in order to ensure that outcome has lost none of its resonance.

'The Ark Before Noah’, by Irving Finkel (Hodder, RRP £20), is available to order from Telegraph Books at £18 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk

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Nabu (god)

Patron deity of Borsippa, god of wisdom and writing. In the first millennium BCE, Nabu is one of the most important Mesopotamian deities. First a minister of Marduk, he later becomes his co-regent at the head of the pantheon. Nabu's influence on Mesopotamian culture is significant well into the later periods. Nabu appears in the Bible as Nebo.


Late Babylonian stamp seal depicting symbols of Nabu and Marduk on a protective dragon. British Museum BM 108849.

Nabu is the patron deity of Borsippa as well as the minister and scribe of Marduk. Nabu's most important scribal duty was effected annually on the 11th day of Nisannu (the first month of the year), marking the end of the akītu  TT  -festival: having settled the fate of the land with Marduk whom he saved, Nabu inscribed it on the Tablet of Destinies, in accordance with the creation myth Enūma eliš  TT  .

Probably as a consequence of his scribal role, Nabu soon became god of writing, progressively taking over from the goddess Nidaba in that function. As god of writing, Nabu was also the patron of scribes, commonly invoked in the colophons of texts. From god of writing Nabu became lord of wisdom, thus inheriting a characteristic of his divine ancestor Enki/Ea who was traditionally accepted as the father of Marduk.

In the Neo-Babylonian period Nabu was on a par with Bel/Marduk as joint heads of the pantheon and co-rulers of the universe (Pomponio 1978: 100).

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

Nabu was originally a West Semitic deity, mentioned in Eblaitic sources along other gods from Ebla. He was absorbed into the cult of Marduk as Marduk's minister, and from the Kassite period onward became accepted as Marduk's firstborn son to his spouse Ṣarpanitum/Erua. A Neo-Babylonian letter identifies Nabu as the brother of the god Nergal/Lugal-Marada (Pomponio 1998-2001: 21).

Two goddesses are associated with Nabu as consorts, Tašmetu and Nanaya. Tašmetu is the earliest attested consort. First mentioned as spouse of Nabu in an Old Babylonian god-list, her relationship with Nabu is still thriving in the Neo-Assyrian period (see for example SAA 3, 14).

Nanaya was originally the consort of the god Muati, which suggests her new role came as a result of Muati's syncretism with Nabu.

Nidaba is occasionally associated with Nabu as co-resident of the bīt mummu of Assur, but she is presented more as an homologous deity than as a spouse.

Nabu is syncretised with Ninurta, his relationship with Marduk mirroring that of Ninurta with Enlil (Pomponio 1978: 194-5). He is also associated with Šamašand Sin through his cosmological symbolism of light and darkness (Pomponio 1978: 200). Astronomicaly he can be identified with the planet Mercury (Pomponio 1978: 202-5).

Nabu is so closely associated with Marduk that he sometimes shares his attributes (see for example hymn III.45.e in Foster 2005: 702-3).

Cult Places

Nabu's main cult centre was the Ezida temple in Borsippa [

/images/Borsippa.jpg] . His cult was also strongly linked to Babylon [

/images/Babylon.jpg] since his cult statue was paraded between Borsippa and Babylon during the akītu  TT  -festival. The formula for king Samsu-ditana's 17th regnal year mentions a shrine dedicated to the cult of Nabu in Esagil and records that a statue of Nabu was brought into the temple of Marduk (cf. Pomponio 1998-2001: 17), so this date can be taken as terminus ante quem for the earliest cultic manifestation of Nabu in Babylon. In the Neo-Assyrian period, temples of Nabu are attested at Assur [

/images/Dur-Sharrukin.jpg] , Kurba'il and Guzana. Outside Mesopotamia, eastwards, a temple was built for Nabu at Dur-Untash in Elam. There is archaeological evidence that the cult of Nabu spread as far north as Nuzi [

/images/Nuzi.jpg] and as far west as Ugarit [

Time Periods Attested

The first accurately datable attestation of Nabu is the year formula for Hammurabi 16: "The year he (the king) built a throne for Nabu". From then on, Nabu is attested continuously throughout Mesopotamian history.

In the Middle Babylonian period Nabu's name is typically invoked on kudurru inscriptions (cf. Pomponio 1998-2001: 19) and it becomes a popular theophoric element  TT  in personal names. The cult of Nabu is introduced in Assyria during the Middle Assyrian period, presumably by Shalmaneser I who is mentioned as first builder of the Nabu temple in Assur by a cylinder from the later Assyrian king Sin-šar-iškun (cf. Pomponio 1998-2001: 19). In the Middle Assyrian period Nabu is established as one of the three most important deities along with Marduk and Nergal (cf. Pomponio 1998-2001: 19).

In the Neo-Assyrian period Sennacherib, desirous to proclaim the supremacy of Assyria, neglected Babylonian deities in favour of the god Aššur, resulting in the cult of Nabu losing some of its royal prestige. However, the situation changed under Esarhaddon, who was keen to regain Babylonian support and therefore restored the primacy of Babylonian gods. Ashurbanipal, a keen collector of knowledge, was especially fond of Nabu as god of writing and wisdom (see for example SAA 3, 13).

In the Neo-Babylonian period the popularity of Nabu is particularly evident since royal inscriptions give him precedence over Marduk. Noteworthy is a hymn to the Ezida of Borsippa in Neo-Babylonian script (cf. Köcher 1959): the magnificent imagery conveyed suggests the appeal of Nabu had not waned. Nabu continued to be venerated in Late Babylonian times. Interestingly, the last inscription by a king of Babylonia concerns Nabu (cf. Pomponio 1998-2001: 20). It was found in the Ezida of Borsippa and consists of a report by Antiochus I Soter (r. 276-261 BCE) regarding his restoration work on Esagila and Ezida.

Nabu's cult was widespread and long lived, developing through expatriate Aramaic communities beyond Mesopotamia into Egypt and Anatolia, and lasting up to the second half of the first millennium CE.


The main symbol of Nabu is a single wedge, vertical or horizontal, sometimes resting on a clay tablet or a dais. This wedge represents the writing stylus and probably by its shape is also meant to suggest cuneiform writing. Nabu and the writing stylus are occasionally shown on top of a protective mušhuššu dragon (Seidl 1998-2001).

Nabu is typically depicted wearing a long fringed robe under a slit skirt.


Journal Physics World (2004), as reported in the New York Times, Ideas and Trends, 24 October 2004, p. 12.

Maor, E. (2007) The Pythagorean Theorem, A 4,000-Year History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. xii.

Leonardo da Vinci (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519) was an Italian polymath (someone who is very knowledgeable), being a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man whose unquenchable curiosity was equaled only by his powers of invention. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. ‘The scope and depth of his interests were without precedent … . His mind and personality seems to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonardo_da_Vinci.

Loomis, E. S. (1927) The Pythagorean Proportion, A revised, second edition appeared in 1940, reprinted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1968 as part of its ‘Classics in Mathematics Education’ series.

Maor, E. (2007) The Pythagorean Theorem, A 4,000-Year History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 17.

A rational number is a number that can be expressed as a fraction or ratio (rational). The numerator and the denominator of the fraction are both integers. When the fraction is divided out, it becomes a terminating or repeating decimal. (The repeating decimal portion may be one number or a billion numbers.) Rational numbers can be ordered on a number line.

An irrational number cannot be expressed as a fraction. Irrational numbers cannot be represented as terminating or repeating decimals. Irrational numbers are non-terminating, non-repeating decimals. Examples of irrational numbers are: square root of 2=1.414213562 … π =3.141592654 ….

Maor, E. (2007) The Pythagorean Theorem, A 4,000-Year History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 5.

Watch the video: Το Βιβλίο Του Ενώχ Και Το Ταξίδι Στο Διάστημα (August 2022).