Brief Identification: The Flood TabletEdit

This historical object is The Flood Tablet, part of the greater series of tablets known as the Epic of Gilgamesh which relates the story of the Great Flood. Made (roughly) in the 7th Century BCE during the Neo-Assyrian Empire, it was discovered in Nineveh, now part of Northern Iraq.

Technical EvaluationEdit

The Flood Tablet is a ceramic tablet (made of clay) written in cuneiform. A blunt reed called a stylus is used to impress wedge-shaped writing onto wet clay and the tablet is allowed to cure either by baking outside in the sun or being fired in a kiln. Several forms of cuneiform exist; each form is written in a different language. The Flood Tablet is written in Akkadian, the language of the Neo-Assyrian empire. Cuneiform has existed for nearly 5000 years and was about 2500 years old when The Flood Tablet was written. The Flood Tablet was discovered in the mid-19th century by a Turkish Assyriologist named Hormuzd Rassam during the excavation of Kuyunjik, a "fallen, ransacked city" 13 miles wide. It was then shipped to the British Museum with other broken bits of pottery and similar pieces. In 1872, George Smith discovered this piece of the Epic of Gilgamesh among the bits of rubble. He is said to have "jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself."

Local Historical ContextEdit

The Flood Tablet comes from the Neo-Assyrian culture of 7th Century BCE Mesopotamia, modern day northern Iraq. During this time, Assyrians are dominating Mesopotamia, with a vast army comprised of over 50,000 mixed infantry calvary and chariot divisions. Several uprisings challenge the armies of King Ashurbanipal. A 34 mile aqueduct was constructed to carry water into Nineveh, an advance in the technology of this empire. King Ashurbanipal ruled from 669-631 BCE. He had been trained to be an advisor to his older brothers, who were in line to rule the Assyrian empire. Because he was trained in the 'scribal arts,' Ashurbanipal was aware of the importance of vast knowledge. He 'used his power' to assemble a library containing the accumulated wisdom of Mesopotamia, which included the Epic of Gilgamesh, from which the Flood Tablet comes. Very little is known of the creator of the Epic of Gilgamesh or who wrote these tablets, although the Epic of Gilgamesh is the longest piece of literature in Akkadian known to modern historians.

World Historical SignificanceEdit

The Flood Tablet in particular is significant in world history in that it tells nearly the exact same story as the Flood and Noah in the Bible. To some historians, the multiple accounts of this world event proved it's existance; to others, it simply meant that one culture 'borrowed' the story from another. It is unclear which culture wrote down this account first. The discovery of the Flood Tablet has raised questions beyond Nineveh, in fact, it has raised questions of massive religious and world historical importance.

Not all of the Epic of Gilgamesh survived the several thousand years that the Flood Tablet did, making this particular tablet rare in it's own right. Many tablets were destroyed in the Fire of Nineveh (612 BCE), others disentegrated over time, but the Flood Tablet was cured during the fire, preserving it for hundreds of generations to follow. While there is not much evidence pointing to the long-range travel of the actual Flood Tablet, the stories within the Epic of Gilgamesh were known in places such as Hattusas (capital of the Hittites), Emar (Syria), and Megiddo (Levant).


Alan Dundes, The Flood Myth (California: University of California Press, 1988), 51-54.

Britannica. "Epic of Gilgamesh." Last modified 2011.

Britannica. "Ashurnasirpal II (king of Assyria)." Last modified 2011.

Patrick Hunt, Ten Discoveries that Rewrote History (New York: Penguin, 2006), 45-62.