Writing in Clay

First, clay would be unearthed where it naturally occurred.  It would be washed clean of impurities and debris. A scribe (writer) would write in the soft clay with a stylus made from a reed.  The tablet dried quickly in the sun or in the air. This writing system is called cuneiform (from the Latin for ‘wedge’—cuneus; and ‘form’—forma) from the wedge-shaped design made by the stylus. Some tablets were baked in ovens, but most did not need baking.

After thousands of years of being buried deep in the ground, the tablets need to be kept from quickly air-drying when unearthed.  If they dry too quickly, they can crumble into dust. One method of keeping unearthed tablets from crumbling is to wrap them in paper, and then leave them in the shade for around 15 days. This slowly air-dries them to the original, smaller size (clay shrinks when it dries).  Sometimes the tablets are additionally baked in a kiln to further ensure preservation of their shapes and writing.


About freelibraryrbd

The Rare Book Department is in the Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
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