Babylonian Clay Tablets
at South Georgia State Normal College
(Valdosta State University)
Dr. Richard Holmes Powell, first president of South Georgia State Normal College (now Valdosta State University), acquired ten Babylonian clay tablets for the school's students to study. The tablets, which are roughly 1.5" square, are imprinted with Cuneiform writing and are indicative of daily record-keeping in ancient Mesopotamia. They were purchased in 1920 from archaeologist and antiquities dealer Edgar J. Banks at a total cost of $40. Banks provided translations for each tablet, along with his personal guarantee regarding their authenticity.
Local legend has it that Powell purchased or arranged for the purchase of the tablets while he was on leave from the college serving abroad in the Red Cross in 1918. However, no evidence has yet been found to substantiate that Powell's Red Cross service was even overseas, or as to the connection between him and Banks.
The tablets were wrapped in tissue paper and shipped in a wooden box. Tablets numbered one through eight are in excellent condition; however, tablet number nine has been reduced to fragments and dust, and tablet number ten is very worn and fragile. A penciled notation on the box top reads, "#10 sundried, in poor condition," and in his letter, Banks notes that, "The sun dried tablets are seldom well preserved." It is unknown as to how tablet number nine was destroyed; either by shipping or after coming to the college.
Edgar J. Banks was a lesser-known archaeologist and did much of his work in the early 20th century. In 1900, Banks applied for and eventually received permission from Ottoman authorities to dig in the modern-day city of Bismya, Iraq, site of the ancient city of Adab. It is likely that the tablets similar to the ones owned by VSU were acquired are from this area; however, he also purchased tablets from workers at other sites. Many of Banks' Babylonian tablets are owned by academic institutions and museums across America, including The University of Utah, the University of Minnesota, South Dakota State University and the Science Museum of Minnesota. According to Banks' biographer, Ewa Wasilewska, "he imported at least 11,000 such relics to the United States, and some estimates suggest the number may have been as many as 175,000 pieces." VSU is fortunate to be among the institutions that own a collection of Banks' Babylonian clay tablets.
This page presents VSU's collection of tablets. The thumbnail of each tablet is linked to a page with a complete front, back, and side view of the tablet, along with "a translation" by Banks himself, really more of a summary of where it was found and what it might contain. The tablets have been translated by Dr. Cale Johnson, cuneiform scholar of UCLA, and may be found in the Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin. In addition to translations, the article will explain the significance of some of the tablet names or places. Further information on Banks' summary translations can be found in the correspondence below related to the tablets.
Letter from Edgar Banks to Richard H. Powell, offering tablets, and with a complete description of each tablet and its origin attached. The thumbnail image will take you to a large letter image and a html text copy.
|Tablet 2||Tablet 6|
|Tablet 3||Tablet 7|
|Tablet 4||Tablet 8|
|Tablets 9 and 10|
Information related to Ancient Mesopotamia during the time of the tablets has been compiled by Dr. Melanie Byrd. A map of major cities mentioned on the tablets, a timeline of Mesopotamian civilization and a bibliography of related resources are available.
For more information on Edgar Banks and his work and Cuneiform tablets in general, try the links below:
This is the site of the South Dakota State University Archives, and discusses their collection of Banks' tablets and how they were acquired, along with image scans of the tablets. Article on Banks and cuneiform tablets linked here: Crystal Gamradt. "Forgotten Past: Solving a Mystery of Forgotten Antiquities and Finding Their Significance to the Present."
Site for Science Museum of Minnesota, which has some of Banks' tablets. There is a link to an excellent article titled, "The Forgotten Indiana Jones" by Ewa Wasilewska, who is writing a biography on Banks. She is a researcher at the University of Utah, which also possesses some of Banks' tablets.
Site for the Cuneiform Inscriptions of the University of Minnesota; the University has some of Banks' tablets, and also provides interesting general information about Cuneiform writing and the cultures that used it. Links to articles about Banks as well.
Banks, Bismya or The Lost City of Adab
New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1912. Online version of Banks book.
University of Notre Dame's "Ancient Manuscripts" site, which contains a good bit of information about cuneiform tablets.
The The Cuneiform Digital Palaeography Project Cuneiform Database is a collaboration of the University of Birmingham in England and the British Museum. Presents a database of digital images of cuneiform tablets.
** Note to Researchers: If the scans provided of the tablets are not adequate for your study, or if you note problems in orientation of the tablets or with the translations, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org We will try to fix any mistakes.
This page was created by Amy King and Deborah Davis of the VSU Archives, with assistance and inspiration from Dr. Melanie Byrd of the VSU History Department. Partial support for this project came from the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board, The Georgia Archives, Office of the Secretary of State. All images that are part of this online exhibit belong to the VSU Archives except for the two pictures of Edgar Banks from the header above. They were taken from the website of http://www.worldandi.com/Public/2000/August/indy.html from an article by Ewa Wasilewska, who is working on a biography of Edgar J. Banks. [See Note to Researchers Above**]