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Clay Tablets

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Special Collections and University Archives has a set of three ancient clay tablets that are now on display in our exhibit space on the 2nd floor of Knight Library outside of the Paulson Reading Room. These items were gifted to the archives by the Library Staff Association, University of Oregon Libraries. They are listed as one of the 100 treasures within the Special Collections and University Archives, as noted in this book: “100 Treasures Celebrating 100 Years: An Exhibition for the Centennial of the University of Oregon Library.”

Clay was used in ancient times as a writing surface. After fashioning clay into tablets or cones, characters were imprinted on wet clay using a writing utensil made from a reed, called a stylus, and then the tablets were dried in the sun or baked in a kiln. Tablets baked in the sun could be reconstituted and reused by soaking the dry clay in water. Some baked in a kiln to become hard and durable. The tablets held in Special Collections and University Archives are examples of the latter.

One of the tablets is shaped like a cookie and is an account of a business transactions, documenting shipments of reeds. The two cone shaped ones are religious, being temple dedications. The tablets are of interest to students in classes on archaeology or any class that involves ancient writing systems.

Bruce Tabb
Special Collections Librarian