S4 Ep3: The Ghost of the Clay Tablet

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Manage episode 339744943 series 3345447
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In ancient Mesopotamia people didn’t just want to believe in ghosts, or yearn for an extraordinary encounter in a shadowy haunted building. They believed in ghosts. Ghosts were simply part of normal everyday life. They were to put it plainly— expected. Let's take a closer look at the first known drawing of a ghost--drawn in clay.
If a ghost were to become a problem or a nuisance, something would need to be done about it. In fact Irving Finkle author of The First Ghosts and curator at the British Museum likened the situation to needing to call the plumber. Got a clogged drain? You’d call a professional to help. Got a ghost? Who ya gonna call? The exorcism guy! And he came prepared, ready with a really well rounded guide with specifics on how-to-get-rid of ghosts with programmatic if this, then do this type of thing and kind of umbrella-like statements, to cover things. You don’t want to do a half-baked job when getting rid of a ghost. The guide, not as convenient as our phones, or even a book was written in cuneiform on clay tablets.
What does all of this have to do with art? From what I understand of all of the detailed instructions for the many situations that had to be considered in getting a ghost to leave–they weren’t all illustrated. But here’s an “if statement” — What if I told you that one of these clay tablets was really special, with the oldest known (3,500 years old) drawing of a miserable, sad man–a bearded ghost? Finkle gives the example that maybe the man had three wives and lost each of them. One could jump to the conclusion that he would follow a young woman to the underworld, thus the ritual that complemented the illustration that we’ll talk about in more depth.
First here’s the formal description of the piece:
Title: Tablet impressed with Mesopotamian ghost, side profile
Artist: Master craftsperson
Date: 1,500 BCE
Geography: Ancient Babylon
Medium: Clay tablet
Dimensions: Fits in a person’s hand
Classification: Tablet
Location: British Museum, Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG, UK (has not been displayed)
Acquired: 19th century, approximately half of the tablet is missing
Photo © British Museum, line drawing © James Fraser and Chris Cobb for The First Ghosts at https://news.artnet.com/.../oldest-ghost-british-museum...
Thanks to the audio sound artists at FreeSound for the accompanying sound/music.
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