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Artefacts of Cognition: the Use of Clay Tokens in a Neo-Assyrian Provincial Administration

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 July 2014

John MacGinnis
Affiliation:
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3ER, UK. Email: jm111@cam.ac.uk
M. Willis Monroe
Affiliation:
Department of Egyptology and Assyriology, Brown University, Box 1899, 2 Prospect Street, Providence, RI 02912, USA, Email: willismonroe@brown.edu
Dirk Wicke
Affiliation:
Institut für Altertumskunde — Vorderasiatische Archäologie, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Hegelstraβe 59, 55126 Mainz, Germany, Email: dwicke@uni-mainz.de
Timothy Matney
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology and Classical Studies, University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-1910, USA, Email: matney@uakron.edu

Abstract

The study of clay tokens in the Ancient Near East has focused, for the most part, on their role as antecedents to the cuneiform script. Starting with Pierre Amiet and Maurice Lambert in the 1960s the theory was put forward that tokens, or calculi, represent an early cognitive attempt at recording. This theory was taken up by Denise Schmandt-Besserat who studied a large diachronic corpus of Near Eastern tokens. Since then little has been written except in response to Schmandt-Besserat's writings. Most discussions of tokens have generally focused on the time period between the eighth and fourth millennium bc with the assumption that token use drops off as writing gains ground in administrative contexts. Now excavations in southeastern Turkey at the site of Ziyaret Tepe — the Neo-Assyrian provincial capital Tušhan — have uncovered a corpus of tokens dating to the first millennium bc. This is a significant new contribution to the documented material. These tokens are found in association with a range of other artefacts of administrative culture — tablets, dockets, sealings and weights — in a manner which indicates that they had cognitive value concurrent with the cuneiform writing system and suggests that tokens were an important tool in Neo-Assyrian imperial administration.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2014 

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