Seated female figure with tablet on lap


Most likely representing a high priestess, this statuette calls forth a line from “The Exaltation of Inanna” by Enheduanna: “Me, who once sat triumphant.” The image also resonates with that of Enheduanna on her votive disk. The woman’s transfixed gaze expresses deep reflection and her hands are firmly clasped in devotion. In her lap is a small tablet. Three incisions on its surface represent the columnar division of clay tablets, an overt reference to cuneiform writing. The tablet and divisions bear witness to the dedicator’s well educated status and engagement with writing, perhaps as an author. As a votive, the statue’s offering is a written text.

Seated female figure with tablet on lap
Mesopotamia, Neo-Sumerian
Ur III period (ca. 2112–2004 BC)
Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum, Acquired 1913; VA 04854

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Vorderasiatisches Museum. Foto: Olaf M. Teßmer.


Sidney Babcock: Hands firmly clasped, eyes transfixed ahead... Despite sharing these characteristics with all the other votive statues on view here, this figure stands out due to a critical but easily overlooked aspect: a small tablet is placed on her lap. Three orderly incisions divide the empty surface of this tablet into four columns, clearly signifying the figure's familiarity with the cuneiform script. This is nothing short of a declaration of authorship, monumentalized in this subtle composition carved of radiant alabaster. What is being dedicated to divinities here is writing itself, conveyed through a tablet ready to be inscribed.

But who is this figure? Iconographical features such as long, loose hair and flounced robe strongly suggest that she was a high priestess, just like Enheduanna. There are three other statues of women with tablets on their laps, all dated slightly later than Enheduanna’s time. It is intriguing to regard these profound visual manifestations of women and literacy as reflecting the longevity of the persona of Enheduanna herself.