Long before the Bible, the story of a "Great Flood" was written on clay tablets in ancient Mesopotamia, in what is now modern-day Iraq. Penn Museum features an exceptional collection of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts and some of the world's earliest literature on clay tablets in this two case display. The sustaining and destroying powers of water in the region that some have called the "cradle of civilization" is considered. The objects on display include what is perhaps the most famous of the Sumerian "Flood Tablets," featuring the story of King Ziusudra who builds a boat to save his family from a great flood. Trescher Entrance.
Find out more at In the "Water as Creator" display features objects from Iraq as old as 2600 BCE. The "Fish Rhyton" in the center is a terracotta drinking vessel from the Parthian Period (ca. 100–200 CE).
Water as Creator
Water has shaped civilization for thousands of years. The earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia depended on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for water, food, and trade. The impact of water on their daily lives can be seen in the artifacts they left behind. These objects frequently depict water scenes and aquatic life. Ancient myths speak of gods who commanded the power of water to create as well as destroy life. The Sumerian god Enki filled the riverbeds with water bringing life to the land. He also saved humanity from destruction in a great flood.
Water as Destroyer
While water can sustain life, it can also be a terrifying force of destruction. Memories of ancient floods in Mesopotamia were preserved in both myths and historical records. Early Sumerian clay tablets tell the story of a great flood brought on by the gods to destroy life on earth. The god Enki saves humanity by ordering the construction of a large boat, which survives the deluge allowing its passengers to repopulate the earth. This great flood was later woven into the story of the Babylonian hero Gilgamesh and eventually into the more familiar Jewish, Christian, and Islamic texts as the story of Noah.
Through July 2011