4,000 Year-Old Written Artifacts Now at DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives

In 2014, DePaul University Library’s Special Collections and Archives became the new repository of the Charles L. Souvay Cuneiform Tablets Collection. This collection consists of 94 clay cuneiform tablets in the Sumerian and Akkadian languages, the majority of which date to as early as 2300 BCE.

Cuneiform, a Mesopotamian writing system, began being used around 3300 BCE in the region of Sumer, in modern southern Iraq. Cuneiform consists of a series of wedge shaped marks made by a stylus that are applied to wet clay tablets. The tablets can be air-dried or oven-fired, and do not degrade like plant-based paper. Those that have survived represent some of the oldest written documents known to exist.

The majority of the Souvay Collection tablets date to the Ur III period (2100-2000 BCE), a few date to the Old-Babylonian period, during the reigns of Hammurabi of Babylon (c. 1792 BCE) and Rim-Sin I of Larsa (c. 1822 BCE).


The Souvay Cuneiform Tablets Collection was first acquired by the Vincentian priest Charles-François Jean, C.M. (1874-1955). Fr. Jean, an Assyriologist and Biblical Languages specialist, purchased the tablets between 1915 and 1920 in Paris and Istanbul as part of his academic research. Sometime prior to 1932, Fr. Jean sent his friend and confrere Rev. Charles-Leon Souvay, C.M. (1870-1939) the bulk of the tablets that currently reside at DePaul. Fr. Souvay was teaching at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri (renamed Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in 1985), where the collection remained until the Vincentians facilitated its transfer to DePaul University last year.

To celebrate the collection’s arrival at DePaul, Special Collections and Archives has placed some of the tablets on display on the first floor of the John T. Richardson Library. The exhibit, entitled “A Look through DePaul’s New Window into the Distant Past” will be open to the public through the first week of May. The full collection is viewable in the Special Collections and Archives, room 314 of the John T. Richardson Library, during our open hours of 9:00am-5:00pm, Monday through Friday. A complete description can be found in the online finding aid.

Digital facsimiles and transcriptions of the tablets in this collection can also be viewed as part of the database of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Oxford, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin.

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