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Work A Hurrian foundation deposit known as the "Urkish Lion"

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Document de Fondation hourrite

© 2008 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Iselin Claire, André-Salvini Béatrice

Influenced by the nearby Mesopotamian culture, the Hurrians adopted the custom of depositing documents in the foundations of their buildings to protect them from destruction and ensure their stability. The two tablets of copper and stone, laid under the claws of a snarling lion with peg-shaped hindquarters, contain the oldest known text in the Hurrian language.

The oldest known inscription in Hurrian

The deposit is composed of several parts. A snarling lion with peg-shaped hindquarters has its forepaws on a copper tablet. Most of the inscription on the tablet has been erased but the same inscription is repeated in Hurrian and cuneiform writing on a white stone tablet placed underneath it: "Tishatal, [Endan] king of Urkish, has built a temple for the god Nergal. May the god Nubadag protect this temple. May Nubadag destroy whomsoever seeks to destroy [it]; may his god not listen to his prayers. May the Lady of Nagar, [the sun god] Shimiga, and the god of the storm [curse 10,000 times whomsoever might seek to destroy it]." It is the oldest known text written in Hurrian, a language which is neither Semitic nor Indo-European.

The Hurrians

The Hurrians appear in Mesopotamian writing in about 2400 BC. At the time, they lived in the foothills of the Taurus and Zagros mountain chains bordering the Mesopotamian plain to the north and the east. This huge territory between the upper reaches of the Tigris and the Euphrates was known as Subir in Sumerian, and Subartu in Akkadian. The city of Urkish, where this foundation deposit probably comes from, was the political center and the main place of worship for the Hurrians in the first centuries of their history. It has recently been identified with the site of Tell Mozan in the Khabur Valley of the Djezireh Desert, Syria.

An original foundation deposit

In Mesopotamian tradition, deposits were placed in the foundations of buildings as a symbolic mooring supposed to protect them from destruction. Such deposits were usually composed of a peg topped with the bust of a figure such as the founding king's personal god or his animal attribute, and a tablet bearing an inscription. The figure of the lion and the position of the tablets in the Urkish foundation deposit make a homogeneous set, which is distinct from the deposits of the Sumerian kings of southern Mesopotamia, Gudea of Lagash. and the kings of the Ur empire, who were contemporaries of Tishatal of Urkish. The lion, an animal that traditionally guarded gates throughout the history of Mesopotamia, has a twin in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Both foundation pegs were intended to protect the name of the prince who built the temple and to ensure the stability and durability of the temple of the god Nergal, the god of the underworld, in the city of Urkish.


Parrot A., Nougayrol J., "un document de fondation hourrite", Revue d'Assyriologie, XLII, 1948, p. 1-20
André-Salvini B. (notice), Naissance de l'écriture : cunéiforme et hiéroglyphes, catalogue d'exposition : Paris, Grand Palais, 7 mai - 9 août 1982, Paris : Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1982, n 59
Au pays de Baal et d'Astarté : 10 000 ans d'art en Syrie, catalogue d'exposition : Paris, Petit Palais, 26 octobre 1983 - 08 janvier 1984, Paris : Association française d'action artistique - Paris Musées, 1983, p. 101, n 124
Muscarella O. W., "Comments on the Urkish Lion Pegs", extrait de : Buccellati G. and Kelly-Buccellati M., Mozan 1. The Soundings of the First Two Seasons (Bibliotheca Mesopotamia 20), Malibu, 1988, p. 93-99
Salvini M., "The Earliest Evidence of the Hurrians before the Formation of the Reign of Mitanni", extrait de : Buccellati G. and Kelly-Buccellati M., Mozan III. Urkesh and the Hurrians, Malibu, 1998, p. 99 -115
André-Salvini B. (notice), La fundacio de la ciutad : Mesopotamia, Grecia, Roma, catalogue d'exposition : Barcelona : Centre de cultura contemporania, 6 avril - 23 juillet 2000, Barcelona : Centre de cultura contemporania, 2000, p. 69 -71, n 9
André-Salnini B. (notice), Art of the first cities : the third millenium B.C. from the mediterranean to the Indus, catalogue d'exposition : New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 8 mai - 17 août 2003, New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003, p. 222-223, n 153 a, b

Technical description

  • Document de Fondation hourrite

    Fin du IIIe millénaire avant J.-C.

    Bassin du Habur

  • Cuivre et calcaire

    The Urkish Lion: H. 12.2 cm; W. 8.5 cmThe Tablets: copper tablet: W. 8.5 cm; limestone tablet: W. 10 cm

  • Don de la Société des Amis du Louvre, 1948 , 1948

    AO 19937, AO 19938

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Room 302
    Vitrine 1 : La Syrie intérieure des origines à la fin de l'âge du bronze

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