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Document Details :
Title: Stars and stripes in Ancient Mesopotamia
Subtitle: A note on two decorative elements of Babylonian doors
Author(s): STEINKELLER, Piotr
Journal: Iranica Antiqua
Volume: 37 Date: 2002
As is well known, research into the material culture of ancient Mesopotamia is faced with a frustrating paradox. On the one hand, the modern scholar is uniquely blessed with the possession of native written sources of unparalleled number, scope and detail. Apart from the thousands upon thousands of administrative texts that talk directly about realia, he also has at his disposal a veritable encyclopedia of material culture, the lexical series ur5-ra = ḫubullu, whose more than 9,700 entries list practically every object, substance, animal, and plant known to the Sumerians and Babylonians. But, due to the rarity of the representations of realia in art and the poverty of the surviving archaeological record in general (especially as far as the remains of organic materials are concerned), he usually is without a physical frame of reference for the terms he finds in texts. In other words, he has plenty of signifiers, but few signified to work with. This brief note presents two happy cases of an ancient signifier finding its signified, thanks in large part to the physical survival of the latter.