Recently, we went to see the exhibition “A History of the World in 100 Objects” at the Western Australian Museum – Perth. The objects come from the British Museum and span about two million years of human history, from stone hand tools to solar cells.
Object number 15 in the exhibition is a fragment of a clay tablet from 700 to 600 BCE, inscribed with a Babylonian account of a great flood. This tablet is the single most famous cuneiform text and caused a sensation when its content was first read in the 19th century because of its similarity to the Flood story in the Book of Genesis.
George Smith, the translator of the tablet, was a self-taught archaeologist who became a celebrity when he read his translation to a meeting of historians in 1872. He made three trips to the ruins of Nineveh near Mosul in northern Iraq to look for further fragments of tablets. Sadly he died of dysentery on his third trip in 1876.