Have you ever sat down at the end of a long day and written in your diary? Or maybe you just updated your Facebook status and shared what you ate for dinner or how you were feeling after a difficult day at school. What if ancient people from thousands of years ago had done the same thing? We could learn so much about the way people lived, how they felt, what they did. These are the kinds of things archaeologists get to study when they are lucky enough to find written records and testimonies from ancient times.
Recently, 110 palm-sized cuneiform tablets from over 2,500 years ago have allowed an amazing glimpse into the lives of the Judeans exiled to Babylonia in 600 BCE. Cuneiform tablets are made when a “carefully cut writing implement known as a stylus is pressed into soft clay to produce wedge-like impressions that represent word-signs (pictographs) and, later, phonograms or `word-concepts’” These particular tablets, which are currently on display at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, are written in Akkadian script. The writing is tiny and it fills the tablets, offering a wealth of information about how the Judeans lived during and after King Nebuchadnezzar forced them out of their homeland.
The Judeans weren’t Nebuchadnezzar’s slaves; instead, they were allowed to become merchants and run businesses. The tablets shed light on the ways in which the exiled Judeans helped to revitalize the Babylonian economy and spread Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Amazingly, although the tablets provide many mundane but important facts about financial life and other topics, they also share the details of one entire family over four generations. We know the father’s name, Samak-Yama, as well as his son’s name, his grandson’s name and the names of all five of his great-grandsons.
These are the kinds of incredible things we can learn about if we protect our cultural heritage and study it closely. We can make connections with families that lived thousands of years ago.
Learn More About the Ancient Exiled Judeans
Click on the links below to read more about the Judeans who were forced to leave their homes and settle in a new place.
- How would you feel if you were forced to leave your home? What would you remember most about the city you live in, your house, your school, your friends?
- If you could only bring one backpack full of your things, what would you pack?
Create a Modern Cuneiform Tablet
*First, get your parents’ permission and ask them to help you with your art project.
- A piece of clay (Play-dough works too!)
- Utensils such as a stick, a butter knife or a reed
- Make up symbols that describe your life. Perhaps you’ll make a symbol for your house, your school, your pet, your family, the sports you play, music or other things that make up your everyday life.
- Cut the clay into thin squares (about ½ inch thick) and carve your symbols into the clay.
- Allow the clay to dry for several hours.
- See if your family can guess what each of your tablets is describing!
Make a Time Capsule
This is a great activity that you can do with your whole family. Parents and kids get involved to make a piece of history. MyKidsAdventures.com offers step-by-step instructions for making the perfect time capsule. Gather your supplies and get started! It’s the perfect activity for a snow day.
 Daniel K., E. (n.d.). Ancient tablets reveal daily life of exiled Jews in Babylon 2,500 years ago. Retrieved February 16, 2015.