School Exhibit Graphic

A Special Exhibition at the ISAC Museum

September 21, 2023 – March 24, 2024

In 1740 BCE in Babylonia, students went back to school after a holiday. They gathered from across the neighborhood in a modest house in Nippur, a Mesopotamian city in present-day southern Iraq. Young pupils learned to read and write the complex cuneiform script, while more advanced students studied topics like mathematics, religion, and law. The goal of their education was to gain the knowledge, skills, and character traits necessary to become successful scribes. These skilled professionals worked for the king, temples, and local authorities and were responsible for writing most of the documents that survive from Babylonia. 

In 1951–52, the Joint Expedition to Nippur of ISAC and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology discovered the remains of this school. Within its mudbrick walls they excavated texts fundamental to our understanding of Babylonian education and culture, as well as objects that reflect school life. We invite you to enter the Edubba’a, a scribal school, in Nippur: explore the school house and its objects, read the school materials, sit down on a school bench, and listen to the disputes of Babylonian students as you follow them on their journey to become scribes, complete with their struggles and successes.

This special exhibition has been curated by Susanne Paulus, with Marta Díaz Herrera, Jane Gordon, Danielle Levy, Madeline Ouimet, Colton G. Siegmund, and Ryan D. Winters and with support from Pallas Eible Hargro, C Mikhail, Carter Rote, and Sarah M. Ware. It reunites objects excavated at Nippur now held in the ISAC Tablet Collection, the ISAC Museum, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Tablets in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, are represented by plaster casts. 


    What is: a house, set upon a foundation like the heavens, a house, covered with a cloth like a treasure chest, a house, set upon a pedestal like a duck shaped weight; one enters into it blind and leaves it seeing? 

    The answer: the scribal school.

    A Sumerian Riddle

    Clay Plaque Tablet Clay Plaque

    Press Release

    Exhibition Materials

    Exhibition Programming

    Visit the Exhibition

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    Media Coverage

    This exhibition is supported by Deborah and Philip Halpern, Malda and Aldis Liventals, Catherine A. Novotny, and ISAC Museum Visitors and ISAC Members.
    This exhibition has been organized by the ISAC Museum: Susan Allison, Rob Bain, Denise Browning, Laura D’Alessandro, Anne Flannery, Marc Maillot, Helen McDonald, Kiersten Neumann, Josh Tulisiak, and Alison Whyte, with contributions by Erin Bliss and Judy Radovsky.

    Nippur Excavation