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The first database and cuneiform

Posted by: | September 17, 2009 | No Comment |

The first database, in recorded history, or what we think of as a database, according to Mitchell Stevens, author of  “The History of News,” was written on clay tablets (as seen below) in cuneiform (symbolic script) around 2500 B.C. in Mesopotamia (present day Syria).  Recorded on these tablets were state documents, property ownership listings, agricultural data, school manuscripts, and literary accomplishments.


At first glance, one would wonder why these clay tablets were so important in the history of news and journalism.  After all, these clay tablets only contain legal and political records. Why should anyone care about these clay tablets since they were written so long ago?  The truth is a lot of people will not care about them, but students of journalism and history should care about them because legal and political records were not the only things recorded on these tablets, but in fact, poltical corruption, according to Stevens, was mentioned in clay tablets (similar to the first database that was written in 2500 B.C.) were written during the 14th or 15th century B.C.    

Yes, that is right, folks, political corruption was mentioned thousands of years ago and it was thanks to someone recording the details of the accusations against the political official on these tablets that we have this story.  According to Stevens, the political official who was caught up in corruption and scandal was the mayor of a small town in Mesopotamia called Nuzu.  The mayor was named Kushiharbe and the crimes he was accused of engaging in, centered around, thievery and extortion.   One of the testimonials at Kushiharbe’s trial that Stevens provides in his book that came from the clay tablets against him was from a man named Ninuari who stated that, “Kushiharbe robbed me from my own storehouse.  Two shekels of gold, one ox, and two rams I paid to Kushiharbe; then he restored to me (what he had stolen).”    

Stevens also mentions that Kushiharbe got hit with another accusation on top of the accusations already against him; he was accused of having a relations with a married woman named Humerelli.  Testimony accusing Kushiharbe of sleeping with the married woman and testimony defending him were also found in the clay tabletsStevens notes that the person who recorded the testimonies accusing and defending Kushiharbe did it to provide an objective view of the case.

The fact that a poltical corruption case, which happened thousands of years ago, was recorded on clay tablets in cuneiform is pretty telling, especially since political corruption, is sadly commonplace in American politics (remember Governor Rod Blagojevich?).  In the end, some people might not ever care about the first database or others like it, but people should remember that without record keeping, first being used on clay tablets, it would be difficult to obtain information for research or reporting.

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