When the merchants from Ashur in Assyria came to Anatolia early in the second millennium B.C., they brought with them the writing techniques invented in Mesopotamia: the script known as cuneiform ("wedge-shaped") and the medium of clay tablets encased in clay envelopes. The merchants also brought their art in the form of cylinder seals, which marked the traded goods, storerooms, and written records. The Assyrian merchants wrote in the Assyrian language, but tablets and cuneiform were later adopted in Anatolia by the Hittites, who wrote their own language with the imported techniques.
The records of the Assyrian trading colonies, of which Kültepe (ancient Karum Kanesh) was one, provide detailed information about one part of a lively international trade in the early second millennium B.C. that extended from Egypt to the Caucasus to Central Asia and the Indus Valley. The Assyrian tablets describe the exchange of tin and textiles from Ashur for silver from Anatolia as well as detail the specifics of contracts and lawsuits, and about bandits and other misfortunes.
The tablet contained in this case (MMA 66.245.5a) is the record of court testimony describing an ownership dispute of a business firm. The case is sealed with two different cylinder seals rolled across the front and back of the envelope in five parallel rows separated by plain clay. Both seals illustrate presentation scenes in which worshippers approach a larger seated figure holding a cup. The obverse, shown here, is also inscribed in cuneiform.