The oldest representation of a ghost was found on a Babylonian tablet dating from 1500 BC
These are just two silhouettes, one male and the other female, traced in the clay of a Babylonian tablet kept in the reserves of the British Museum since the 19th century. Until then no one had paid particular attention to it because the figures only appear under grazing light. Yet it is a fascinating story of love, death and magic that hides behind this almost invisible drawing.
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The illustration erased by time is part of an exorcism manual detailing a very original method to get rid of a too invasive ghost. As indicated by the text written in cuneiform writing on the back of the tablet, the bearded man with bound hands pulled by a woman is the spirit of a deceased in desperate search of a companion in the afterlife .
In the photo below, the outlines of the silhouettes have been highlighted in white.
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Figures of Babylon: oldest drawing of a ghost found in British Museum vault https://t.co/ljKie4dlTF
– Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus) October 17, 2021
The ritual explains how to get rid of a ghost who « has taken hold of a person, is pursuing him and cannot be released ». For this, it is necessary to make the figurines of a man and a woman before equipping them with the greatest care: “You dress the man in his everyday clothes and give him travel provisions. You clothe the woman in four red cloths and a purple garment. You give him a gold brooch. You put a bed, chair, rug and towels for him. You give him a comb and a bottle. «
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This done, the rite continues: “At sunrise, facing the sun, you make the ritual arrangements and set up two carnelian beer containers. You set up a special container and place a juniper censer containing juniper branches. You draw the curtain like that of the diviner. You place the miniatures with their equipment … and pronounce the name of Shamash [le dieu du soleil et juge des enfers la nuit]. » The text ends with this warning: « Do not look behind you! »
For Irving Finkel, one of the greatest specialists in cuneiform writings, this tablet constitutes a unique discovery, he confides to the Guardian: “A priori, it would not occur to anyone to give it a second look. But when you examine it under a lamp, these characters from the dawn of time jump out at you. It is an object which could appear in the Guinness Book of Records: how to imagine a drawing of a ghost older than this one? «
And above all, he continues, this story is striking with the permanence of the themes and the human concerns that we find there: “We cannot help imagining what happened before in the form of vaudeville:“ Oh my God, Uncle Henry is back. » Everyone knew the best way to get rid of this old bugger was to marry him. It is not fancy to read this in this tablet. It is almost explicit as the writing is of quality and the design impeccable. That someone thought they could get rid of a ghost by giving it a bedmate is quite funny. ”