Comparative Guts

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(Only known) drawing of the forth stomach of a sheep (abomasum) on the reverse of a clay tablet containing extispicy omens regarding the stomach of sacrificial sheep (kukkudru). Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin (Museum Number: VAT 13141 - Bab 36607), reverse.

Photo: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Vorderasiatisches Museum / Olaf M. Teßmer

The reverse of VAT 13141, a clay tablet dated to Kassite Babylonia (16th-12thc. BCE) and containing an excerpt of omens concerned with the kukkudru, the abomasum (or real stomach) of a sheep, shows a drawing that was initially misinterpreted as the picture of a bird, or a fish. This drawing was recently recognized to instead depict a sheep’s abomasum. As such, it is probably the only illustration of a whole sheep’s stomach found in Mesopotamia to this date, and is undoubtedly one of the earliest drawings of an animal’s innards.

Ancient Babylonian diviners (or “examiners”) were quite familiar with several other parts of the sheep’s stomach, beside the kukkudru, and each part was defined by a very specific anatomical term. The same cannot be said for human internal anatomy, which remains undocumented in the repertoire of images we have from Mesopotamia and at the same time was described in much less detailed and precise terms.