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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Mesopotamian ghostbusting with Irving Finkel

The drawing on the tablet depicts a bearded male ghost being led to the underworld by a younger woman, possibly a lover. It belongs to a cuneiform guide to exorcising, which has never been publicly displayed, and half of which is missing.

“It’s obviously a male ghost and he’s miserable,” Finkel said. “You can imagine a tall, thin, bearded ghost hanging about the house did get on people’s nerves. The final analysis was that what this ghost needed was a lover.”


A 3,500-year-old Babylonian tablet that had been kept in the vaults of London’s British Museum since the 19th-century appears to include the earliest depiction of a ghost, according to a forthcoming book.

The discovery is featured in The First Ghosts: Most Ancient of Legacies, authored by Irving Finkel, a curator of the British Museum’s Middle Eastern department. According to Finkel, the long-overlooked clay tablet features an obscured drawing that can only be seen from above, under bright light.

“You’d probably never give it a second thought because the area where the drawings are looks like it’s got no writing,” he told the Guardian in an interview. “But when you examine it and hold it under a lamp, those figures leap out at you across time in the most startling way.”

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