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ArchaeologyTablet has never been put on display; that may change now

Unhappy spirit: Oldest ever drawing of ghost found on ancient Babylonian tablet

Revisiting a ‘spectacular’ 3,500-year-old clay tablet in its vaults, a researcher at the British Museum spots a ‘miserable’ phantom being led into the afterlife by a lover

A spirit is seen being led to the afterlife by a lover on a Babylonian clay tablet. The white line tracing is by Chris Cobb for Irving Finkel's book, The First Ghosts: Most Ancient of Legacies. (Screenshot/ Youtube/Archaeology Now)
A spirit is seen being led to the afterlife by a lover on a Babylonian clay tablet. The white line tracing is by Chris Cobb for Irving Finkel's book, The First Ghosts: Most Ancient of Legacies. (Screenshot/ Youtube/Archaeology Now)

The world’s oldest known drawing of a ghost is believed to have been discovered on an ancient Babylonian clay tablet at the British Museum.

According to a report Saturday in the Guardian, the bearded spirit being led into the afterlife by a “lover” on the 3,500-year-old clay tablet was identified by researchers after it had sitting in the museum’s vaults since the 19th century.

The “absolutely spectacular object” had been overlooked until recently, Dr. Irving Finkel, curator of the Middle Eastern department at the British Museum, told the news site.

According to Finkel, it was part of an exorcist’s guide to getting rid of unwanted ghosts, as the back of the tablet bears extensive instructions for dealing with such a situation.

The front of the broken tablet shows the male ghost walking with his arms outstretched, and with his wrists tied by a rope held by a female.

“It’s obviously a male ghost and he’s miserable. 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,” Finkel said.

The accompanying text on the back details the ritual that would dispatch the unwanted ghost to the underworld, ending with a warning: “Do not look behind you!”

“That somebody thinks they can get rid of a ghost by giving them a bedfellow is quite comic,” he told the Guardian.

Finkel said he believes the tablet was part of a “library of magic in the house of an exorcist or in a temple.”

The tablet has never been publicly displayed by the museum, but Finkel told the Guardian he hopes to change that. “I want people to know about this culture. Egypt always wins in Hollywood. If the Babylonian underworld is anything like it was described, then they’re all still there. So just remember that,” he said.

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