Talk:Ancient Mesopotamian units of measurement

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Please see ancient weights and measures for previous edit history and discussions wrt this article.

/Archive 1


This article is not in Wiki format and is difficult to read. Xaa 23:39, 5 August 2005 (UTC)

wikified cleaned up and removed tags some red links will require new articles Rktect 13:46, September 11, 2005 (UTC)
I've reorganised the categories to make the page more readable. Check to see whether it's been done correctly. Jimp 21Sep05

Cleanup Agenda[edit]

summary of edits:

  • added references section called "notes"
  • added systems of measurement template

I propose the following cleanup agenda:

  • divide the tables of units by city and time period with explanatory introduction
  • specify whether the unit is natural or trimmed for sexigesimal computation
  • specify whether the unit is based on barley, wheat, oil, or water
  • show units as ratio of basic unit (ex. mm:m is 1000:1)
  • include a reference for each table

--Gurdjieff (talk) 22:03, 23 July 2008 (UTC)

Hi everyone, I went ahead with a first pass at the cleanup. I based the layout on other systems of measurement pages. The page numbers listed as xxxx are forthcoming.--Gurdjieff (talk) 21:30, 29 July 2008 (UTC)

Hi again, I finished the changes everything is fully cited now and the article has been wikified--Gurdjieff (talk) 17:32, 31 July 2008 (UTC)

Hi again, added missing info--Gurdjieff (talk) 05:50, 14 August 2008 (UTC)

FYI transliteration conventions[edit]

The convention for sumerian and akkdian appearing in the same text is
Sumerian = lower case with hyphens between syllables and subscript numbers for homonyms example: gu4-sag11
Sumerian = all caps with period between signs and determinatives in superscript examples: INI.TUR and DINGIRAN
Akkdian lower case italics example= buru

using these conventions will go a long way toward clearing the confusion on this page —Preceding unsigned comment added by Gurdjieff (talkcontribs) 03:33, 11 August 2008 (UTC)


I know nothing about this subject, so I don't make this change myself, but it looks like there is a typo. In the tables there is the term "nindan" (which appears in many non-WP sources) on the same row as "rod". Just below is another table which has "rod" as the first row and is identical to the other table except that "nindan" is spelled "nidan". JamesPaulWhite (talk) 20:50, 28 November 2010 (UTC)

You can find the answers to your questions in the history of the article (talk) 11:21, 26 February 2015 (UTC)

'Classical' SHE[edit]

The value of SHE in the table of lengths appeared to be too small by a factor 10. Now this may be due to an error in the source -- I don't know, I don't have access to that source. I do have access to Nemet-Nejat's 'Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia', which quotes a value of ca. 0.28 cm for SHE, much closer to the value of 1/180 of a KUSH. So I've gone ahead and changed it in the table. Modallist (talk) 16:26, 9 July 2011 (UTC)

Some things I feel need to be changed.[edit]

In the first paragraph the article mentions the tradition of counting tokens. It would be a good idea to include a photo of such tokens. The claim is made that they include metrological as well as mathematical functions. How so? I am aware that the tokens are models for the cuneiform symbols used when the indicated quantities are to be written, but this is the first I've read that they were ever used to measure anything.

The "Sumerian Metrology" svg graphic is unreadable at the scale of the main page, or even the page dedicated to the graphic. It needs to be greatly simplified and/or broken up into separate graphics that can be read at the scale of the main article. Some of the information is critical to understanding their year and day, which is quite misleading in the body of the article.

I would like to see inline citations for the statements that "Akkado-Sumerian metrology has been reconstructed by applying statistical methods..." and "archeologists have found a relationship between the Sumerian and SI metrologies." Please don't consider numerical speculations such as those of Stecchini and Kreidik to be either "statistical methods" or "archeological." Valid statistical methods would include using Fourier transforms to determine recurring frequencies in the various measurements of well-preserved portions of ancient monuments. Archeological investigations are those that proceed onsite to uncover ancient monuments and document findings in situ. Neither one are armchair exercises in pulling harmonizing numbers from a hat, claiming the "ideal" from the hat to be equivalent to the actual measure, and concluding thereby to have established impossible "relationships" between ancient units and the SI system.

Any additional information on the standards kept by "Each city, kingdom and trade guild" until the formation of the empire would be most useful, if such is to be had. It is rarely the case that a central government (even a fiat ruler such as Sargon the Great) can successfully impose new measurement standards on a mercantile body politic that is wedded to prior standards. Said rulers are much more likely to be successful when they sanction current practice and extend it. Note that modern holdouts to the SI system are mercantile interests.

What is the Nanse Hymn, and how can a hymn be used to readopt metrological standards as claimed? What exactly is meant by "plethora of multiple standards" (note the redundancy) and "common groupings"? Perhaps an example would clarify at this point.

What is the relevance of the Statue B of Gudea? It would appear from looking at it that it has a scroll with writing in its lap. I'm guessing that the writing is some metrologically significant edict, but that really needs to be stated in full in the article.

Having torn apart the opening paragraph so thoroughly, I think I better stop for now. However, that does not mean that the rest of the article needs no improvement. To the contrary, I have just as many issues with the rest of it. Dlw20070716 (talk) 23:34, 4 August 2011 (UTC) 19:11, 23 September 2013 (UTC)


OK, I can see that this is a page that is still finding its way, so probably no-one wants any more criticism or stuff to fix. However, the values in the table of lengths need attention. It currently reads:

Basic Length
Unit Ratio Ideal Value Sumerian Akkadian Cuneiform
grain 1/180 0.0025m še uţţatu 𒊺
finger 1/30 0.015m šu-si ubānu 𒋗𒋛
foot 2/3 0.333m šu-du3-a šīzu 𒋗𒆕𒀀
cubit 1 0.497m kuš3 ammatu 𒌑
step 2 1.000m ĝiri3 šēpu 𒈨𒊑
reed 6 3.000m gi qanû 𒄀
rod 12 6.000m nindan nindanu 𒃻
cord 120 60.000m eše2 aslu 𒂠

These equivalent metric values for the various units cannot be obtained by calculating them from the value of 0.497 m for the cubit. I don't have access to the source, but either the cubit value is wrong, or it should read:

Basic Length
Unit Ratio Metric Equivalent
grain 1/180 0.0028 m
finger 1/30 0.017 m
foot 2/3 0.331 m
cubit 1 0.497 m
step 2 0.994 m or 1 m
reed 6 2.982 m or 3 m
rod 12 5.964 m or 6 m
cord 120 59.640 m or 60 m

Where did all the detail higher up this page of variation in the values of the various measurements come from? It would be good to incorporate that in the article. Justlettersandnumbers (talk) 23:24, 27 August 2011 (UTC)


1. The all of the counting tokens issue is in the link to an article with that title.

2. It is okay to include Stenecchii, ect. because it is Verifiable and Notable source. There are a lot of articles on the topic with a lot of arguments and different metric equivelents. The method I can using is to set up tables with: CUNIFROM + SIGN NAME + SUMERIAN + AKKAIDIAN + Proportional multiplier + a single metric value. then wikipedians can battle it out on what those metric values "ought" to be

3. On the note of metric values, it is possible to list ALL the different speculations in a single collaspible table that won't interfere with the flow of the article for a general audience. Likewise "Any additional information on the standards kept by "Each city, kingdom and trade guild" " should also be in a collasped table because it would be overwhelming for a general auidence but useful for expert research.

4. The Hymn on Nanshe is also called Edict of Nanshe in some lit. it details a standardization of measurements. The statue of Gudea-B was a metrological standard, along withe cubit of Nippur, one of the few artifacts of metrology. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Gurdjieff (talkcontribs) 07:19, 28 September 2013

Counting tokens as metrology are not mentioned in the linked article on the History of writing and I've removed them. Stecchini, spelled in two different ways in the article, is 'verifiable' in the sense we can read him, but being notable doesn't mean something is a suitable source. We talk about reliablity - see WP:RS and WP:VERIFY, and he isn't a reliable source by our criteria. I've removed him as a source and replace him with fact tags, but anything that he was used as a source for needs a clearly reliable source and will be removed if one isn't found. By the way, Butler and Knight fail WP:RS as well. Dougweller (talk) 13:03, 28 September 2013 (UTC)

Ideal value?[edit]

What exactly are the "Ideal value" columns meant to show? We aren't claiming that the Sumerian step happened to be exactly 1.000m long, are we? That would seem an unbelievable coincidence, and I don't see that our source says so. If nobody knows what that column's purpose is, I'll remove it or turn it into one for an "approximate value" that does not imply we're giving exact figures. Huon (talk) 04:49, 1 January 2016 (UTC)

Just remove it. The editor who added it is gone[1]. The comment here by Harte may or may not be illuminating (Harte's a skeptic, by the way). But as we can neither source nor explain it I agree it doesn't belong. I also am unhappy with using 'geodetic' with no explanation. Doug Weller talk 13:40, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
User:Huon Not everything in those tables is in the 2 sources. The bowl isn't and the only source I can find for it gives a different volume.[2] The bushel seems ok.[3] Doug Weller talk 14:38, 1 January 2016 (UTC)

Need to check for fringe[edit]

I was wondering about the bit about 2 Sumerian seconds being 1 SI second and the mysterious reference Butler. Turns out it's the same editor[4] and Butler is Alan Butler[5] Sheer fringe.[6]

I also see we use Livio Catullo Stecchini as a source, something to be avoided. Doug Weller talk 14:10, 1 January 2016 (UTC)

Time section and U4 System U.[edit]

It certainly is not a summary of Babylonian calendar as WP:Summary says it should be. However, U4 System U, meaningless as it will be to the reader, is real. See [7] and [8]. It isn't in the main article. Doug Weller talk 14:13, 1 January 2016 (UTC)

Proof for length of cubit and others?[edit]

User:Roland_Boucher has raised an issue on their talk page and IRC about how the length of a Sumerian cubit is derived. They say not enough information is provided in the article about how this is derived (the proofs), and the references given are difficult to verify. The user says that they have been unable to find the proof and the method used to derive these in the article (well, the article's references, to be exact). The user says that the length of the cubit appears correct, but 'the streatch of the seed cubit to exactly 1.000 meters seems a stretch. 999 mm would seem to match the measurements made in Babylon at 35 deg north latitude'. --BurritoBazooka (talk) 18:22, 1 January 2016 (UTC)

The values which are the subject of this request were removed today. --BurritoBazooka (talk) 18:31, 1 January 2016 (UTC)
Yes, I have removed those lengths per the discussion above. In particular, according to our cubit article the Sumerian cubit was 518.6 mm, and it cites a reliable source for that statement, based on archaeological evidence. Some more recent sources would help. Huon (talk) 19:28, 1 January 2016 (UTC)