It’s time again for another “Exploring Open Collections” installment! This week we’re taking a look at one of our biggest collections (and one that’s featured) B.C. Historical Books. Previous to the Open Collections launch B.C. Historical Books was known as B.C. Bibliography and was a standalone site associated with Digital Initiatives – now it’s been incorporated into Open Collections for even more amazing search capabilities!

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Click on me to see more!

Combining the tools of a bibliography (published work description) with the tools of a digital library, the we are offering a searchable database of the Bibliography of BC by digitizing as many works from this traditional print bibliography (and some additional materials) on the area.

If that’s a bit of a mouthful for you, think of it as an astonishing assembly of resources on British Columbia.

The collection is made up of everything, from the obvious (almanacs, guide books, government reports) to the surprising (albums, printings, diaries) to the downright bizarre (poems, scores!). But that’s not the most amazing part… keep reading to find out the best-kept secret of B.C. Historical Books!

To get into the collection there’s a lot of fun ways to explore including looking at the cornerstone works. All of which are clickable on the collections’ main page.

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The 1,158 items began with three cornerstone works: Volume I-Laying the Foundations 1849-1899 Volume II-Navigations, Traffiques & Discoveries 1774-1848. Volume III-Years of Growth 1900-1950.

Or you can click through a visual representation of the collection!

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Browse through the item covers by genre on the interactive nifty timeline.

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Use it too see maps or or books of poetry

Plenty to see remains even if you stick straight to the books. Take the Klondyke souvenir a photograph book published in 1901. It has amazing high quality scans for you zoom in, check out, and even download if the fancy should strike you.

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But that’s not the best-kept secret about B.C. Books, not by a long shot.

The best secret is that you can search the text entire collection- all 1,158+ items- in the main search bar. Any text you see has been input into the system and can be accessed at a moments’ notice. If that doesn’t define the information age, I don’t know what does.

What is your favorite thing in B.C. books? Let us know in the comments!

Ready for part 2 of our postings on the cuneiform tablets in the Ancient Artefacts Collection? In the previous post we learned a little about the cuneiform tablets and provenance in general – with a cliff hanger of course.

What IS the provenance of Rare Books & Special Collections cuneiform tablets?

This post we will come closer to finding out. Lisa Cooper, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Art & Archaeology in UBC’s Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies Department, was able to help us start to unravel the mystery.

Arriving at UBC at some time in the early 20th century CE the tablets were accompanied by a typed note intended to provide information about their provenance. However the note was full of, at best, misinformation and at worst? Lies.

 

Looks official doesn’t it? Much of the information here is untrue!

 

The note endowed the tablets with significant cachet – including stating that the tablets had originated in the famed city of Ur (mentioned in the Bible, among other things). It also states that the tablets been excavated through a University dig between 1905 and 1912 by Yale University under the direction of Professor A.T. Clay. Sounds pretty important doesn’t it? Too bad not one part of it is true.

Another note full of misinformation accompanying the tablets.

We know today the first excavation of Ur wasn’t until 1922 – by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania. The professor in question, A.T. Clay, didn’t even visit Mesopotamia until 1920, about 10 years after the dates indicated in the notes.

So where did these tablets come from? How were they found? Who brought them to UBC?

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Where did this guy come from? Who found him? Will we ever know for sure?

We still don’t know all the answers to these questions, but we are starting to learn more. Unprovenaced items like the RBSC tablets can end up being the subject of much discussion. The debate centers around the morality and legality of the acquisition of these items by western institutions. For more information on that debate, check out Professor Lisa Cooper’s UBC news piece on antiquities from the Middle East.

The little we can conjecture about the RBSC tablets is that they were likely purchased in an antiquities market in the early 20th century.

Someone may have translated the tablets, seen the Third dynasty of Ur marking the era, and mistakenly believed the tablets were from Ur. The mistranslation could have been because the tablets were originally translated 50-60 years ago – before we have the knowledge of the past we do now.

Put that misinformation together with someone looking to make a profit, or even just guessing at a possible provenace, and volia! You have items originating out of thin air.

Due to contextual information in the tablet writing, we now believe that three tablets originate from the Umma region and two come from Puzrish-Dagan region. As well, recent scholarship dates the reigns of Shulgi and Amar-Sin – the two kings mentioned in the tablets – to almost 300 years earlier than originally thought.

Tomorrow, who knows? With the provenance of many ancient items, including ones such as these, there is always more to uncover.

Made in partnership with Rare Books and Special Collections and the From Stone to Screen project, the cuneiform tablets are among the most ancient objects Digital Initiatives has ever digitized! The tablets are part of Ancient Artefacts collection, which also includes Egyptian papyri.

Receipt by a temple official of “one sheep and one lamb on the thirteenth day of the month” for rent- Can you believe those prices?! Puts Vancouver to shame.

Considered today to be one of the most significant cultural contributions by the Sumerians, cuneiform is one of the earliest known systems of writing. The RBSC tablets were created during the 20th century BCE, between 2029 – 1973 BCE, over 4,000 years ago. Cuneiform translates to “wedge shaped” from the Latin word “cuneus” meaning wedge and refers to the shape of the writing. The marks were often made with a reed. It replaced the pictorial style of writing from the 31st century BCE to about the 1st century CE.

 

Another rental receipt – Rock receipts are starting to seem very handy- what if you get audited 1,000 years from now?

By the 2nd century CE the script had been replaced with Phoenician alphabet, and all knowledge of how to read the script was lost until the 19th century.

Most of the found cuneiform tablets have not been translated, as there are few qualified individuals in the world. Luckily here at UBC, we have qualified individuals willing to translate the ancient script. Today we can say they were written in Sumerian. Where they came from? That’s another story.

Determining the provenance is not easy and is sometimes impossible.

Provenance is a tricky thing especially when the items in question are thousands of years old. It’s made even trickier by people lying in order to give an object a history it doesn’t have, or even those with good intentions but inadequate or misleading information.

Which is exactly what happened with the history of these tablets. Want to know the misinformation, lies, and mysterious history behind these tablets? Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

 

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