A researcher exploring the recesses of British Museum objects has recently encountered a ghost - or rather, observed the oldest image of a ghost in the world, engraved on a 3.500-year-old Babylonian clay tablet.
He is the figure of a tall, emaciated spirit with his hands tied, as the accompanying text describes an ancient exorcism ritual that was intended to drive away the ghost.
Irving Finkel, curator of the Middle East section of the British Museum and specialist in cuneiform, the angular writing system of ancient Babylonian civilization, recently translated the text of the ritual, which has remained unreadable and neglected since the British Museum. in 1800.
At that time, museums across Europe were in a hurry to store Babylonian artifacts, and curators often paid locals to loot clay and stone slabs, along with other objects, from archeological sites in present-day Iraq.
Most of these items arrived with little or no information about their environment and ended up in a warehouse.
The ghost clay tablet, for example, had never appeared in public and no one had translated its text. Of course no one had noticed the hidden image of the ghost. This side looks empty until you see it under a light at the right angle. Then the image of the ghost seems to spring to the viewer.
The illustration shows a woman in a long dress leading the ghost to the afterlife. The ritual described on the other side of the plaque states that it was intended to ward off the ghost, alleviating the loneliness that kept it tied to the world of the living.
"You can imagine a tall, thin, bearded ghost circling the house, causing people anxiety," Finkel told the Guardian's Dalya Alberge.
Finkel hopes to officially present the clay slab in the future. He states that the exorcism ritual reveals how little human nature has changed in the last 3.000 years. It also sheds some light on an ancient civilization we were not aware of.
"I want people to know this culture. "Egypt always beats Hollywood," he told Alberge. "If the Babylonian underworld is something as described, then everyone is still there."
Arstechnica.com gives one summary of the ritual, in case you need to chase some lonely ghost.