Drawing by Inez Bernhardt, from The Tablets of Sumer by S. N. Kramer/Photograph courtesy University of Pennsylvania Museum

The most ancient city map in the world shows the walls, canals and temples of Nippur, a city that for centuries was the cultural center of Sumerian civilization. Scholars who compared archaeological data with measurements on the tablet were amazed to discover that this map, which dates to about 1500 B.C., is drawn to scale.

The drawing shows many details of this map: the name of the city (1), the Euphrates River (2), temples (3), canals (4), the Erech (Uruk) gate (5), the Ur gate (6). Ur is given as Abraham’s birthplace in the Bible. Whether the Ur gate on this map refers to the same Ur is a matter of scholarly debate. The Ur named in the map is about 100 miles southeast of Nippur, which in turn is about 100 miles south of Baghdad. Erech is also mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 10:10); it is southeast of Ur. Assuming that these gates led directly toward their namesakes, archaeologists conclude that the top of this map was oriented approximately 45° west of north.

The legends on this map are written in Sumerian and Akkadian.