History begins at Sumer.
The origins of civilization are to be found in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the oldest cultures of Western antiquity. A collection of black stone seals and Sumerian and Akkadian clay tablets inscribed with pictograms and cuneiform characters illustrate Martin Bodmer’s different fields of interest: literature, religion (Gilgamesh), history and society (peace treaties between two kingdoms of southern Iraq, city life and trade in Urak, Assyrian bas-reliefs from Nineveh), and sciences (a recipe for perfume).
The first section of the exhibition is devoted to Egypt. On display are hieroglyphic and hieratic texts, archaeological objects with texts inscribed and works of art:
- religious ceremonies (tomb lintel)
- myths and divinities (statuettes of goddesses)
- funeral rites (papyri of Books of the Dead; canopic jar heads; statue of a couple making an offering; Fayum portrait)
- royal symbols and social structures (the cobra goddess of Lower Egypt; royal servants: scribes, judges)
- literature and education (ostracon of the Satire of Trades; schoolboy’s writing tablet from the Hellenistic period).