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It begins: "When kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu [the oldest of the Sumerian cities]." Then come the names and regnal years of each of the kings who ruled from that city.

In the early 1900s, the colorful, cranky German-American scholar Hermann Hilprecht examined a 4,000 year old cuneiform tablet that had been excavated at the site of ancient Nippur.

(Thorkild Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List, 1939, pp. When kingship was lowered from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug.

Because of this, kingship is seen as an institution that is shared by different cities. It is written with the sign BAL which in later New Assyrian orthography is . The sign developed from a pictogram of the shuttle of a loom (the rotating part, to weave tissue, together with the determinative for wood it still means shuttle of a loom) and was used for words meaning to rotate, turn and thus also government.

The lists are copied by generations of scribes and standardized in this process until in the Old Babylonian time a canonical version exists extended with kings up to that time period.

The Lists are first studied by Jacobsen and published in 1939.

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