Length: 14.600 cm
Width: 14.600 cm
Room 56: Mesopotamia
Clay model of a sheep's liver
Old Babylonian, about 1900-1600 BC
Probably from Sippar, southern Iraq
The Babylonians believed that the world was controlled by gods and that they could give indications of coming events. One of the most widespread means of prediction was the liver omen, in which a sheep was killed and its liver and lungs examined by a specialist priest, the baru. He would ask a particular question and the answer would be supplied by the interpretation of individual markings or overall shape of the liver and lungs. One could then take steps to avoid danger. On this model each box describes the implications of a blemish appearing at this position. Earlier model livers are known from the site of Mari on the Euphrates.
We know from ancient texts that the baru was one of the most important scholars in Mesopotamia. He had to be the descendant of a free man and healthy in body and mind. The baru played an important part in decision making at all levels but particularly where the king was concerned. No military campaign, building work, appointment of an official, or matters of the king's health would be undertaken without consulting the baru.
S. Dalley, Mari and Karana: two Old Babyl (London, Longman, 1984)
J. Black and A. Green, Gods, demons and symbols of -1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)