The Assyriology Easter duck-weight cake


Happy (almost) Easter, everyone!

Obviously thinking up an Easter themed Assyriology cake wasn’t hard. While rabbits and eggs don’t really have much of a connection with Mesopotamia, ducks certainly do, in that hundreds of Mesopotamian weights are shaped like ducks. (A smaller collection of stamp seals are also shaped like ducks: these aren’t weights, by the way, even though the look like it. I’ve spent the last two months in various museums around the world weighing duck shaped stamp seals and discovering that they aren’t weights. What an exciting life I lead).

Since duck weights are clearly the perfect Easter theme for the perfect Easter cake (I added piped grass and little flowers just to make sure), this is a delicious replica of a hematite weight from the late third millennium BC. Its inscription describes how it was made by the king, Shulgi, and weighs five mina (or about 2.5kg). It’s made of chocolate cake. Or at least the replica is, although to be fair I’ve never tasted the real one.

Here is the real one.


That is, shockingly, the only available photo. So here’s a replica that’s less cake-based than mine, but far more useful for getting an idea of the object itself.


Those of you with sharp eyes and an uncanny ability to read my poorly copied inscription may have noticed that the customary royal epithet ‘nita-kala-ga’ ‘the strong man’ is mysteriously missing from my copy. Maybe I accidently forgot it because I was writing this from memory. Maybe I decided that Shulgi, who is mainly famous for reforming the bureaucracy of his state and distributing weights and measures, didn’t really conform to the hyper-masculine standards of 3rd millennium Mesopotamian kingship, and shouldn’t have felt he needed to, so I removed the epithet as a retroactive display of support for his more…administrative approach to ruling.

I really want it to be the second one of those options, because I like Shulgi and his governing style and also because I don’t want to be the girl who has Sumerian weight inscriptions badly memorized, but I should probably just embrace who I am as a person.


I feel this cake is an excellent show case for my talents. That’s a hilarious joke, because the ‘talent’ was a unit of weight in Mesopotamia, but it’s also true: I made this cake under severely difficult circumstances. I’m in Germany, which in itself is fine, but it also means I’m without access to: my palette knife, my rolling pin, good black edible paint (honestly, decent edible paint should not be that hard to come by), anything that I could use to dye fondant, decent fondant, and baking powder (Germans have baking powder and it doesn’t work. I’m not just making that up, it’s genuinely different from English baking powders. Which is fair enough, but the German stuff is at best a placebo. I tried to bring my own from England but for some unknown reason my box of white powder got confiscated at the airport. This has become a tangent, but I really feel that the lack of working baking powder in Germany is a serious problem of which more people should be aware).

Incidentally, when I wanted to a quick shape guide while I was carving, I just googled ‘duck weight’. It turns out that not everyone makes the immediate connection to Mesopotamia, and google certainly doesn’t. Did you know that a mature mallard weighs 0.72-1.6g?

Eating Artefacts will return after an Easter break with an Ugaritic tablet cake that was actually requested. By more than one person. I knew I wasn’t the only one who wanted to eat ancient artefacts.

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