The oldest ever drawing of a ghost has been discovered on a Babylonian clay tablet. As a matter of fact, the 3,500-year-old depiction of a “miserable male ghost” was found in the vault of the British Museum.
While the lines are very faint, it shows a bearded male spirit with his arms stretched forward and wrists tied with a rope being led to the afterlife and eternal bliss by his lover (she was dragging him along by the rope). In addition to the drawing, there was text written as part of a ritual that would allow them to live happily ever after in the afterlife.
Half of the tablet is missing but the text is still visible where it gives instructions on what to do with a ghost that “seizes hold of a person and pursues him and cannot be loosed.” The ritual includes two figurines (one male and one female) that need to be dressed up and the female needs to be given specific items like a golden brooch, chair, bed, towel, mat, comb, and flask. At sunrise, the figurines would be put together. Interestingly, at the end of the text, there was a warning that read, “Do not look behind you!”
Dr. Irving Finkel, who is the curator of the Middle Eastern department at the British Museum, described the image on the tablet as an “absolutely spectacular object from antiquity.” “It’s obviously a male ghost and he’s miserable. You can imagine a tall, thin, bearded ghost hanging about the house did get on people’s nerves. The final analysis was that what this ghost needed was a lover,” he explained, “You can’t help but imagine what happened before. ‘Oh God, Uncle Henry’s back.’ Maybe Uncle Henry’s lost three wives. Something that everybody knew was that the way to get rid of the old bugger was to marry him off. It’s not fanciful to read this into it. It’s a kind of explicit message. There’s very high-quality writing there and immaculate draughtsmanship.” “That somebody thinks they can get rid of a ghost by giving them a bedfellow is quite comic.”
He went on to say that he thinks the tablet may have been part of a library of magic inside of a house of an exorcist or even a temple.
Despite being at the museum since the 19th century, experts only recently fully analyzed the tablet as Dr. Finkel noted, “You’d probably never give it a second thought because the area where the drawings are looks like it’s got no writing. But when you examine it and hold it under a lamp, those figures leap out at you across time in the most startling way. It is a Guinness Book of Records object because how could anybody have a drawing of a ghost which was older?”
A picture of the tablet depicting the ghost can be seen here.
By Jocelyne LeBlanc