Today, a new object has been put on display at the British Museum: a tablet, light brown, covered in cuneiform script. The piece is approximately 4,000 years old, and approximately the size of a smartphone. It was discovered in modern-day Iraq—ancient Mesopotamia—and, upon deciphering, it seems to tell a story that will be familiar to many: that of a boat that will help a man to survive a flood. It mentions animals, and specifies that they should enter the boat "two by two."
Except the vessel in question isn't a boat—at least, not in the way we tend to think of boats.
The tablet at the British Museum offers instructions (delivered, in this case, from a Mesopotamian god) for building a vessel. It would be made of woven rope, and then reinforced with wooden ribs. It would be coated, to seal it from the water, in bitumen. It would be, in area, two-thirds the size of a soccer field. And it would be ... round.
The tablet gives instructions, in other words, for building a coracle: a large, round vessel. Coracles look something like this:
The discovery and deciphering of the tablet was done by Irving Finkel, the assistant curator of Middle East exhibits at the British Museum. (A few years ago, a man who had acquired the tablet from his father—who had in turn acquired it from the Middle East after World War II—brought it to him.) "It was really a heart-stopping moment—the discovery that the boat was to be a round boat," Finkel told the AP. "That was a real surprise."