The Sumerians had the custom of ensuring the perenniality and identity of their official buildings by burying in the foundations a large nail, sometimes forming a single piece with a figurine. It was intended to anchor the building symbolically, and was accompanied by a written document aimed at preserving the memory of the builder and the purpose of his work. The normal support for writing was a clay tablet, flat on one side, convex on the other: replicas were made in green steatite, of which we present an example here, transposed into metal.
It is a foundation tablet for the temple of the goddess Nanshe, built in Girsu (present-day Telloh) by the powerful Sumerian ''emperor'' Shulgi, the second king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, around 2100 BC. Tablets originally read from right to left and from top to bottom, but it was realised that it was more convenient to turn them at right-angles, so, like the Latin alphabet, Sumerian writing reads from left to right. However this writing consisted of image-signs, comparable to Egyptian hieroglyphs, which became "cuneiform", i.e. made up of strokes in the shape of nails or wedges, although the original aspect of many of the signs remained recognisable for a long time.
Thus, the first sign of the first column represents a star and designates a deity. The latter, Nanshe, is symbolised by a diamond-shaped fish placed inside a building, for she was a water goddess. In the fourth and fifth columns the same large composite sign shows a man (LU) wearing a crown (GAL), symbolising greatness: the two signs together read LUGAL and represent the king. The tablet thus reads; "(To) the goddess Nanshe...his Lady, Shulgi, the strong Male, king of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad, the temple (called) Sheshsheshegarra, his beloved temple, he built for her".