A 3,000-year-old Ring
There is an interesting story about a lapis lazuli ring. This family heirloom was given to a four-year-old boy by his grandmother on her deathbed. The ring was in a clay box that had cuneiform writing on the top. The story takes place in a small one-storied house inside the castle walls of Ankara. As the old lady was nearing death, her children had gathered around her. I was the youngest grandson and had an extremely sensitive nature, so I chose to watch the baby lizards out in the garden in an attempt to avoid the somber atmosphere inside. Naturally, I was fully aware of what was happening inside the house, but I didn’t want to witness the last hours of the grandmother I so dearly loved. I had no desire to see those beautiful eyes of hers lose their sparkle. I wanted to remember her they way she was for the rest of my life. A little while later, my father called me inside, and I thought the end had come. This wasn’t the case, though. My grandmother had asked to see me. As I tiptoed into her room like a small kitten, I saw everyone leaving the room one by one, which my grandmother had apparently requested. I approached her bed and knelt beside it. She looked at me with her loving eyes and gestured for me to move closer.
She said in a whisper, “Are you sad because I am leaving?” I nodded while trying hard to hide my tears.
She continued, “Don’t be sad! I am going somewhere much nicer, where there is no aging, no tears, and no fear.”
I implored her, “Then let me come with you!” But she replied, “Oh dear child, you are too young for that. You need to age as I did before you go there.”
Considering this, I stated, “But after you leave, I will never see you again.”
She continued, “Even when you can’t see me, I will be watching you all the time. When you achieve something good, look up and smile, and I will smile back. When you are about to do something bad, remember me and know that it will make me sad.”
Distraught, I nodded again. She pointed to a chest in the corner of the room and said, “My dearest grandson, open that chest for me.”
It was a dowry chest from her wedding. She told me to look for a package wrapped in white muslin in the bottom. I reached into the chest, and below the towels, rugs, and lace tablecloths, I found the muslin package. I took it out and asked, “Is this it, grandmother?”
She nodded and asked me to come over. As I passed her the parcel, she looked at it as if it was her most cherished possession, but she lacked the energy to open it.
At her request, I opened it with trembling hands. Beneath all the muslin was a clay box with symbols I didn’t recognize. My grandmother gestured with her eyes for me to open it. When I opened the box, a glittering ring with a purple stone dazzled me.
I asked, “What is this, grandmother?” She explained, “Dear child, this ring is more precious than you realize. It’s an heirloom that’s been in the family for generations. I was given it 95 years ago, when I was around your age. I have kept and protected until now, and now it’s your turn to take over. Hopefully, you will live to protect it for as long as I have.
She was so tired that she could barely speak, but she said, “There is a hollow by the garden gate, but the neighbor kids might find it there. Your father…your father will tell you where to keep it. Don’t worry about it, but never forget it is your responsibility. I am so tired now. Why don’t you go outside and play? On your way, could you ask your aunt to come in?”
I put the box in my shirt pocket, kissed my grandmother on her wrinkled cheeks, and left the room. As I left, I could feel her eyes following me with pride.
Soon after I left the room, she passed away.
All through my childhood, I hid and protected the box as I was asked. Only my father and I knew where it was hidden. Every time I wanted to see it, which was quite often at first, my father would take out the box and remove the ring without hesitation. He would let me study it for as long as I liked, but I could never get a straight answer regarding its origin. These conversations would always end the same. He would say, “My dear son, one day you yourself will find the answer to your question.”
The answer was close, very close, but it took me 28 years to find it. One afternoon, as I was visiting the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations with my young son, I was shocked by something I saw. Inside a glass showcase was a ring that was identical to the one entrusted to me. My heart beat rapidly as I examined it for some time. I was sure. Yes…with its twinkle and purple stone, it was just like the ring given to me. The label beneath it didn’t help. On the brass plaque, it stated the ring was a Sumerian find, probably worn by a Sumerian noble, and estimated to date back to 1850 B.C.
At first, this sounded like a joke or maybe just an interesting coincidence, but the similarity between the two rings was shocking. That’s why I examined the ring again and again. Upon returning home, I took out my ring and examined it carefully. The two rings were alike in every detail, although my ring was smaller. It was clear to see that the ring in the museum belonged to a man and mine belonged to a woman. With a head spinning with various thoughts, I went to see my father. He was watering the garden as I entered, and he could tell from my expression that I had uncovered something.
I told him, “Dad, I just came from the museum! Is it true that the ring entrusted to me and the ring at the Museum are two of a pair?” He merely nodded as I looked at him with disbelief.
I continued, “The pair to the ring given to me lies in that museum, yet I only learn this now by coincidence?”
He calmly explained, “This is a process, son. You could have learned it 10 years ago or in 10 years time, but you could only learn it through your own efforts. That is the rule!”
“The rule? The rule of what? Whose rule?” I asked, but my father preferred to keep quiet, although he looked deeply into my eyes.
I continued, “I guess this means I have to find out the rest of the story, doesn’t it? I assume you’re not going to tell me?”
My father nodded and smiled. It meant that whatever the story might be, I was the one that would find it. When I returned home, I took out the ring once again. The symbols on the clay box started to make sense. I copied the writing and symbols carefully onto a piece of paper and rushed over to the Faculty of Languages, History and Geography at Ankara University. After quite a few meetings and discussions, I finally held in my hand a translation made by the esteemed Muazzez Ilmiye Cığ, a well-known expert on the subject. I read it with trembling hands:
Here is the translation, word for word:
I Prince Lugal-Apindu, ancestor to the Great King of Nippur City, along with five thousand shegel, hereby give this ring as a wedding present to my beloved wife and my sun, Nın-Dada. Upon her arrival, the oxen of God Ningirsu plowed the onion fields. Abundance prevailed in all fields. All the sheep gave birth. The water wells swelled with water.
I was shocked by this. Could it all be true? One explanation was maybe that one of my ancestors had gone east and found the ring, and then it was handed down from generation to generation. A more astounding possibility would be that this ring had been handed from generation to generation for 3,850 years until it reached me. If this were true, it would explain why our family name was Sumer and why all our family members (my mother, father, uncles, aunts, and even all my cousins) were also named “Nin”, “nanna,” “Eluti,” and “Entil” in addition to our normal names.
When I visited him again, my father was relaxing on the sofa. I handed him the translation, which he read and gave back to me with a smile.
I asked, “But why, father? Why was I left to learn all this by myself? Why did I have to wait 28 years?”
Calmly my father answered, “Because, son, this is a rule from our past. Had I told you all about it long ago, how would you have perceived it? Do you think a young boy could have undertaken such a task?”
“But what if I had never seen that ring in the museum?” I asked. He replied, “Then you would have found out some other way, but I am sure you would have learned the truth about your roots. Now that you have been enlightened, your task is to pass this gift on to future generations.”
After considering this, I said, “Father, I think I should take this ring to the museum, where it belongs. Since we can’t have its twin as well, I think it will be much better for our ring to be exhibited next to it in the museum.”
My father replied, “You have been entrusted with the ring, so it is your responsibility, son. The rest of us will have to respect your decision. Act as you wish, son. After all, you now know the meaning of the ring and your history.
Now the two rings are displayed together in the museum. After so many years, I’m sure my decision has the blessing of my ancestors, Lugal-Apindu and his beloved wife, Nin Dada. If one day you find yourself in the museum, visit the section where the Sumerian artifacts are exhibited and make sure to look for the rings.
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