‘World’s oldest ghost story’ found painted onto 3,500-year-old Babylonian tablet

The world’s oldest ghost story from 3,500 years ago may have just been discovered locked away inside a vault at the British Museum.

An ancient Babylonian clay tablet depicting a ghostly figure, is an "absolutely spectacular object from antiquity" says the British Museum's Middle Eastern department curator.

According to Dr Irving Finkel, sketched onto the slab is part of an exorcist’s guide to getting rid of unwanted ghosts – depicted by a lonely bearded spirit being led with his hands tied by a lover into the afterlife and eternal bliss.

Accompanying text on the clay outlines a ritual that would see them happily through to the underworld together.

Dr Finkel said: "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.

“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."

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The tablet itself had not been understood and subsequently never displayed since the British Museum acquired it in the 19th century, The Observer reports.

Only under good lighting and a does the ghostly illustration come to life at a particular angle.

Finkel said: "It is a Guinness Book of Records object because how could anybody have a drawing of a ghost which was older?"

An entire list of instructions detailing the exorcism has been translated on the back despite half of the tablet being missing.

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The text ends with a warning: “Do not look behind you!”

Finkel believes the tablet was part of a library of magic in the house of an exorcist or in a temple.

He added: "All the fears and weaknesses and characteristics that make the human race so fascinating, assuredly were there in spades 3,500 years ago.

"I want people to know about this culture. Egypt always wins in Hollywood."

The ghost has appeared ahead of Halloween and is featured in Finkel’s new book, The First Ghosts: Most Ancient of Legacies, set for release on November 11.

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