Just how long have surety bonds been around? Thousands and thousands of years, say historians. One stone tablet written in cuneiform characters was discovered in 1889 during an archaeological dig at Nippur, in Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq. The bond dates back to 2400 B.C. and the reign of the Babylonian King Dungi who ruled for 58 years.
The bond was drawn up by a professional scribe or notary and included the names of four witnesses who then impressed their seals onto the tablet. Typically these types of tablets were executed in duplicate and triplicate by the scribes and served as binding legal agreements.
This particular bond guaranteed the payment of grain by the principal and the surety bond guaranteed reimbursement if the principal failed to make payment. Corn was the currency of that time period.
The tablet was discovered by a group of men, including several professors from the University of Pennsylvania and a photographer, who traveled to Nippur on behalf of the university. It was the first university-sponsored American expedition ever to work in Mesopotamia.
Work continued at Nippur until 1900 and resulted in the discovery of more than 30,000 cuneiform tablets of literary, historical, grammatical and economic importance, including this surety bond.
The excavated objects are now housed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA.