CUNEIFORM SCRIPT (/kjuːˈniːᵻfɔːrm/ _kew-NEE-i-form_ or
/kjuːˈneɪᵻfɔːrm/ _kew-NAY-i-form_ or /ˈkjuːnᵻfɔːrm/
_KEW-ni-form_ ), one of the earliest systems of writing , was invented
by the Sumerians. It is distinguished by its wedge -shaped marks on
clay tablets , made by means of a blunt reed for a stylus . The name
_cuneiform_ itself simply means "wedge shaped".
Sumer in the late fourth millennium BC to convey the
Sumerian language which was an language isolate (the
Uruk IV period ),
cuneiform writing began as a system of pictograms . In the third
millennium, the pictorial representations became simplified and more
abstract as the number of characters in use grew smaller (Hittite
cuneiform ). The system consists of a combination of logophonetic ,
consonantal alphabetic and syllabic signs.
The original Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the
Babylonian ), Eblaite and Amorite
languages, the language isolate
Elamite , and for the language isolate
Hattic , Hurrian , and Urartian languages, as well as Indo-European
languages Hittite and Luwian , and it inspired the later Semitic
Ugaritic alphabet as well as
Old Persian cuneiform .
was gradually replaced by the
Phoenician alphabet during the
Assyrian Empire (911–612 BC). By the second century AD, the
script had become extinct, its last traces being found in
Babylonia , and all knowledge of how to read it was lost until it
began to be deciphered in the 19th century.
Between half a million and two million cuneiform tablets are
estimated to have been excavated in modern times, of which only
approximately 30,000 – 100,000 have been read or published. The
British Museum holds the largest collection (c. 130,000), followed by
Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin , the
Louvre , the Istanbul
Archaeology Museums , the
National Museum of Iraq , the Yale
Babylonian Collection (c. 40,000) and Penn Museum . Most of these have
"lain in these collections for a century without being translated,
studied or published," as there are only a few hundred qualified
cuneiformists in the world.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Proto-literate period
* 1.2 Archaic cuneiform
* 1.5 Derived scripts
* 2.1 Proper names
* 5 Sign inventories
* 5.1 Numerals
* 6 Usage
* 8 List of major
Cuneiform tablet discoveries
* 9 See also
* 10 Notes
* 11 References
* 12 Bibliography
* 13 External links
The cuneiform writing system was in use for more than three
millennia, through several stages of development, from the 34th
century BC down to the second century AD. Ultimately, it was
completely replaced by alphabetic writing (in the general sense) in
the course of the
Roman era and there are no cuneiform systems in
current use. It had to be deciphered as a completely unknown writing
system in 19th-century
Assyriology . Successful completion of its
deciphering is dated to 1857.
The cuneiform script underwent considerable changes over a period of
more than two millennia. The image below shows the development of the
sign SAG "head" (Borger nr. 184, U+12295 𒊕).
* shows the pictogram as it was drawn around 3000 BC
* shows the rotated pictogram as written around 2800 BC
* shows the abstracted glyph in archaic monumental inscriptions,
from c. 2600 BC
* is the sign as written in clay, contemporary to stage 3
* represents the late 3rd millennium
* represents Old
Assyrian ductus of the early 2nd millennium, as
adopted into Hittite
* is the simplified sign as written by
Assyrian scribes in the early
1st millennium, and until the script's extinction.
Kish tablet Sumerian inscription in monumental
archaic style, c. 26th century BC
The cuneiform script was developed from pictographic proto-writing in
the late 4th millennium BC. Mesopotamia's "proto-literate" period
spans roughly the 35th to 32nd centuries. The first documents
unequivocally written in Sumerian date to the 31st century at Jemdet
Originally, pictographs were either drawn on clay tablets in vertical
columns with a sharpened reed stylus or incised in stone. This early
style lacked the characteristic wedge shape of the strokes.
Certain signs to indicate names of gods, countries, cities, vessels,
birds, trees, etc., are known as determinatives , and were the
Sumerian signs of the terms in question, added as a guide for the
reader. Proper names continued to be usually written in purely
The earliest known Sumerian king whose name appears on contemporary
cuneiform tablets is
Enmebaragesi of Kish. Surviving records only very
gradually become less fragmentary and more complete for the following
reigns, but by the end of the pre-Sargonic period, it had become
standard practice for each major city-state to date documents by
year-names commemorating the exploits of its _lugal_ (king).
From about 2900 BC, many pictographs began to lose their original
function, and a given sign could have various meanings depending on
context. The sign inventory was reduced from some 1,500 signs to some
600 signs, and writing became increasingly phonological .
Determinative signs were re-introduced to avoid ambiguity. Cuneiform
writing proper thus arises from the more primitive system of
pictographs at about that time (
Early Bronze Age II ).
Liste der archaischen Keilschriftzeichen and
Early Dynastic Cuneiform Letter sent by the high-priest Luenna
to the king of
Urukagina ), informing him of his son's
death in combat,
Girsu c. 2400 BC.
In the mid-3rd millennium BC, writing direction was changed to
left-to-right in horizontal rows (rotating all of the pictographs 90°
counter-clockwise in the process), and a new wedge-tipped stylus was
used which was pushed into the clay, producing wedge-shaped
("cuneiform") signs; these two developments made writing quicker and
easier. By adjusting the relative position of the tablet to the
stylus, the writer could use a single tool to make a variety of
Cuneiform inscriptions, Stela of Iddi-Sin, king of
Cuneiform tablets could be fired in kilns to provide a permanent
record, or they could be recycled if permanence was not needed. Many
of the clay tablets found by archaeologists were preserved because
they were fired when attacking armies burned the building in which
they were kept. An Inscribed stand's head, early dynastic period.
The script was also widely used on commemorative stelae and carved
reliefs to record the achievements of the ruler in whose honour the
monument had been erected.
The spoken language included many homophones and near-homophones, and
in the beginning similar-sounding words such as "life" and "arrow"
were written with the same symbol. After the Semites conquered
Southern Mesopotamia, some signs gradually changed from being
pictograms to syllabograms, most likely to make things clearer in
writing. In that way the sign for the word "arrow" would become the
sign for the sound "ti". Words that sounded alike would have different
signs; for instance the syllable "gu" had fourteen different symbols.
When the words had similar meaning but very different sounds they were
written with the same symbol. For instance "tooth" , "mouth" and
"voice" were all written with the symbol for "voice". To be more
accurate, scribes started adding to signs or combining two signs to
define the meaning. They used either geometrical patterns or another
cuneiform sign. As time went by, the cuneiform got very complex and
the distinction between a pictogram and syllabogram became vague.
Several symbols had too many meanings to permit clarity. Therefore,
symbols were put together to indicate both the sound and the meaning
of a compound. The word "Raven" had the same logogram as the word
"soap" , name of a city and the patron goddess of Eresh . Two
phonetic complements were used to define the word in front of the
symbol and behind. Finally the symbol for "bird" was added to ensure
Written Sumerian was used as a scribal language until the first
century AD. The spoken language died out around the 18th century BC.
A list of Sumerian deities, c. 2400 BC
The archaic cuneiform script was adopted by the
Akkadian Empire from
c. 2500 BC, and by 2000 BC had evolved into Old
with many modifications to Sumerian orthography. The Semitic languages
employed equivalents for many signs that were distorted or abbreviated
to represent new values because the syllabic nature of the script as
refined by the Sumerians was not intuitive to Semitic speakers. At
this stage, the former pictograms were reduced to a high level of
abstraction, and were composed of only five basic wedge shapes:
horizontal, vertical, two diagonals and the _Winkelhaken_ impressed
vertically by the tip of the stylus. The signs exemplary of these
basic wedges are
* AŠ (B001, U+12038) 𒀸: horizontal;
* DIŠ (B748, U+12079) 𒁹: vertical;
* GE23, DIŠ _tenû_ (B575, U+12039) 𒀹: downward diagonal;
* GE22 (B647, U+1203A) 𒀺: upward diagonal;
* U (B661, U+1230B) 𒌋: the _
Except for the _Winkelhaken_ which has no tail, the length of the
wedges' tails could vary as required for sign composition.
Signs tilted by about 45 degrees are called _tenû_ in Akkadian, thus
DIŠ is a vertical wedge and DIŠ _tenû_ a diagonal one. If a sign is
modified with additional wedges, this is called _gunû_ or
"gunification;" if signs are crosshatched with additional
_Winkelhaken_, they are called _šešig_; if signs are modified by the
removal of a wedge or wedges, they are called _nutillu_. _
Cuneiform tablet from the Kirkor Minassian collection in the US
Library of Congress
Library of Congress , c. 24th century BC One of the Amarna
letters , 14th century BC Neo-
Assyrian ligature KAxGUR7 (𒅬);
the KA sign (𒅗) was a Sumerian compound marker, and appears
frequently in ligatures enclosing other signs. GUR7 is itself a
ligature of SÍG.AḪ.ME.U, meaning "to pile up; grain-heap" (Akkadian
"Typical" signs have usually in the range of about five to ten
wedges, while complex ligatures can consist of twenty or more
(although it is not always clear if a ligature should be considered a
single sign or two collated but still distinct signs); the ligature
KAxGUR7 consists of 31 strokes.
Most later adaptations of
Sumerian cuneiform preserved at least some
aspects of the Sumerian script. Written
Akkadian included phonetic
symbols from the Sumerian syllabary , together with logograms that
were read as whole words. Many signs in the script were polyvalent,
having both a syllabic and logographic meaning. The complexity of the
system bears a resemblance to
Old Japanese , written in a
Chinese-derived script, where some of these Sinograms were used as
logograms, and others as phonetic characters.
This "mixed" method of writing continued through the end of the
Assyrian empires, although there were periods when
"purism" was in fashion and there was a more marked tendency to spell
out the words laboriously, in preference to using signs with a
phonetic complement. Yet even in those days, the
remained a mixture of logographic and phonemic writing.
Hittite cuneiform is an adaptation of the Old
Assyrian cuneiform of
c. 1800 BC to the
Hittite language . When the cuneiform script was
adapted to writing Hittite, a layer of
Akkadian logographic spellings
was added to the script, thus the pronunciations of many Hittite words
which were conventionally written by logograms are now unknown.
In the Iron Age (c. 10th to 6th centuries BC),
Assyrian cuneiform was
further simplified. From the 6th century, the
Akkadian language was
marginalized by Aramaic , written in the
Aramaean alphabet , but
Assyrian cuneiform remained in use in literary tradition well into
Parthian Empire (250 BC – AD 226). The last known cuneiform
inscription, an astronomical text, was written in 75 AD.
The complexity of the system prompted the development of a number of
simplified versions of the script.
Old Persian was written in a subset
of simplified cuneiform characters known today as Old Persian
cuneiform . It formed a semi-alphabetic syllabary, using far fewer
wedge strokes than
Assyrian used, together with a handful of logograms
for frequently occurring words like "god" and "king".
written using the
Ugaritic alphabet , a standard Semitic style
alphabet (an _abjad _) written using the cuneiform method.
For centuries, travellers to
Persepolis , in modern-day
Iran , had
noticed carved cuneiform inscriptions and were intrigued. Attempts at
Old Persian writings date back to Arabo-Persian
historians of the medieval Islamic world , though these early attempts
at decipherment were largely unsuccessful.
In the 15th century, the Venetian Barbero explored ancient ruins in
the Middle East and came back with news of a very odd writing he had
found carved on the stones in the temples of
Shiraz and on many clay
Antoine de Gouvea, a professor of theology, noted in 1602 the strange
writing he had had occasion to observe during his travels a year
Persia which took in visits to ruins. 1625, the Roman
Pietro Della Valle , who had sojourned in
1616 and 1621, brought to Europe copies of characters he had seen in
Persepolis and inscribed bricks from Ur and the ruins of
The copies he made, the first that reached circulation within Europe,
were not quite accurate but Della Valle understood that the writing
had to be read from left to right, following the direction of wedges,
but did not attempt to decipher the scripts.
Sir Thomas Herbert , in the 1634 edition of his travel
book _A relation of some yeares travaile_, reported seeing at
Persepolis carved on the wall “a dozen lines of strange
characters…consisting of figures, obelisk, triangular, and
pyramidal” and thought they resembled Greek. In the 1664 edition he
reproduced some and thought they were ‘legible and intelligible’
and therefore decipherable. He also guessed, correctly, that they
represented not letters or hieroglyphics but words and syllables, and
were to be read from left to right. Herbert is rarely mentioned in
standard histories of the decipherment of cuneiform.
Carsten Niebuhr brought the first reasonably complete and accurate
copies of the inscriptions at
Persepolis to Europe in 1767. Bishop
Friedrich Münter of Copenhagen discovered that the words in the
Persian inscriptions were divided from one another by an oblique wedge
and that the monuments must belong to the age of Cyrus and his
successors. One word, which occurs without any variation towards the
beginning of each inscription, he correctly inferred to signify
"king". By 1802
Georg Friedrich Grotefend had determined that two
kings' names mentioned were Darius and Xerxes (but in their native Old
Persian forms, which were unknown at the time and therefore had to be
conjectured), and had been able to assign correct alphabetic values to
the cuneiform characters which composed the two names. Although
Grotefend's Memoir was presented to the Göttingen Academy of Sciences
and Humanities on September 4, 1802, the Academy refused to publish
it; it was subsequently published in Heeren's work in 1815, but was
overlooked by most researchers at the time.
In 1836, the eminent French scholar
Eugène Burnouf discovered that
the first of the inscriptions published by Niebuhr contained a list of
the satrapies of Darius. With this clue in his hand, he identified and
published an alphabet of thirty letters, most of which he had
A month earlier, a friend and pupil of Burnouf's, Professor Christian
Lassen of Bonn, had also published his own work on _The Old Persian
Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persepolis_. He and Burnouf had been in
frequent correspondence, and his claim to have independently detected
the names of the satrapies, and thereby to have fixed the values of
the Persian characters, was consequently fiercely attacked. According
to Sayce, whatever his obligations to Burnouf may have been, Lassen's
...contributions to the decipherment of the inscriptions were
numerous and important. He succeeded in fixing the true values of
nearly all the letters in the Persian alphabet, in translating the
texts, and in proving that the language of them was not
Zend , but
stood to both
Sanskrit in the relation of a sister.
Meanwhile, in 1835 Henry Rawlinson , a British East India Company
army officer, visited the Behistun Inscriptions in
Persia . Carved in
the reign of King Darius of
Persia (522–486 BC), they consisted of
identical texts in the three official languages of the empire: Old
Assyrian , and
Elamite . The Behistun inscription was to the
decipherment of cuneiform what the
Rosetta Stone was to the
Egyptian hieroglyphs .
Rawlinson correctly deduced that the
Old Persian was a phonetic
script and he successfully deciphered it. In 1837 he finished his copy
of the Behistun inscription, and sent a translation of its opening
paragraphs to the Royal Asiatic Society. Before his article could be
published, however, the works of Lassen and Burnouf reached him,
necessitating a revision of his article and the postponement of its
publication. Then came other causes of delay. In 1847 the first part
of the Rawlinson's Memoir was published; the second part did not
appear until 1849. The task of deciphering the Persian cuneiform
texts was virtually accomplished.
After translating the Persian, Rawlinson and, working independently
of him, the Irish
Edward Hincks , began to decipher the
others. (The actual techniques used to decipher the
have never been fully published; Hincks described how he sought the
proper names already legible in the deciphered Persian while Rawlinson
never said anything at all, leading some to speculate that he was
secretly copying Hincks. ) They were greatly helped by the excavations
of the French
Paul Émile Botta and English
Austen Henry Layard of the
Nineveh from 1842. Among the treasures uncovered by Layard and
Hormuzd Rassam were, in 1849 and 1851, the remains of
two libraries, now mixed up, usually called the Library of
Ashurbanipal , a royal archive containing tens of thousands of baked
clay tablets covered with cuneiform inscriptions.
By 1851, Hincks and Rawlinson could read 200
Babylonian signs. They
were soon joined by two other decipherers: young German-born scholar
Julius Oppert , and versatile British Orientalist William Henry Fox
Talbot . In 1857 the four men met in London and took part in a famous
experiment to test the accuracy of their decipherments.
Edwin Norris ,
the secretary of the
Royal Asiatic Society , gave each of them a copy
of a recently discovered inscription from the reign of the Assyrian
Tiglath-Pileser I . A jury of experts was empanelled to
examine the resulting translations and assess their accuracy. In all
essential points the translations produced by the four scholars were
found to be in close agreement with one another. There were of course
some slight discrepancies. The inexperienced Talbot had made a number
of mistakes, and Oppert's translation contained a few doubtful
passages which the jury politely ascribed to his unfamiliarity with
the English language. But Hincks' and Rawlinson's versions
corresponded remarkably closely in many respects. The jury declared
itself satisfied, and the decipherment of
Akkadian cuneiform was
adjudged a _fait accompli_.
In the early days of cuneiform decipherment, the reading of proper
names presented the greatest difficulties. However, there is now a
better understanding of the principles behind the formation and the
pronunciation of the thousands of names found in historical records,
business documents, votive inscriptions, literary productions and
legal documents. The primary challenge was posed by the characteristic
use of old Sumerian non-phonetic logograms in other languages that had
different pronunciations for the same symbols. Until the exact
phonetic reading of many names was determined through parallel
passages or explanatory lists, scholars remained in doubt, or had
recourse to conjectural or provisional readings. Fortunately, in many
cases, there are variant readings, the same name being written
phonetically (in whole or in part) in one instance, and
logographically in another.
Extract from the
Cyrus Cylinder (lines 15–21), giving the
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great and an account of his capture of Babylon
in 539 BC
Cuneiform has a specific format for transliteration . Because of the
script's polyvalence, transliteration requires certain choices of the
transliterating scholar, who must decide in the case of each sign
which of its several possible meanings is intended in the original
document. For example, the sign DINGIR in a Hittite text may represent
either the Hittite syllable _an_ or may be part of an
representing the syllable _il _, it may be a
Sumerogram , representing
the original Sumerian meaning, 'god' or the determinative for a deity.
In transliteration, a different rendition of the same glyph is chosen
depending on its role in the present context.
Therefore, a text containing DINGIR and MU in succession could be
construed to represent the words "ana", "ila", god + "a" (the
accusative case ending), god + water, or a divine name "A" or Water.
Someone transcribing the signs would make the decision how the signs
should be read and assemble the signs as "ana", "ila", "Ila"
("god"+accusative case), etc. A transliteration of these signs,
however, would separate the signs with dashes "il-a", "an-a",
"DINGIR-a" or "Da". This is still easier to read than the original
cuneiform, but now the reader is able to trace the sounds back to the
original signs and determine if the correct decision was made on how
to read them. A transliterated document thus presents the reading
preferred by the transliterating scholar as well as an opportunity to
reconstruct the original text.
There are differing conventions for transliterating Sumerian,
Akkadian (Babylonian) and Hittite (and Luwian) cuneiform texts. One
convention that sees wide use across the different fields is the use
of acute and grave accents as an abbreviation for homophone
disambiguation. Thus, _u_ is equivalent to _u1_, the first glyph
expressing phonetic _u_. An acute accent, _ú_, is equivalent to the
second, _u2_, and a grave accent _ù_ to the third, _u3_ glyph in the
series (while the sequence of numbering is conventional but
essentially arbitrary and subject to the history of decipherment). In
Sumerian transliteration, a multiplication sign 'x' is used to
indicate typographic ligatures . As shown above, signs _as such_ are
represented in capital letters , while the specific reading selected
in the transliteration is represented in small letters. Thus, capital
letters can be used to indicate a so-called Diri compound – a sign
sequence that has, in combination, a reading different from the sum of
the individual constituent signs (for example, the compound IGI.A –
"water" + "eye" – has the reading _imhur_, meaning "foam"). In a
Diri compound, the individual signs are separated with dots in
transliteration. Capital letters may also be used to indicate a
Sumerogram (for example, KÙ.BABBAR – Sumerian for "silver" –
being used with the intended
Akkadian reading _kaspum_, "silver"), an
Akkadogram, or simply a sign sequence of whose reading the editor is
uncertain. Naturally, the "real" reading, if it is clear, will be
presented in small letters in the transliteration: IGI.A will be
rendered as imhur4.
Sumerian language has only been widely known and studied by
scholars for approximately a century, changes in the accepted reading
of Sumerian names have occurred from time to time. Thus the name of a
king of Ur , read _Ur-Bau_ at one time, was later read as _Ur-Engur_,
and is now read as
Ur-Nammu or Ur-Namma; for
Lugal-zage-si , a king of
Uruk , some scholars continued to read _Ungal-zaggisi_; and so forth.
Also, with some names of the older period, there was often uncertainty
whether their bearers were Sumerians or Semites. If the former, then
their names could be assumed to be read as Sumerian, while, if they
were Semites, the signs for writing their names were probably to be
read according to their Semitic equivalents, though occasionally
Semites might be encountered bearing genuine Sumerian names. There was
also doubt whether the signs composing a Semite's name represented a
phonetic reading or a logographic compound. Thus, e.g. when
inscriptions of a Semitic ruler of Kish, whose name was written
_Uru-mu-ush_, were first deciphered, that name was first taken to be
logographic because _uru mu-ush_ could be read as "he founded a city"
in Sumerian, and scholars accordingly retranslated it back to the
original Semitic as _Alu-usharshid_. It was later recognized that the
URU sign can also be read as _rí_ and that the name is that of the
The tables below show signs used for simple syllables of the form CV
or VC. As used for the Sumerian language, the cuneiform script was in
principle capable of distinguishing at least 16 consonants,
transliterated as _b, d, g, g̃, ḫ, k, l, m, n, p, r, ř, s, š, t,
as well as four vowel qualities, _a, e, i, u_. The
had no use for _g̃_ or _ř_ but needed to distinguish its emphatic
series , _q, ṣ, ṭ_, adopting various "superfluous" Sumerian signs
for the purpose (e.g. _qe_=KIN, _qu_=KUM, _qi_=KIN, _ṣa_=ZA,
_ṣe_=ZÍ, _ṭur_=DUR etc.) Hittite as it adopted the Akkadian
cuneiform further introduced signs such as _wi5_=GEŠTIN.
_á_ 𒀉 _e_ 𒂊,
𒂍 _i_ 𒄿,
_í_=IÁ 𒐊 _u_ 𒌋,
_bà_=EŠ 𒂠 _be_=BAD 𒁁,
_bè_=NI 𒉌 _bi_ 𒁉,
_bì_=PI 𒉿 _bu_ 𒁍,
_dá_=TA 𒋫 _de_=DI 𒁲,
_dè_=NE 𒉈 _di_ 𒁲,
_dí_=TÍ 𒄭 _du_ 𒁺,
_gá_ 𒂷 _ge_=GI 𒄀,
_gè_=DIŠ 𒁹 _gi_ 𒄀,
𒆠 _gu_ 𒄖,
_ḫa4_=ḪI 𒄭 _ḫe_=ḪI 𒄭,
_ḫé_=GAN 𒃶 _ḫi_ 𒄭,
_ḫí_=GAN 𒃶 _ḫu_ 𒄷
_kà_=GA 𒂵 _ke_=KI 𒆠,
_ké_=GI 𒄀 _ki _ 𒆠,
_kí_=GI 𒄀 _ku_ 𒆪,
_là_=NU 𒉡 _le_=LI 𒇷,
_lé_=NI 𒉌 _li_ 𒇷,
_lí_=NI 𒉌 _lu_ 𒇻,
_má_ 𒈣 _me_ 𒈨,
_mè_ 𒀞/𒅠 _mi_ 𒈪,
_mì_=ME 𒈨 _mu_ 𒈬,
_na4_ ("NI.UD") 𒉌𒌓 _ne_ 𒉈,
_né_=NI 𒉌 _ni_ 𒉌,
_ní_=IM 𒉎 _nu_ 𒉡,
_pá_=BA 𒐀 _pe_=PI 𒉿,
_pé_=BI 𒁉 _pi_ 𒉿,
_pì_=BAD 𒁁 _pu_=BU 𒁍,
_rá_=DU 𒁺 _re_=RI 𒊑,
_ré_=URU 𒌷 _ri_ 𒊑,
_rí_=URU 𒌷 _ru_ 𒊒,
_sa4_ ("ḪU.NÁ") 𒄷𒈾 _se_=SI 𒋛,
_sé_=ZI 𒍣 _si_ 𒋛,
_sí_=ZI 𒍣 _su_ 𒋢,
_šà_ 𒊮 _še_ 𒊺,
_šè_ 𒂠 _ši_=IGI 𒅆,
_ší_=SI 𒋛 _šu_ 𒋗,
_tá_=DA 𒁕 _te_ 𒋼,
_té_=TÍ 𒊹 _ti_ 𒋾,
_ti4_=DI 𒁲 _tu_ 𒌅,
_zá_=NA4 𒉌𒌓 _ze_=ZI 𒍣,
_zé_=ZÌ 𒍢 _zi_ 𒍣,
_zì_ 𒍥 _zu_ 𒍪,
_á_ 𒀉 _e_ 𒂊,
𒂍 _i_ 𒄿,
_í_=IÁ 𒐊 _u _ 𒌋,
_áb_ 𒀖 _eb_=IB 𒅁,
_éb_=TUM 𒌈 _ib_ 𒅁,
_íb_=TUM 𒌈 _ub_ 𒌒,
_ád_ 𒄉 _ed_=Á 𒀉
_íd_=A.ENGUR 𒀀𒇉 _ud_ 𒌓,
_ág_ 𒉘 _eg_=IG 𒅅,
_ég_=E 𒂊 _ig_ 𒅅,
_íg_=E 𒂊 _ug_ 𒊌
_áḫ_=ŠEŠ 𒋀 _eḫ_=AḪ 𒄴
_ál_=ALAM 𒀩 _el_ 𒂖,
_él_=IL 𒅋 _il_ 𒅋,
_íl_ 𒅍 _ul_ 𒌌,
_ám_=ÁG 𒉘 _em_=IM 𒅎
_ím_=KAŠ4 𒁽 _um_ 𒌝,
_an _ 𒀭
_en _ 𒂗,
_èn_=LI 𒇷 _in_ 𒅔,
_in5_=NIN 𒊩𒌆 _un_ 𒌦,
_ép_=TUM 𒌈 _ip_=IB 𒅁,
_íp_=TUM 𒌈 _up_=UB 𒌒,
_ár_=UB 𒌒 _er_=IR 𒅕
_íp_=A.IGI 𒀀𒅆 _ur_ 𒌨,
_és_=EŠ 𒂠 _is_=GIŠ 𒄑,
_ís_=EŠ 𒂠 _us_=UZ,
_áš_ 𒀾 _eš_ 𒌍/𒐁,
_éš_=ŠÈ 𒂠 _iš_ 𒅖,
_íš_=KASKAL 𒆜 _uš_ 𒍑,
_át_=GÍR _gunû_ 𒄉 _et_=Á 𒀉
_éz_=EŠ 𒂠 _iz_= GIŠ 𒄑,
_íz_=IŠ 𒅖 _uz_=ŠEfont-family:'Segoe UI
Historic','Akkadian','Noto Sans Cuneiform','Noto Sans Sumero-Akkadian
Cuneiform';" title="cuneiform text" lang="und-Xsux"
List of cuneiform signs
Cuneiform writing in Ur ,
Sumerian cuneiform script had on the order of 1,000 distinct
signs (or about 1,500 if variants are included). This number was
reduced to about 600 by the 24th century BC and the beginning of
Akkadian records. Not all Sumerian signs are used in
and not all
Akkadian signs are used in Hittite.
Falkenstein (1936) lists 939 signs used in the earliest period (late
Uruk , 34th to 31st centuries). With an emphasis on _Sumerian_ forms,
Deimel (1922) lists 870 signs used in the Early Dynastic II period
(28th century, "LAK") and for the Early Dynastic IIIa period (26th
century, "ŠL"). Rosengarten (1967) lists 468 signs used in Sumerian
Lagash and Mittermayer ("aBZL", 2006) list 480
Sumerian forms, written in Isin-Larsa and Old
Regarding _Akkadian_ forms, the standard handbook for many years was
Borger ("ABZ", 1981) with 598 signs used in Assyrian/Babylonian
writing, recently superseded by Borger ("MesZL", 2004) with an
expansion to 907 signs, an extension of their Sumerian readings and a
new numbering scheme.
Signs used in
Hittite cuneiform are listed by Forrer (1922),
Friedrich (1960) and the _HZL_ (Rüster and Neu 1989). The HZL lists a
total of 375 signs, many with variants (for example, 12 variants are
given for number 123 _EGIR_).
The Sumerians used a numerical system based on 1, 10 and 60. The way
of writing a number like 70 would be the sign for 60 and the sign for
10 right after. This way of counting is still used today for measuring
time as 60 seconds per minute and 60 minutes per hour.
Cuneiform script was used in many ways in ancient
Mesopotamia . It
was used to record laws, like the
Code of Hammurabi . It was also used
for recording maps, compiling medical manuals, documenting religious
stories beliefs, among other uses. Studies by assyriologists like
Claus Wilcke and
Dominique Charpin suggest that cuneiform literacy
was not reserved solely for the elite but was common for average
According to the Oxford Handbook of
Cuneiform Culture, cuneiform
script was used at a variety of literacy levels:
Average citizens needed only a basic, functional knowledge of
cuneiform script to write personal letters and business documents.
More highly literate citizens put the script to more technical use
listing medicines and diagnoses, and writing mathematical equations.
Scholars held the highest literacy level of cuneiform and mostly
focused on writing as a complex skill and an art form.
Unicode block) ,
Cuneiform Numbers and
Unicode block) , and
Early Dynastic Cuneiform (Unicode
As of version 8.0, the following ranges are assigned to the
Cuneiform script in the
Unicode Standard :
U+12000–U+123FF (922 assigned characters) "
U+12400–U+1247F (116 assigned characters) "
Cuneiform Numbers and
Punctuation " U+12480–U+1254F (196 assigned characters) "Early
The final proposal for
Unicode encoding of the script was submitted
by two cuneiform scholars working with an experienced
writer in June 2004. The base character inventory is derived from the
Ur III signs compiled by the
Cuneiform Digital Library
UCLA based on the inventories of Miguel Civil, Rykle
Borger (2003), and Robert Englund. Rather than opting for a direct
ordering by glyph shape and complexity, according to the numbering of
an existing catalog, the
Unicode order of glyphs was based on the
Latin alphabetic order of their "last" Sumerian transliteration as a
LIST OF MAJOR CUNEIFORM TABLET DISCOVERIES
This list is incomplete ; you can help by expanding it .
NUMBER OF TABLETS
Kuyunkjik hill on
Tigris River, Outside of Mosul, now in
Khorsabad hill on
Tigris River, Outside of Mosul, now in
Library of Ashurbanipal
Tens of thousands
Sumerian and Eblaite
Tablet V of the
Epic of Gilgamesh
Epic of Gilgamesh
* Ancient Near East portal
List of museums of ancient Near Eastern art
Journal of Cuneiform Studies
List of cuneiform signs
Old Persian cuneiform
* ^ It seems that various parts of Rawlisons' paper formed Vol X of
this journal. The final part III comprised chapters IV (Analysis of
the Persian Inscriptions of Behistunand) and V (Copies and
Translations of the Persian
Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persepolis,
Hamadan, and Van), pp. 187–349.
* ^ _A_ _B_ "Definition of cuneiform in English". _Oxford
Dictionaries_. Retrieved 2017-07-30.
* ^ _Cuneiform: Irving Finkel & Jonathan Taylor bring ancient
inscriptions to life_. The British Museum. 2014-06-04. Retrieved
Egyptian hieroglyphs date to about the same period, and it is
unsettled which system began first. See _Visible Language. Inventions
Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond_, Oriental Institute
Museum Publications, 32, Chicago: University of Chicago, p. 13, ISBN
* ^ from a
New Latin _cuneiformis_, composed of _cuneus_ "wedge"
and _forma_ "shape" (17th century) of the script in the 19th century
(Henry Creswicke Rawlinson , _The Persian
Cuneiform Inscription at
Behistun, Decyphered and Tr.; with a Memoir on Persian Cuneiform
Inscriptions in General, and on that of Behistun in Particular_
(1846). Different shape-derived names occur in several other
languages, such as Finnish _nuolenpääkirjoitus_ "arrowhead script",
Hebrew כתב יתדות "stake script", and Persian میخی and
Dutch _spijkerschrift_, both meaning "nail script".
* ^ _A_ _B_ "
Cuneiform Tablets: Who’s Got What?", _Biblical
Archaeology Review_, 31 (2), 2005
* ^ _A_ _B_ Watkins, Lee; Snyder, Dean (2003), _The Digital
Hammurabi Project_ (PDF), The Johns Hopkins University, Since the
Babylonian cuneiform some 150 years ago museums have
accumulated perhaps 300,000 tablets written in most of the major
languages of the Ancient Near East – Sumerian,
and Assyrian), Eblaite, Hittite, Persian, Hurrian, Elamite, and
Ugaritic. These texts include genres as variegated as mythology and
mathematics, law codes and beer recipes. In most cases these documents
are the earliest exemplars of their genres, and cuneiformists have
made unique and valuable contributions to the study of such moderns
disciplines as history, law, religion, linguistics, mathematics, and
science. In spite of continued great interest in mankind’s earliest
documents it has been estimated that only about 1/10 of the extant
cuneiform texts have been read even once in modern times. There are
various reasons for this: the complex Sumero/
Akkadian script system is
inherently difficult to learn; there is, as yet, no standard computer
encoding for cuneiform; there are only a few hundred qualified
cuneiformists in the world; the pedagogical tools are, in many cases,
non-optimal; and access to the widely distributed tablets is
expensive, time-consuming, and, due to the vagaries of politics,
becoming increasingly difficult.
* ^ Adkins 2003, p. 47.
* ^ Marckham Geller, "The Last Wedge," _Zeitschrift für
Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie_ 86 (1997): 43–95.
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ Sayce 1908.
* ^ El Daly, Okasha (2004). _Egyptology: The Missing Millennium :
Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings_.
Routledge . pp. 39–40 &
65. ISBN 1-84472-063-2 .
* ^ C. Wade Meade, _Road to Babylon: Development of U.S.
Assyriology,_ Brill Archive, 1974 p.5.
* ^ Hilprecht, Hermann Vollrat (2011) . _The Excavations in Assyria
and Babylonia_. Cambridge University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9781108025645
. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
* ^ Heeren 1815.
* ^ Ceram, C.W., _Gods, Graves and Scholars_, 1954
* ^ Burnouf 1836
* ^ _A_ _B_ Pritchard 1844, p. 30–31
* ^ Lassen.
* ^ Adkins 2003.
* ^ Rawlinson 1847.
* ^ Daniels 1996.
Daniel A Foxvog, "Introduction to Sumerian grammar", p.16 – 17; 20
– 21(about phonemes g̃ and ř and their representation using
"A descriptive grammar of Sumerian", p. 43 – 45; 50 – 51 (about
phonemes g̃ and ř and their representation using cuneiform signs)
* ^ "The World\'s Oldest Writing". _Archaeology_. 69 (3). May 2016.
Retrieved September 18, 2016 – via Virtual Library of Virginia.
* ^ Wilcke, Claus (2000). _Wer las und schrieb in Babylonien und
Assyrien_. München: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der
Wissenschaften. ISBN 978-3-7696-1612-5 .
* ^ Charpin, Dominique. 2004. ‘Lire et écrire en Mésopotamie:
une affaire dé spécialistes?’ Comptes rendus de l’Académie des
Inscriptions et Belles Lettres: 481–501.
* ^ Veldhuis, Niek (2011). "Levels of Literacy". _The Oxford
Cuneiform Culture_. doi
* ^ Everson, Michael; Feuerherm, Karljürgen; Tinney, Steve
(2004-06-08). "Final proposal to encode the
Cuneiform script in the
SMP of the UCS."
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ "
Persepolis Fortification Archive The
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago". _oi.uchicago.edu_.
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ _H_ _I_ Bertman, Stephen (2005).
_Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia_. Oxford University Press.
ISBN 978-0195183641 .
* ^ Ellermeier, Friedrich., and Margret. Studt. _Sumerisches
Glossar. Bd. 3, T. 6, Handbuch
Assur / Friedrich Ellmermeier ; Margret
Studt._Hardegsen bei Göttingen: Selbstverl. Ellermeier, 2003. Print.
Theologische und orientalistische Arbeiten aus Göttingen, 4;
Theologische und orientalistische Arbeiten aus Göttingen, 4.
* ^ "The
Hittite cuneiform tablets from Bogazköy United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization". _www.unesco.org_.
* ^ Michel, Cecile, Old
Assyrian Bibliography, 2001.
* ^ Tablets from the site surfaced on the market as early as 1880,
when three tablets made their way to European museums. By the early
1920s, the number of tablets sold from the site exceeded 4,000. While
the site of Kültepe was suspected as the source of the tablets, and
the site was visited several times, it was not until 1925 when Bedrich
Hrozny corroborated this identification by excavating tablets from the
fields next to the tell that were related to tablets already
* ^ Lauinger, Jacob (2007-01-01). _Archival practices at Old
Babylonian/Middle Bronze Age
Alalakh (Level VII)_ (Thesis). THE
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.
* ^ Moorey, P.R.S. (1992). _A Century of Biblical Archaeology_.
Westminster Knox Press. ISBN 978-0664253929 .
* ^ etc, Ancient History (2015-09-24). "The newly discovered tablet
V of the Epic of Gilgamesh". _Ancient History et cetera_. Retrieved
* Adkins, Lesley, _Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the
Lost Languages of Babylon_, New York, St. Martin's Press (2003) ISBN
* Bertman, Stephen (2005), _Handbook to Life in Ancient
Mesopotamia_, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195183641
R. Borger , _Assyrisch-Babylonische Zeichenliste_, 2nd ed.,
* Borger, Rykle (2004). Dietrich, M.; Loretz, O., eds.
_Mesopotamisches Zeichenlexikon_. Alter Orient und Altes Testament.
Ugarit Verlag. ISBN 3-927120-82-0 .
* Burnouf, E. (1836). "Mémoire sur deux Inscriptions Cunéiformes
trouvées près d'Hamadan et qui font partie des papiers du Dr
Schulz", Impr. Roy, Paris.
* Daniels, Peter; Bright, William (1996). _The World's Writing
Systems_. Oxford University Press. p. 146. ISBN 0-19-507993-0 .
* A. Deimel (1922), _Liste der archaischen Keilschriftzeichen_
("LAK"), WVDOG 40, Berlin.
* A. Deimel (1925–1950), _Šumerisches Lexikon_, Pontificum
* F. Ellermeier, M. Studt, Sumerisches Glossar
* vol. 1: 1979–1980, ISBN 3-921747-08-2 , ISBN 3-921747-10-4
* vol. 3.2: 1998–2005, A-B ISBN 3-921747-24-4 , D-E ISBN
3-921747-25-2 , G ISBN 3-921747-29-5
* vol. 3.3: ISBN 3-921747-22-8 (font CD ISBN 3-921747-23-6 )
* vol. 3.5: ISBN 3-921747-26-0
* vol 3.6: 2003, Handbuch
Assur ISBN 3-921747-28-7
A. Falkenstein , _Archaische Texte aus Uruk_, Berlin-Leipzig
* Charpin, Dominique. 2004. ‘Lire et écrire en Mésopotamie: une
affaire dé spécialistes?’ Comptes rendus de l’Académie des
Inscriptions et Belles Lettres: 481–501.
* E. Forrer, _Die Keilschrift von Boghazköi_, Leipzig (1922)
* J. Friedrich, _Hethitisches Keilschrift-Lesebuch_, Heidelberg
Jean-Jacques Glassner , _The Invention of Cuneiform_, English
translation, Johns Hopkins University Press (2003), ISBN 0-8018-7389-4
* Hayes, John L. (2000). _A Manual of Sumerian Grammar and Texts_.
Aids and Research Tools in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. 5 (2d ed.).
Malibu: Undena Publications. ISBN 0-89003-197-5 .
* Heeren (1815) "Ideen über die Politik, den Verkehr und den Handel
der vornehmsten Volker der alten Welt", vol. i. pp. 563 seq.,
translated into English in 1833.
* Kramer, Samuel Noah (1981). "Appendix B: The Origin of the
Writing System". _History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine
Firsts in Man's Recorded History_ (3d revised ed.). Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 381–383. ISBN 0-8122-7812-7 .
* René Labat , _Manuel d'epigraphie Akkadienne_, Geuthner, Paris
(1959); 6th ed., extended by Florence Malbran-Labat (1999), ISBN
* Lassen, Christian. "Die Altpersischen Keil-Inschriften von
* Mittermayer, Catherine; Attinger, Pascal (2006). _Altbabylonische
Zeichenliste der Sumerisch-Literarischen Texte_. Orbis Biblicus et
Special Edition. Academic Press Fribourg. ISBN
* Moorey, P.R.S. (1992). A Century of Biblical Archaeology.
Westminster Knox Press. ISBN 978-0664253929 .
O. Neugebauer , A. Sachs (eds.), _Mathematical
New Haven (1945).
* Patri, Sylvain (2009). L’adaptation des consonnes hittites dans
certaines langues du XIIIe siècle. _Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und
vorderasiatische Archäologie_ 99(1): 87–126.
* Pritchard, James Cowles (1844). "Researches Into the Physical
History of Mankind", 3rd Ed., Vol IV, Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper,
* Rawlinson, Henry (1847) "The Persian
Cuneiform Inscription at
Behistun, decyphered and translated; with a Memoir on Persian
Cuneiform Inscriptions in general, and on that of Behistun in
Particular", The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol X.
* Y. Rosengarten, _Répertoire commenté des signes présargoniques
sumériens de Lagash_, Paris (1967)
* Chr. Rüster, E. Neu, _Hethitisches Zeichenlexikon_ (_HZL_),
* Sayce, Rev. A. H. (1908). "The Archaeology of the Cuneiform
Inscriptions", Second Edition-revised, 1908, Society for Promoting
Christian Knowledge, London, Brighton, New York; at pp 9–16 Not in
* Nikolaus Schneider, _Die Keilschriftzeichen der
Ur III nebst ihren charakteristischsten
Schreibvarianten_, Keilschrift-Paläographie; Heft 2, Rom:
Päpstliches Bibelinstitut (1935).
* Wilcke, Claus. 2000. Wer las und schrieb in Babylonien und
Assyrien. Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
Philosophisch-historische Klasse. 2000/6. München: Verlag der
Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
* Wolfgang Schramm, _Akkadische Logogramme_, Goettinger Arbeitshefte
zur Altorientalischen Literatur (GAAL) Heft 4, Goettingen (2003), ISBN
* F. Thureau-Dangin, _Recherches sur l'origine de l'écriture
cunéiforme_, Paris (1898).
* Ronald Herbert Sack, _
Cuneiform Documents from the Chaldean and
Persian Periods_, (1994) ISBN 0-945636-67-9
Wikimedia Commons has media related to CUNEIFORM _.
Akkadian font for Windows and Mac
* EDSITEment lesson plan
Writing System in Ancient
Mesopotamia: Emergence and Evolution
Babylonian Cunieform offering to the King of Erech
* Epigraphy at
Cuneiform and the Invention of Writing
Unicode Fonts for Ancient Scripts and
Akkadian font for Ubuntu
Linux-based operating system (ttf-ancient-fonts)
Unicode Fonts for Oracc, fonts for transliterating and displaying
Writing ancient Iranian cuneiform on
YouTube by subject-matter
expert Soheil Delshad
Old Persian cuneiform pdf
PRE- / PROTOHISTORY
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)
Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB)
* Hassuna /Samarra