richard-miles-archaeologist

richard-miles-archaeologist:

Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four

Episode 2 “The Search for Civilisation”

During excavations in Mesopotamia in the 1850s, thousands of photographs were taken of cuneiform tablets which had been found there. The inscriptions were written in a mysterious language which nobody yet understood. The photographs were distributed all over Europe, and all of its finest scholars quickly got to work, in a race to try and decipher this mysterious code.

The French-German scholar Julius Oppert (together with other 19th century Assyriologists) made decisive contributions to the decipherment of cuneiform inscriptions. In 1855, he published Écriture Anarienne, advancing the theory that the language spoken originally in Assyria belonged to the Ural-Altaic group (non-Semitic) and he classified it as Casdo-Scythian. In 1869 he renamed it Sumerian language -based on the known title “King of Sumer and Akkad”, reasoning that if Akkad signified the Semitic portion of the kingdom, Sumer might describe the non-Semitic annex-. He also asserted that the entire system of cuneiform writing was Sumerian in origin

Sumerian is generally regarded as a language isolate (a language that has no known historical or linguistic relationship to any other language family) and is the oldest written language in existence. Sumerian was spoken in Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia, from perhaps the 4th millennium BC and it flourished during the 3rd millennium BC. Sumerian was replaced as a spoken language by Semitic Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) but continued in written usage almost to the end of the life of the Akkadian language, around the beginning of the Christian era.

Some of the very first pictures of cuneiform tablets took during excavations in Mesopotamia in the 1850s

French National Archives, Paris, France

rsbenedict
rsbenedict:

This week’s Sumerian sign is ĝeš, which means tree or wood. It’s an important sign that was used a lot.
ĝeš is one of a collection of signs that are written but not spoken as silent signifiers of a noun’s type or class. This sign often appears before objects made out of wood, like weapons or tools.
So in isolation, ĝeš would be pronounced, but if it came before another noun, it would probably be unspoken, meant only as a signal to the reader to help interpret the following sign, since many signs had multiple meanings and pronunciations.
There are a lot of signs that do this. There’s a sign that appears before gods’ names. There’s a sign that goes before birds or bugs (I think maybe the Sumerians classified flying insects as a kind of bird maybe?), a sign that goes before things made of stone, a sign that goes before people’s names, and many more. There’s also a sign that goes after place names. 
When we transliterate these signs, we write them in a superscript to show that they’re silent. For instance, we’d write ĝešaš-te to mean (wooden) chair, even though in the original cuneiform the signs are all the same size.
The closest analogy to English writing, I guess, would be like using capital letters for proper nouns. It’s a way to signal something important to the reader.

rsbenedict:

This week’s Sumerian sign is ĝeš, which means tree or wood. It’s an important sign that was used a lot.

ĝeš is one of a collection of signs that are written but not spoken as silent signifiers of a noun’s type or class. This sign often appears before objects made out of wood, like weapons or tools.

So in isolation, ĝeš would be pronounced, but if it came before another noun, it would probably be unspoken, meant only as a signal to the reader to help interpret the following sign, since many signs had multiple meanings and pronunciations.

There are a lot of signs that do this. There’s a sign that appears before gods’ names. There’s a sign that goes before birds or bugs (I think maybe the Sumerians classified flying insects as a kind of bird maybe?), a sign that goes before things made of stone, a sign that goes before people’s names, and many more. There’s also a sign that goes after place names. 

When we transliterate these signs, we write them in a superscript to show that they’re silent. For instance, we’d write ĝešaš-te to mean (wooden) chair, even though in the original cuneiform the signs are all the same size.

The closest analogy to English writing, I guess, would be like using capital letters for proper nouns. It’s a way to signal something important to the reader.

"Neo-Babylonian Trial Records"

“
This collection of sixth-century B.C.E. Mesopotamian texts provides a close-up, often dramatic, view of ancient courtroom encounters shedding light on Neo-Babylonian legal culture and daily life. In addition to the legal texts, Holtz provides an introduction to Neo-Babylonian social history, archival records, and legal materials. This is an essential resource for scholars interested in the history of law.
Excerpts from the book’s introductory material are available here.”

"Neo-Babylonian Trial Records"

This collection of sixth-century B.C.E. Mesopotamian texts provides a close-up, often dramatic, view of ancient courtroom encounters shedding light on Neo-Babylonian legal culture and daily life. In addition to the legal texts, Holtz provides an introduction to Neo-Babylonian social history, archival records, and legal materials. This is an essential resource for scholars interested in the history of law.

Excerpts from the book’s introductory material are available here.”

massarrah
massarrah:

Old Babylonian “Year Names” for Hammurabi and His Successor
This tablet records a list of year names in Akkadian for two Old Babylonian rulers, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) and his successor, Samsuiluna (1749-1712 BCE). In Mesopotamia, year names offered one way of dating whereby each year within a king’s reign would be described by an event, such as a victory or the construction of a temple (e.g., “Year in which Hammurabi built for Nanna his temple in Babylon”). Other methods of dating included numbering the years within a reign or naming the year after an official. Such methods have provided modern scholars with important tools for reconstructing chronologies in the Ancient Near East. (Source 1, 2)
Old Babylonian, c. 2000-1600 BCE.
British Museum.

massarrah:

Old Babylonian “Year Names” for Hammurabi and His Successor

This tablet records a list of year names in Akkadian for two Old Babylonian rulers, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) and his successor, Samsuiluna (1749-1712 BCE). In Mesopotamia, year names offered one way of dating whereby each year within a king’s reign would be described by an event, such as a victory or the construction of a temple (e.g., “Year in which Hammurabi built for Nanna his temple in Babylon”). Other methods of dating included numbering the years within a reign or naming the year after an official. Such methods have provided modern scholars with important tools for reconstructing chronologies in the Ancient Near East. (Source 1, 2)

Old Babylonian, c. 2000-1600 BCE.

British Museum.