Cuneiform 12000—123FF

  • Number of characters: 1024

Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known systems of writing, 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», from the Latin cuneus «wedge» and forma «shape,» and came into English usage probably from Old French cunéiforme. Emerging in Sumer in the late 4th millennium B.C.E. (the Uruk IV period), cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. In the third millennium, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use grew smaller, from about 1,000 in the Early Bronze Age to about 400 in Late Bronze Age (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 Akkadian, Eblaite, Elamite, Hittite, Luwian, Hattic, Hurrian, and Urartian languages, and it inspired the Ugaritic and Old Persian alphabets. Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by the Phoenician alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire. By the 2nd century C.E., the script had become extinct, 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 the 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.

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