cuneiform


cuneiform
   An early form of writing developed by the Sumerians perhaps between 3500 and 3000 B.C. The earliest examples were discovered in the ruins of the city of Uruk. Whether or not it originated there, after its introduction cuneiform writing rapidly spread to other parts of the Near East and eventually beyond. Modern scholars named it cuneiform after the Latin word cuneus, meaning "wedge-shaped or nail-shaped." This is because in its most mature form the system consisted mainly of small wedge-shaped marks arranged in various combinations. The marks were made by pressing pointed sticks or styluses, often made of reeds, into soft clay tablets, which, when dry and hard, became cumbersome but permanent records.
   The first cuneiform signs were based on pictographs, or picture signs, each representing an animal or an object. The pictogram for a fish, for example, began to be rendered in wedge-shaped marks instead of curved, drawn lines. In time, those wedge marks became more abstract, and sometimes they were rotated ninety degrees, so that they no longer bore any visual relation to a fish. Nonetheless, that sign still signified a fish, whereas some cuneiform marks came to be phonetic, each standing for a spoken sound or syllable. As if mixing pictures and sound signs was not complex enough, there seem to have originally been more than a thousand separate signs. By the mid-third millennium B.C. this number had been reduced to around six hundred. But this was still a great many, making reading and writing cuneiform very time-consuming and difficult and ensuring that only a handful of dedicated scholars, called scribes, achieved literacy.
   Another complication was that cuneiform signs, originally intended to express the Sumerian language, were steadily adapted to other Mesopotamian and Near Eastern languages. These included, among others, Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite, Hur-rian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Old Persian, each with its own variations and peculiarities, although some elements of the original Sumerian marks and meanings remained in all of them. In the thirteenth century B.C. the Syrian kingdom of Ugarit instituted a considerably simplified version of cuneiform with thirty to thirty-two characters that represented alphabetic sounds. This subsequently influenced the script alphabet introduced by the Phoenicians, versions of which are still in use today. In the first millennium B.C. the Persians adopted their own simplified version of cuneiform to express the Old Persian tongue.
   The modern study and decipherment of cuneiform began in the 1770s, when Danish scholar Karsten Niebuhr visited the old Persian capital of Persepolis in southern Iran and observed three different forms of cuneiform script in the ruins. He correctly concluded that the one with fewer than forty signs must be alphabetic in nature. Not long afterward, German scholar Georg F. Grotefend began studying the script, and by 1802 he had deciphered roughly a third of the signs, which turned out to represent Old Persian. In the 1830s and the 1840s, English linguist Henry C. Rawlinson completed the decipherment of the Old Persian cuneiform, then tackled the two other scripts from Persepolis. He was greatly aided by his study of another set of three different cuneiform inscriptions on the Behistun Rock, carved by the artisans of Persia's King Darius I. Another scholar, Irish Assyriologist Edward Hincks, also became involved. By 1851 Rawlinson and Hincks were able to read some two hundred signs of the second cuneiform script. It turned out to be Babylonian, a dialect of Akkadian. With the help of German scholar Julius Oppert and British scholar William Talbot, Rawlinson and Hincks showed that Assyrian was another form of Akkadian. The third script from the Behistun Rock was Elamite, a language very different from others in Mesopotamia, and it was not until the mid-twentieth century that Elamite cuneiform was satisfactorily understood. Meanwhile, the decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform greatly aided other scholars in understanding other kinds of cuneiform, including Sumerian.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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  • cuneiform — CUNEIFÓRM, Ă, cuneiformi, e, adj. Care este în formă de cui. ♢ Scriere cuneiformă = sistem de scriere cu litere în formă de cuie săpate în piatră sau imprimate pe tăbliţe de argilă, folosit de unele popoare orientale antice. ♦ (Substantivat, f.)… …   Dicționar Român

  • Cuneiform — Cu*ne i*form (k? n? ? f?rm), Cuniform Cu ni*form (k? n? f?rm), a. [L. cuneus a wedge + form: cf. F. cunei forme. See {Coin}.] 1. Wedge shaped; as, a cuneiform bone; especially applied to the wedge shaped or arrowheaded characters of ancient… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Cuneiform — (lat. cuneus, Keil) kann sich beziehen auf: das Keilbein, siehe Os cuneiforme cuneiform script, engl. für Keilschrift eine Texterkennungssoftware, siehe CuneiForm …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • cuneiform — ► ADJECTIVE 1) relating to the wedge shaped characters used in the ancient writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit. 2) chiefly Biology wedge shaped. ► NOUN ▪ cuneiform writing. ORIGIN from Latin cuneus wedge …   English terms dictionary

  • cuneiform — [kyo͞o nē′ə fôrm΄, kyo͞o′nē əfôrm΄] adj. [< L cuneus (see CUNEAL) + FORM] 1. wedge shaped 2. designating the characters in ancient Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian inscriptions, or the inscriptions themselves n. cuneiform characters …   English World dictionary

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