Data on clay
October 23, 2019 12:56 PM   Subscribe

"If you're interested in cuneiform writing, you'll be pleased to hear that the major cuneiform symbol groups have been assigned blocks in Unicode," says Robert Mesibov, a data auditor and retired zoologist in West Ulverstone, Tasmania, Australia. "There are also online resources for everyday computer users who want to learn more about cuneiform and the cuneiform-using cultures. The Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus (ORACC) project not only welcomes new participants, but is also strong on FOSS and open data."
posted by cgc373 (8 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
"Dried-out waste documents could be used as building material."

Try that with a PDF.
posted by blakewest at 2:44 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's about time, sick of doing graphic design with janky image traced cunieform from old carvings.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:48 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm unreasonably fascinated by the link in the first article to Dumb Cuneiform (a service that transliterates Tweets into Old Persian cuneiform and puts them on a clay tablet for $20), which is set apart by formatting so that it looks very much like a paid ad.

Is there a secret affiliate marketing program for cuneiform transliteration services? How can I join?
posted by Not A Thing at 4:12 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Mesopotamian trivia: for diplomatic dispatches (reports on spies or unrest in the provinces) one could pack the clay tablet within another layer of clay for a top-secret sealed missive, only to be broken for your eyes only. (I luv a man who writes cuneiform;)
posted by ovvl at 4:49 PM on October 23, 2019

BTW you probably don't need to install a font on any recent system to see cuneiform Unicode; I just checked Firefox on a fresh install of Windows 10 and it worked. You can also use it in MeFi comments, see here for example.

Google also seems to successfully search for cuneiform words, though there are few results. I notice that ORACC doesn't present its texts in Unicode but rather as transliterations in Latin characters, as do other projects such as the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.

ORACC offers a Cuneify tool that claims to convert transliterations back to cuneiform but I'm not getting anywhere with it, even copying the examples from further down the page.
posted by XMLicious at 4:58 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I didn't really appreciate the amount and significance of cuneiform writing that has survived to the present, until I went to the Ashurbanipal exhibit at the British Museum last year.

Ashurbanipal ruled the Assyrian empire at the peak of its power, reigning from 668 - 627 BC when it spanned from the Mediterranean to western Iran. He was proud of his reputation as a scholar equally to that as a warrior, and at his palace in Niveneh he accumulated a huge library.

Much as per the legend of Alexandria, his library was burned to the ground when the city was sacked a few years after the end of his reign. However, since much of its holdings were on clay tablets, these not only survived the fire but were actually actively preserved by it, as the clay baked in the heat and was buried under the rubble. What a killer feature in a data storage medium!

When finally excavated, the site yielded over 30,000 tablets from some 10,000 texts, including the Epic of Gilgamesh.
There are also some immensely interesting personal items, including tablets of homework exercises from Ashurbanipal's childhood, and letters between him and his brother, against whom he eventually fought a war.

And that's all just from that one site - a fraction of the total corpus of surviving cuneiform. To quote Wikipedia:

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.

For anyone keen to learn the language and writing system, there is a vast amount to discover.
posted by automatronic at 5:18 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Do you want neurolinguistic viruses? Because this is how yodbdmfhdufnrfna

(excellent post, thanks!)
posted by curious nu at 5:20 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

One of my favorite things relating to cuneiform tablets is how one of them led to multiple works of fan fiction and memes dunking on a shifty copper merchant who died almost 4000 years ago.

Previously, because you know that’s exactly the sort of thing MeFites are going to be on top of.
posted by The Situationist Room with Guy Debord at 12:24 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

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