<- Virtual Exhibitions in Informatics


Sumerians created cuneiform script over 5000 years ago. It was the world's first written language. The last known cuneiform inscription was written in 75 AD. Pictograms, or drawings representing actual things, were the basis for cuneiform writing. As shown in the chart, early pictograms resembled the objects they represented, but through repeated use over time they began to look simpler, even abstract. These marks eventually became wedge-shaped ("cuneiform"), and could convey sounds or abstract concepts.

Cuneiforms were written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed called a stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge shaped, thus giving rise to the name cuneiform, wedge-writing.

The Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite (and Luwian), Hurrian (and Urartian) languages, and it inspired the Old Persian and Ugaritic national alphabets. Knowledge of cuneiform was lost until 1835 when Henry Rawlinson, a British army officer, found some of the Behistun inscriptions on a cliff at Behistun in Persia. Carved in the reign of King Darius of Persia (522 BC–486 BC), they consisted of identical texts in the three official languages of the empire: Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite. The Behistun inscription was to the decipherment of cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone was to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Cuneiform has a specific format for transliteration. Because of the script's polyvalence, transliteration is not only lossless, but may actually contain more information than the original document

Further information and links: