What

antiq

Modern name for cuneiform tablets used by people living near the site of the site of Tell Abu Antiq.

ACAWAI-CS

Annotated Corpus of Ancient West Asian Imagery-Cylinder Seals. Project run by Elisa Rossberger. EPISODE 9

Anthropocene

Proposed era to describe the time when human activity has significantly impacted the planet. EPISODE 13

Araldite 2020

An epoxy resin that can be used to glue fragments of objects to each other. EPISODE 18

archaeomusicology

Or “music archaeology”. The study of ancient music. EPISODE 3

ashipu

“Exorcist”. A professionally trained specialist who used magic spells to drive off demons. EPISODE 4, EPISODE 17

asu

Healthcare professional who specialised in physical remedies. EPISODE 4

Atra(m)hasis Epic

Literary text about the flood and the creation of Man. EPISODE 9

Avestan

A language used in ancient Persia (for the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism). EPISODE 8

BabMed

Project investigating Babylonian medicine. EPISODE 17

balbale

Type of Sumerian musical work. EPISODE 3

BIN SHAR DADME

“The son of the king of all the habitations”. Name given to the god Ninurta. EPISODE 7

Böhl collection

De Liagre Böhl collection. Collection in Leiden of objects from the ancient Middle East. Curated by the Netherlands Institute for the Near East, Leiden University. EPISODE 18

brightness

Property of colour. How light or dark something is. EPISODE 19

British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI)

Charity focusing on research and education on Iraq. EPISODE 6

bultu latku

“Tested cures” in Mesopotamian medicine. EPISODE 17

colatoria

Room where corpses would be placed for drying before final burial. Used in Italy until 19th century. EPISODE 10

Cosmoloid H 80

A micro-crystalline wax that can be used to glue fragments of objects to each other. EPISODE 18

cuneiform

Cuneiform is a type of writing that was popular in the ancient Middle East. It’s not an alphabet, and it wasn’t written with pen and ink. In cuneiform, you write on clay with a cut-off reed. You press the reed pen into the clay to make wedge-shaped holes. These wedge shapes are what give cuneiform its name: it just means “wedge shaped”. Each character (more or less “letter”) was made from several wedge-shaped holes arranged in a shape. There were more than 500 characters in cuneiform. They could be used for a sound, a word, or they could tell you what kind of word something is–the next word is a type of sheep, or the last word is a town, for example. Sounds complicated, but it’s not.

Cuneiform has two features that make it seem even more complicated, although anyone who knows English will have learned to cope with them already. One is that a given character can be used for any one of several different sounds. That’s like how g can be read as a hard g (as in “go”) or soft like j (as in “age”). The other is that a given sound could be written with any one of several different characters. That’s like how the z sound can be written with z (as in “zero”) or with s (as in “dogs”). Just like in English, though, these different spellings tend to be limited to specific situations. When you read a text, it’s usually not very difficult to work out how a character is to be read.

Cuneiform is the writing system, not a language. Many different languages were written in cuneiform. The two main languages were Sumerian and Akkadian. There are also many texts in Hittite, as well as plenty in Elamite, Urartian, and Hurrian. Altogether, there are about a dozen languages that were written in cuneiform.

I’ve just described what is normally meant when someone says “cuneiform”. But cuneiform just means wedge-shaped. It also refers to two other types of writing that are very different from Mesopotamian “cuneiform”. One is a kind of alphabet used in the Syrian city of Ugarit for at least a century or two before 1200 BC. This Ugaritic writing looks pretty similar to Mesopotamian cuneiform, because it was written with a stylus in clay. But the letter shapes are very different, and they were used in a different way. The other cuneiform is different from both Mesopotamian and Ugaritic cuneiform. It was used in Iran for a short time from some point in 500s BC. Again, the writing looks like Mesopotamian cuneiform, but the letter shapes are different, and they are used in a different way.

To find out more about cuneiform, visit Cuneiform Revealed, or watch this video (in your choice of English, French, German, Spanish or Turkish).

DUB NAM TAR

Sumerian “Tablet of Destinies”. See Tablet of Destinies. EPISODE 7

earth pigments

Pigments that you can get from rocks and stones and clay. EPISODE 19

EDUU

EU-funded project aiming to enhance Iraqi Cultural Heritage. EPISODE 13

Egyptian blue

A synthetically produced blue pigment. Made by melting silica, alkali, and copper. EPISODE 19

El Muhattap

Small Turkish collection of cuneiform texts from Sippar. EPISODE 16

Electronic Babylonian Literature project

Project aimed at reconstructing Babylonian literature. EPISODE 16

emulsifier

Substance used to give paint volume. EPISODE 19

Eti

Old Turkish name for the Hittites. A famous food brand in Turkey. EPISODE 16

Euclid’s Elements

Mathematical text from Egypt during a period of Greek rule, c. 300 BC. EPISODE 11

First Dynasty of Babylon

The dynasty based in Babylon, ruling in the early second millennium BC. Including Hammurabi.

Gilgamesh Epic

Epic following the adventures of Gilgamesh, a legendary king of Uruk. It explores human mortality. The most famous piece of literature from Mesopotamia

GISH HUR

Sumerian term referring to the plans for the world. See Tablet of Destinies. EPISODE 7

de Gruyter

Publishing company based in Germany. Publisher of Jana Matuszak’s new book on Sumerian literary duels between women. EPISODE 2

gum Arabic

A natural gum typically made from tree sap. Used to control viscosity. EPISODE 19

Hamilton

Broadway musical. EPISODE 15

hamshu

Name of the fifth string in Babylonian. EPISODE 3

Hamurabi

A pastry shop in Istanbul. hamur “dough” + abi “brother” https://hamurabi.com.tr. EPISODE 16

Hanunoo

Language spoken in the Philippines. EPISODE 19

hedgewitch

Someone who performs magic without formal training. We don’t know much about this type of person in Mesopotamia. The texts that survive document the activities of the professionals, of course. And they give the impression that this is something that was best left to professionals. EPISODE 4

heptatonic system

A system of music that uses 7 notes. EPISODE 3

Hilprecht collection

Collection in Jena of objects from the ancient Middle East. EPISODE 18

Hippocratic corpus

A collection of early Greek medical texts. EPISODE 17

hue

Property of colour. Whether something is red or green, for example. EPISODE 19

humectant

Substance used to keep paint moist. EPISODE 19

ICONEA

International Conference of Near Eastern Archaeomusicology. EPISODE 3

Ilkum

Corvee duty imposed by the kings of Babylon. EPISODE 5

Iraq Museum

National museum of Iraq, in Baghdad. EPISODE 18

Istanbul Sippar Project

Project to digitise the Sippar collections of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. EPISODE 16

jins/ajnas

Set of pitches used to make a maqam in Arabic music. EPISODE 3

kaimakam

An administrative region in Iraq. EPISODE 13

Kaskal

Academic journal. A Journal of History, Environments, and Cultures of the Ancient Near East

lake pigments

Pigments that you can get from plant matter. EPISODE 19

King Ghazi Landscape Museum

New museum in the Diwaniyah region of Iraq. EPISODE 13

lexical lists

A set of laws. Older then Hammurabi’s famous laws

Laws of Eshnunna

Lists of words used in scribal education. They’re a bit like dictionaries. For examples and explanations, you’ll enjoy the DCCLT.

lyre

Musical instrument a bit like a harp. EPISODE 3

magus

A member of a Persian priestly caste. EPISODE 8

maqam

System of melodic modes used in Arabic music. EPISODE 3

mashmashu

“exorcist”. Someone who drive off demons and helped treat the problems they caused. EPISODE 4

ME

Sumerian term describing everything that makes up the civilised world. See Tablet of Destinies. EPISODE 7

Monument de Ninive

Lavish publication of the results of early French excavations. By Paul Emile Botta and Eugène Flandin (1849). EPISODE 14

Mr. Nicky’s World History Songs

YouTube channel with history parody songs. EPISODE 15

musicology

The study of music. EPISODE 3

Nahrein Network

Research project based at UCL. EPISODE 6

Nineveh Medical Encyclopaedia

A systematic compendium of Assyrian medical texts. EPISODE 17

nish tuhri

“raising of the heel”. Interval in Babylonian music. EPISODE 3

ochre

A natural clay earth pigment. Used to make reds and yellows. EPISODE 19

Old Persian

An ancient language of Iran. Also the name for a type of cuneiform writing used by the Persians. EPISODE 8

ophthalmologist

A type of doctor specialising in eye medicine. EPISODE 17

Oracc

web portal offering free access to cuneiform texts and explanatory information. EPISODE 2

organology

The study of musical instruments. EPISODE 3

Ottoman Civil List

Hazine-i Hassa (also called the Department of the Privy Purse in English) administered the investments and properties of the Ottoman emperor, which (during the reign of Abdülhamid II) included substantial lands around the vilayet of Baghdad, including Abu-Habbah/Sippar. EPISODE 16

Owning the Past: from Mesopotamia to Iraq

Temporary exhibition at the Ashmolean. EPISODE 6

pandemonium

A modern collective term for all the demons. EPISODE 4

Paraloid B 72

A resin very common used for consolidation or bonding of archaeological objects. EPISODE 18

pentatonic system

A system of music that uses 5 notes. EPISODE 3

pitu

“opening”. Interval in Babylonian music. EPISODE 3

Polyvinyl Butyral 30

A resin used to form strong bonds, to glue fragments of objects to each other. EPISODE 18

Prostration Hemerology

Ancient text setting out ritual instructions for certain times of the year. EPISODE 16

pyxides

Plural of pyxis, a small box. EPISODE 13

qablitu

“middle”. The middle interval in Babylonian music. EPISODE 3

qudmu

Name of the first string in Babylonian. EPISODE 3

RTI imaging

Reflectance Transformation Imaging. Technique for displaying images of objects under varying lighting. EPISODE 16

Sanskrit

A classical language of India. EPISODE 8

Sassanian

Iranian dynasty in power from the second to the seventh century AD. EPISODE 5

saturation

Property of colour. How pure the hue is. EPISODE 19

Sealand Dynasty

Dynasty ruling in southern Iraq during the second millennium BC. EPISODE 5

second degree equation

A kind of equation containing an element that is squared. EPISODE 11

sexagesimal system

A way of counting using 60s (instead of 10s like the modern decimal system). EPISODE 11

Shahnameh

National epic of Iran. Written by Ferdowsi around 1000 AD. EPISODE 8

shalshu qatnu

Name of the third string in Babylonian. EPISODE 3

shari’ raisiyah

“presidential road” in the north of Mosul. EPISODE 13

Sherds (also: shards)

Fragments of pottery. EPISODE 18

sinter crust

A chemical sediment that can form over a period of time on the surfaces of archaeological objects. EPISODE 18

Standard Babylonian

Literary style of Akkadian. Commonly used in the first millennium BC. EPISODE 7

Tablet of Destinies

A mythical tablet granting great power to whoever holds it. EPISODE 7

Taxonomy

The science of naming, describing and classifying . EPISODE 17

terracotta

Object of an artistic type, made of clay and fired. Most importantly, 3D figurines and relief plaques. EPISODE 9

The Evil Mouth

Sumerian literary composition. EPISODE 2

Thing

Public assembly among the Vikings. EPISODE 12

tone

Property of colour. How much white or black a colour contains. EPISODE 19

trachoma

An infectious eye disease. EPISODE 17

TUPPI SHIMATI

Akkadian “Tablet of Destinies”. See Tablet of Destinies. EPISODE 7

Two Women A

Sumerian literary composition. EPISODE 2

Two Women B

Sumerian literary composition. EPISODE 2

UD.GAL.NUN

Difficult group of Sumerian from the middle of the third millennium BC. EPISODE 7

Uruk-Warka collection

Collection in Heidelberg of objects from the ancient Middle East. EPISODE 18

Vorderasiatisches Museum [Near East Museum]

Museum in Berlin where a large collection of objects from the ancient Middle East are curated. EPISODE 18

waklum

Assyrian term for the chair of the assembly. EPISODE 12

West Point Military Academy

United States Military Academy / West Point. US federal training facility for army officers. EPISODE 14

Woman Perfecting Evil

Sumerian literary composition. EPISODE 2

zaluzi

Type of Hurrian musical work. EPISODE 3

Zipang

group of storytellers bringing ancient Iraqi stories to life for modern audiences, in English, Arabic and Kurdish. EPISODE 2