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


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


Organisation to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones. EPISODE 24


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


Software for working with maps. EPISODE 22


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


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


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


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


Project investigating Babylonian medicine. EPISODE 17


Type of Sumerian musical work. EPISODE 3


“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


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


Early type of photograph. EPISODE 24


A line of text telling the reader which tablet to read next. EPISODE 21

Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France

“The Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France”. The French national research centre responsible for the documentation and conservation of museum collections. EPISODE 24


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

Collège de France

Prestigious teaching and research establishment in Paris. EPISODE 24


Scribal note added at the end of a tablet. EPISODE 21


Satellite images deriving from a US reconnaissance programme in the 1950s. EPISODE 22

Cosmoloid H 80

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


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).

The Diviners Manual

An ancient handbook explaining the diviner’s craft. EPISODE 21


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


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, EPISODE 21


Substance used to give paint volume. EPISODE 19


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


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

Google Earth

Software presenting the earth using satellite images. EPISODE 22

Grand Louvre

Project in 1980s and 1990s to enlarge the Louvre. EPISODE 24

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


Broadway musical. EPISODE 15


Name of the fifth string in Babylonian. EPISODE 3


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


Language spoken in the Philippines. EPISODE 19


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


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


Substance used to keep paint moist. EPISODE 19


International Conference of Near Eastern Archaeomusicology. EPISODE 3


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


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


An administrative region in Iraq. EPISODE 13


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.


Musical instrument a bit like a harp. EPISODE 3


A member of a Persian priestly caste. EPISODE 8


System of melodic modes used in Arabic music. EPISODE 3


“exorcist”. Someone who drive off demons and helped treat the problems they caused. EPISODE 4, EPISODE 21


App offering high resolution satellite images. EPISODE 22


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


Awe-inspiring aura of supernatural beings. EPISODE 28


Babylonian word meaning “advice”, such as offered to a ruler. EPISODE 28

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


The study of music. EPISODE 3

Nahrein Network

Research project based at UCL. EPISODE 6


A ritual intended to avoid predicted misfortune. EPISODE 21

Nineveh Medical Encyclopaedia

A systematic compendium of Assyrian medical texts. EPISODE 17

nish tuhri

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


An excerpt of a text. EPISODE 21


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


A type of doctor specialising in eye medicine. EPISODE 17


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


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


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


“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


Plural of pyxis, a small box. EPISODE 13


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


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


A classical language of India. EPISODE 8


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


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


The State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq. EPISODE 22

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


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

Shumma Alu

An omen collection for predicting the future based on things that happened during daily life. EPISODE 21

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, EPISODE 28

Tablet of Destinies

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


The science of naming, describing and classifying . EPISODE 17


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


Public assembly among the Vikings. EPISODE 12


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


An infectious eye disease. EPISODE 17


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


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


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

Wrong Studio

Danish design studio. EPISODE 28


Type of Hurrian musical work. EPISODE 3


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