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Ancient Near Eastern Seminar Room










280 Barrows Hall #1940
Berkeley, CA 94720-1940


: Cuneiform languages (Sumerian, Akkadian); History, Religions, and Cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia

Research:  History of Education and Lexicography in Ancient Mesopotamia; Sumerian language

Awards:   Guggenheim Fellowship 2005
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Niek Veldhuis

 Ancient Mesopotamia was the birthplace of writing. Writing was invented around 3200 BCE in the city of Uruk, in the deep South of what is now Iraq. The earliest writing system is called cuneiform, or "nail-formed writing" after the latin word cuneus (nail). The signs are drawn with a reed pen in soft clay, which is then dried in the sun. Such clay tablets are almost indestructible and have been found by archaeologists all over the Near East.

Cuneiform Text from the collection of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology
(click for larger picture)


HMA 9-2616

Monthly account of grain deliveries to various individuals at the "quay of the General." Grand total: 1782 liters of grain.

Month: Festival of Šulgi (= Month 10)

Year when the boat of Enki was made.

The tablet dates to the Ur III period (about 2050 BCE) and comes from the city of Umma. Archives from this period have yielded tens of thousands of documents. Each year had a name, referring to an important event in the year before (see year names). "Year when the boat of Enki was made" is the second regnal year of king Šu-Su'en.

The tablet now belongs to the collection of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Administrative tablets, such as the one above, reveal much about the social, political, and economic history of the area. Literary texts, hymns, and prayers give access to the ideologies and the religious ideas and practices that were current more than 4,000 years ago. Translations of a large collection of Sumerian literary texts are on line at the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL).