W13 – Current Research in Cuneiform Palaeography 2

Organizers: Elena Devecchi (Università degli Studi di Torino) — Gerfrid G. W. Müller (Julius-Maximilians-Universität, Würzburg / Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz) — Jana Mynářová (Univerzita Karlova)


  1. Armando Bramanti (Sapienza Università di Roma / Consejo Superior de Investigationes Científicas, Madrid)
  2. Mathilde Touillon-Ricci (British Museum)
  3. Edward Stratford (Brigham Young University)
  4. Wiebke Beyer (Universität Hamburg)
  5. Klaus Wagensonner (Yale University)
  6. Lisa Wilhelmi (Universität Heidelberg / Freie Universität Berlin)
  7. Zenobia Homan (Univesity of London)
  8. Jana Mynářová (Univerzita Karlova)
  9. Sebastian Fischer (Freie Universität Berlin)
  10. Michael Jursa and Reinhard Pirngruber (Universität Wien)
  11. Gerfrid G. W. Müller (Julius-Maximilians-Universität, Würzburg / Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz) and Reinhard Pirngruber (Universität Wien)
  12. Livio Warbinek (Università degli Studi di Firenze)

General Abstract

In 2010, Dominique Charpin rightfully complained that “Unfortunately, the palaeography of cuneiform was underdeveloped for a long time, and in large measure still remains so” (Reading and Writing in Babylon, Cambridge, MA – London 2010, 78). Seven years later the situation has changed radically, as cuneiform studies have witnessed a growing interest in issues variously related to the broadly defined field of palaeography. We believe that the workshop “Current Research in Cuneiform Palaeography” we organized in 2014 at the 60th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (whose proceedings appeared as Devecchi, E. – Müller, G.G.W. – Mynářová, J., eds., Current Research in Cuneiform Palaeography. Proceedings of the Workshop Organised at the 60th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Warsaw 2014, Gladbeck: PeWe-Verlag 2015) contributed towards drawing attention to this field of investigation: rather than exhausting their potential, that first meeting and the proceedings sparked interest for palaeographic studies by providing case studies on diverse topics such as writing space, wedge order, quantitative analysis, text reconstruction, sign identification and palaeographic dating.
A group of twelve scholars already confirmed their interest in presenting their ongoing researches at a second workshop on “Current Research in Cuneiform Palaeography”. Their contributions will investigate palaeographic issues of cuneiform corpora from different periods and geographical areas, ranging from 3rd, 2nd and 1st millennium Mesopotamia (Bramanti, Beyer, Devecchi, Jursa – Pirngruber, Touillon-Ricci, Wagensonner) to the Late Bronze Age "peripheries" (Fischer, Homan, Müller, Mynářová, Wilhelmi). By bringing together scholars working on different cuneiform corpora the workshop will try to overcome the problem of focusing on specific geographical areas and/or chronological frameworks, typical for individual studies, through a discussion that will address issues concerning common terminology and standards in palaeographic description as well as concepts for structuring and handling palaeographic databases.

General Contacts: elena.devecchi@unito.it; Jana.Mynarova@ff.cuni.cz; ggwmueller@gmail.com

Paper Titles with Abstract

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles:

Chronological and Geographical Liminality in Early Mesopotamian Palaeography: The Case of Umma and Adab
Armando Bramanti (Sapienza Università di Roma / Consejo Superior de Investigationes Científicas, Madrid)

In 1922 A. Deimel published his Liste der Archaischen Keilschriftzeichen, commonly known as LAK. After almost a century, this is still the standard sign list for Early Mesopotamian texts. In recent years, the corpus of Early Dynastic and Sargonic documents has increased enormously, especially after the publication of hundreds of tablets deriving from the neighboring regions of Umma and Adab.
Due to these circumstances, there is renewed interest in the compilation of sign lists and syllabaries of third millennium cuneiform – some works have been announced and their publication is expected in the next years, as in the case of Early Dynastic Ebla (P. Paoletti) and Early Dynastic Fara (E. Zeran). Some first preliminary modern studies of Early Mesopotamian palaeography have been already produced by, among others, M. Such-Gutiérrez, M. Maiocchi (Adab), A. Bramanti, and P. Notizia (Umma). The growing interest in the field of cuneiform palaeography was also endorsed by the organization of recent international workshops (60th RAI – Warsaw, 64th RAI – Innsbruck) and symposia (Leiden 2009).
Within this framework, and following in the footsteps of the available literature, it is time to reconsider the concept of chronological and geographical liminality in the third millennium, in an attempt to answer the following question: to what extent is palaeography a diagnostic tool for shedding further light on the origin of a text? The corpus of documents from the regions of Umma and Adab provide a case study to test the potentiality of this approach, while navigating along the placid banks of the Tigris on a voyage from the Early Dynastic to the Sargonic times.

Crafting cuneiform: a palaeographic and material approach to writing practices in the Ur III period
Mathilde Touillon-Ricci (British Museum)

The Third Dynasty of Ur thrived on a large-scale administrative structure powered by cohorts of functionaries. In just over the 100 years that the Dynasty ruled, the scribes produced vast quantities of administrative documents, some 120,000 of which survived until today and now form one of the largest cuneiform corpora. This wealth of documents constitutes an exceptional material for the study of writing practices in the Ur III period. 
Writing is a product of the hand as much as of the mind; not an innate ability, it is a learned and practised skill, a combination of rules and standards performed by individuals. Based on a claim found in Šulgi B that the King established new schools in Ur and Nippur, it has been hypothesised that schooling and writing underwent major reforms under Šulgi’s reign. 
By contrasting datasets drawn from the administrative production of selected sites including Umma, Ur and Girsu, this paper interrogates the material aspects of writing with respect to sign variants, writing sequence and text layout, and the relationship between inscribed artefacts and writing practices. This study of idiosyncrasies and traditions in cuneiform during the Ur III period aims to address the extent to which writing reflects the context in which it was performed and how its palaeographic and material features do vary or conform over time and across sites.

Chirography and Old Assyrian Literacy
Edward Stratford (Brigham Young University)

If palaeography is the study of forms of writing for the purposes of dating and verification, then the promising avenues in Old Assyrian palaeography must be considered something slightly different. Ultimately, the most useful reasons for studying the forms of writing is as a window into the breadth and practice of literacy in Old Assyrian society and those interacting with its members. It is widely held (and not rejected here) that literacy was widespread among merchants and their families. But there are opportunities to both confirm and enrich such claims. In this paper I will return to the idea of conducting chirographical analysis on tablets as part of a project to study literacy ‘from the ground up’. If the term chirography is unusual, the practice of such inquiry already has had it precedents in the study of the Old Assyrian tablets. I will discuss the aims of such an endeavor and the methods by which it can and cannot be pursued. In the process I will provide a progress report on the Tablet Ninjas project, a project to crowdsource indexing photographs of cuneiform tablets down to the sign, and the relation of the TabletNinjas project to both the ongoing Old Assyrian Research Environment project and a project to source the clays of the Old Assyrian tablets through portable X-Ray Fluorescence technology. The combination of these project offers the possibility of fleshing out authorship and hands of individual tablets as a way toward substantiating prevailing opinions about literacy in the Old Assyrian period.

Teaching – from parent to child(?)
Wiebke Beyer (Universität Hamburg)

While the Old Babylonian period provides an abundance of school material, the Old Assyrian sources about teaching and school life are very low. In Aššur and Kaneš only very few texts were unearthed which could probably be considered as teaching material. Michel (2008) suggested, that Assyrian children of the first known generations of merchants received scribal education in Aššur. But with the settling in Anatolia, later generations probably developed a scribal education in Kaneš/Anatolia as well.
This paper is based on T. Davis (2007, 260) assumption, that individual handwriting is the result of practise, creativity, and imitation. In case of the Old Assyrian students it implies that their handwriting resembles to some extent the handwriting of their teacher. Based on case studies I will try to answer the question, whether it is possible to trace scribal education with the aid of palaeography – and whether the Old Assyrian children learned writing within their families

YBC 4615: Sign list, sign inventory, or advanced “exercise”?
Klaus Wagensonner (Yale University)

Lists of signs and sign forms can be traced back as far as the Uruk period and appear until the early 2nd millennium BC again and again in the textual record. The Old Babylonian period saw many novelties in the lexical tradition. Among these is the compilation of several extensive sign syllabaries, which eventually were standardized and copied until the end of cuneiform culture in Mesopotamia. Sign lists and word lists are still in a relative flux in the first half of the 2nd millennium and exhibit many local traditions. A hitherto unpublished tablet in the Yale Babylonian Collection stands in the tradition of sign lists, but presents a complete inventory of signs known in this period. A peculiar feature of this text is its layout. The approx. 450 individual sign forms preserved on this tablet are not presented in the expected tabular arrangement of lexical texts, but rather as running text. The paper addresses this so far unparalleled text and discusses the organization of its “entries”. In doing so it aims to contrast the evidence from other (mostly contemporary) sign lists and syllabaries, such as Ea.

Bi-graphic Competence - The "Akkadian Texts from Boğazköy" as evidence for the purpose-related use of a distinct type of script
Lisa Wilhelmi (Universität Heidelberg / Freie Universität Berlin)

The appearance of the Akkadian texts from Ḫattuša/Boğazköy sits uncomfortably within palaeographic research into the texts from the Hittite capital, as ductus and sign forms of manuscripts from this group are often, but not always, difficult to reconcile with the evidence from contemporary texts in Hittite language. It has often been proposed that the evidence of a different type of script must therefore be due to the employment of foreign scribes for the composition of texts for international correspondence in Akkadian language.
The designation ‘Akkadian texts from Boğazköy’ is problematic in itself and clarification of the corpus examined for the purposes of any type of research is vital: In order to establish a delineated corpus with a common origin, purpose and tradition it is therefore taken to include all those texts that were composed in Ḫattuša in Akkadian language including manuscripts that were found elsewhere (like Ras Shamra/Ugarit for example) but excluding texts that were sent to Ḫatti from other centers and kept in the Hittite archives, whether as copies or originals.
Close examination of the characteristics of the language and the orthographic conventions of this corpus shows a level of interference of elements from the native language and writing practices associated with texts in Hittite language that points towards an association of the ‘authors’ of the Akkadian texts with the scribal circles of the Hittite chancellery. Thus, the distinct type of script exhibited by a number of the texts in Akkadian language suggests that the additional qualification, so-to-speak, of this particular group of scribes was not limited to the composition of texts in two languages but included bi-graphic training. The fact that some Akkadian language texts from the Hittite archives do in fact show contemporary Hittite ductus further complicates the situation, and it is clear that the individual circumstances of any given text and its history of composition and transmission need to be taken into account when establishing the parameters for the actual application of the distinct type of script to manuscripts.

Mittani Palaeography
Zenobia Homan (University of London)

This paper will address the currently known Mittani archives, namely the Mittani Amarna Letters, the so-called Assyro-Mittanian documents found at Boghazköy, and all other un-grouped Mittani tablets. Particularly this last group is difficult to access and document, and remains relatively under-published.
The archives were studied via a digital humanities approach, creating and utilising an image database with over 50 000 entries. It includes code to cross-compare and find correlation, leading to statistically satisfying answers which are so rare in the often still subjective study of palaeography. This paper will specifically focus on describing
Mittani sign-forms and variations, which has ultimately also resulted in a complete sign-list of Mittani cuneiform. Hopefully the list will be useful for archaeologists currently excavating in the Middle East, scholars of Middle Assyrian and associated script-groups, and those interested in cuneiform palaeography in general.  
The study of Mittani palaeography ties in with an important discussion that runs as a red thread through the Current Research in Palaeography workshop: what are signs, sign-forms and variants; are we using the right vocabulary; and can we more clearly define these terms?

Amarna texts from the Northern Levant. The Qatna Palaeography in Context
Jana Mynářová (Univerzita Karlova)

The publication of some important cuneiform corpora from the Late Bronze Age Levant over the past decade has drastically changed the perspective taken towards issues pertaining to the acquisition and adaptation of cuneiform writing in the so-called peripheral areas. This development can especially be observed following the current research in cuneiform palaeography. The meetings in Leiden (2009) and Warsaw (2014) already demonstrated the potential of cuneiform palaeography for our understanding of the process of writing, the composition of the respective texts, and many other aspects. It is striking that the most complete tool for the study of one of the principal “peripheral” cuneiform corpora of the second millennium B.C., the Amarna corpus, remains to this day the sign list of O. Schroeder, published already in 1915. In 2012 a new project dedicated to the digital epigraphy and palaeography of the Amarna tablets started at the Charles University in Prague. In this presentation, I will present some results of the paleographic research conducted in this project. The paper intends to investigate possible common sources for a cuneiform palaeography of the Northern Levant with special attention given to the corpus of documents from Qatna (mod. Tell Mishrifeh, EA 52–56, EA 57?). The results will be set into a more general frame of cuneiform writing in peripheral areas of the Late Bronze Age.

Zur Paläographie der hurritischen Emar-Texte
Sebastian Fischer (Freie Universität Berlin)

Der Vortrag gibt einen Überblick über die paläographischen Merkmale der hurritischen Emar-Texte. Das Korpus selbst kann vor allem aufgrund zweier unterschiedlicher Syllabare, die verwendet werden, weiter differenziert werden. Welche Unterschiede in den Zeichenformen auftauchen und welche Aussagekraft diese haben, wird diskutiert und schließlich wird auch der Frage nachgegangen, ob die minimalen Varianten bei einzelnen Zeichen in einer der beiden Untergruppen für unterschiedliche Schreiber sprechen oder ob diese Varianten im Bereich einer Schreiberhand liegen.

Cuneiform palaeography in 1st millennium BCE Babylonia
Michael Jursa and Reinhard Pirngruber (Universität Wien)

The creation of the online sign-list LaBaSi (visit https://labasi.acdh.oeaw.ac.at/), currently recording about 12,000 allographies of a sample of ca. 200 standard signs and covering the most important Late Babylonian sites (including Uruk, Sippar, Borsippa and Babylon), allows for an investigation of the development of cuneiform writing during the first millennium in unprecedented detail. Our presentation aims at providing a first assessment of the material gathered so far, with a particular focus on both developments over time and regional variations. We will also give a brief introduction to the setup and navigability of the site in order to explain our approach and our methodology. We will conclude with an outlook as to the potential of the site in helping to identify individual handwritings.

Small samples, big variations: strategies to identify scribes
Gerfrid G. W. Müller (Julius-Maximilians-Universität, Würzburg / Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz) and Reinhard Pirngruber (Universität Wien)

Techniques to identify groups of textes written by the same scribe have been proven to be successful with larger samples of Hittite library tablets. These clusters are generated from geometric features of wedge imprints of cuneiform characters which are detected by the Cuneiform Analyser (developed by Fisseler, Cammarosano, Müller and Weichert).
The contribution will present a comparative study of the handwritings of two well-known scribes in the service of the Eanna temple of Uruk during to the ‘long sixth century’ between the reign of Nabopolassar and the revolts against Xerxes in 484 B.C., Nādin, son of Bēl-ahhē-iqīša and Gimillu, son of Inanna-zēru-iddin. It is based on two samples of about forty legal and administrative texts each. These texts pose a challenge because they are less carefully written and therefore have a greater variation of characters. At the same time, the documents are comparatively short.
We discuss strategies to deal with these obstacles using autoptic analysis of attested allographs of selected standard signs and computer-aided metrology.

Abbreviations, lines and clay tablets: how to write a KIN oracle, how to manage the space
Livio Warbinek (Università degli Studi di Firenze)

The goal of this proposed study is to analyse the impact of the layout and the space arrangement in a specific literary genre, the Hittite KIN oracle text, as well as its possible influence on other textual typologies. According to the epigraphic sources found in Hattusa/Bogazkoy, the set-up of an oracular teblet seems to be the result of two main factors: the conscious and abundant use of abbreviations in writing, on the one hand, and the organization of lines, paragraphs and columns previously inscribed on the other. To do this, some specific features of the KIN tablets, such as size and text-lines as well as its function and pecularities, will be presented in light of new considerations deriving from an exhaustive study of the KIN divination system.
The analysis of these elements, taken individually and together, will underline some specific features of the KIN oracle tablet, as developed in part in my PhD dissertation. At the same time, this approach may shed new light on some of the possible ways to write other cuneiform texts.