16105obv CBS 16105: Land text from about 3000 BCE in pictographs (obverse and reverse). University of Pennsylvania Museum Archives. Reproduction prohibited in any form without permission.

When Speech Was Nails
Visual Poetics of Writing in
Ancient Mesopotamia

Steve Tinney
Clark Research Associate Professor of Assyriology, and Director, Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project
University of Pennsylvania

Presented by the Penn Humanities Forum and University of Pennsylvania Museum

Wednesday • February 22, 2006 • 5:00 pm
Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum
3260 South Street, Penn

Free. Public invited.

Writing was born in Mesopotamia as pictographs, which then turned into cuneiform characters. Noted Babylonian scholar Steve Tinney explores the interface between writing and image in ancient Mesopotamia from the earliest experiments with the new art of writing, to the sophisticated graphical word games played by the late sages in the royal courts of Assyria and Babylon.

Dr. Steve Tinney is director of the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. He holds a B.A. in Assyriology from Cambridge University, England, and a Ph.D. in Assyriology from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. His research interests include all aspects of Sumerian language, literature, and culture. Much of his current work is devoted to developing and publishing Sumerian texts and to analyzing and presenting the Sumerian language. This work is primarily focussed on the creation of two major projects, the online Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (ePSD), a project he began work on when he joined Penn in 1991 as a postdoctoral research assistant and which he now directs, and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative based at UCLA.

Founded in 1976, ePSD's mission is to produce the first comprehensive dictionary of the world's oldest written language. Implemented as a web-based project, the dictionary is an unfolding work that is continually updated as scholars at Penn and around the world continue to decipher Sumerian writings.

The online Sumerian Dictionary is to be much more than a list of Sumerian words and their English meanings. It will also be accessible through an English language interface that includes grouping of words conceptually and by object type. Because the word definitions link to examples of usage in the online collections of Sumerian texts, the Sumerian Dictionary will be a gateway to early Mesopotamian culture. Tinney and his team plan to augment the Dictionary with essays on concepts, material culture, and ethnographic matters to enhance its cultural function.




Suggested Reading

Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project, University of Pennsylvania Museum.

The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, University of California, Los Angeles. See also NEH coverage.

The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, University of Oxford.

Canaan, ancient Israel, and the alphabet, University of Pennsylvania Museum.

About Cuneiform Writing. . ., University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Spreading Words, by Susan Frith. Pennsylvania Gazette, Jan/Feb 2003.

Sumerian Dictionary to Dechipher Ancient Texts, by Faye Flam, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 2002.

Ancient writing system gets Internet update, by Dan Vergano. USA Today, 5/21/2002.

Sumerians on the Information Superhighway, by Arthur Clark. Saudi Aramco World, March/April 2000.

Write like a Babylonian, Penn Museum. What would your monogram look like in cuneiform?

image image