- Series: Reading the Past (Book 3)
- Paperback: 64 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; 1st Paperback Edition edition (June 25, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520061152
- ISBN-13: 978-0520061156
- Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 0.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,165,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cuneiform (Reading the Past) 1st Paperback Edition Edition
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"There is nothing in existence or in preparation to my knowledge that competes with the Walker text. I rate it as very important." (Anne Kilmer, University of California, Berkeley)
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The chapters are:
Origin and Development. Topics include: the history and explaination of pictographs and syllabic writing, direction of the script (as it changed over time), cuneiform in relation to Akkadian and Sumerian languages, historical divisions, the use of various forms of cuneiform throughout history with a timeline, and different forms of numerals (including a few fractions).
Tablets and Monuments. Topics include: tablet shapes and sizes, writing stylus, envelope useage, stamp and cylinder seals, monuments and commemorative inscriptions (clay nails, bricks, prisms).
Scribes and Libraries. Topics include: scribal training and tradition, colophons, and libraries.
The Geographical Spread. Topics include: a description of the use of cuneiform in Eblaite, Elamite, Hittite (Nesian), Hurrian, Urartian, Ugaritic, and Old Persian. (Sumerian and Akkadian are discussed throughout)
Decipherment. Topics include: history of decipherment and original examples used to decipher.
Sample Texts. Included are guided examples of translated inscriptions.
Fakes. Two interesting pages describing qualities of real and fake tablets.
This is an excellent book to read before enjoying a museum visit.
The price of this book is very affordable because of the size, yet the information presented is well worth the price.
But most forms of cuneiform were not alphabetic. Walker takes us through the early development of cuneiform script in the late 4th millennium BC in Iraq, when it was logographic and used primarily for bookkeeping. In the early 2nd millennium BC, it became a syllabic script, by then used to write the Sumerian and Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian) languages. The author touches upon the alphabetic cuneiform used for Ugaritic, a Semitic language, in a chapter about the diverse languages that used cuneiform. Throughout the book, I had to pay conscious attention to whether language names refer to the language or to a script, as the same script is used to write many languages, but the script also varies by date and place, which can be confusing to a layperson.
Cuneiform takes its distinctive shape from the mark a reed stylus makes in clay, and it gets its modern name from the Latin word for "wedge". It was mostly written in clay, and the author dedicates a chapter to how the clay tablets were physically inscribed and used. We learn something about the schooling for scribes in Babylonia, where students learned both Sumerian and Akkadian languages and libraries of cuneiform tablets were plentiful. The author rounds out the book by providing a brief history of deciphering cuneiform since the 18th century, some sample texts with translations, and a list of museums that have cuneiform inscriptions in their collections.
All that being said, the book is not at all terrible, and (hopefully) will serve as a highly limited introduction to this fascinating script.
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