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Writing Cuneiform

Excerpt from the film The Cyrus Cylinder.

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  • leafers tree style avatar for user Peter
    How did historians know how each combination of strokes is pronounced when this is a long gone language?
    (13 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Quinn McLeish
    What is the origin of the word "Semetic"? I am pretty sure it refers to the middle east, but where does it come from?
    (8 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user amateur
      The word ultimately derives from the Hebrew "Shem", which was the name of Noa's eldest son (see Genesis). "Shem" turned into "Sem" in Latin. The corresponding Latin adjective was "semiticus", and from there it was only a short distance to the English "Semitic". Source: Oxford English Dictionary (sadly not available online).
      (16 votes)
  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Mahika Parakh
    How was the cunieform decifered ?
    (4 votes)
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  • leafers seed style avatar for user Cynthia Lomax
    So instead of letter by letter it was more the sounds that were made while writing ?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Jeffrey A. Becker
      Cuneiform passes through multiple developmental phases. At its origin in the 4th millennium BCE the language was pictographic (=a pictorial symbol stood for an object or idea). Over time it became more abstracted by simplifying and then abstracting the pictograms. Early on cuneiform employed ca. 1,000 characters, but by the Late Bronze Age (end of the 2nd millennium BCE) it only employed about 400.
      (5 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Anna
    Why did they have both base 10 and base 60 once it got past 60? Why not just keep the base 60 since base 60 is very efficient if you consider the number of digits compared to the same thing in base 10?
    (3 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user smsgeneral
      Some numbers or situations are easier to deal with in base 60 versus base 10, so they may have chosen to use one system or the other based on convenience. To this day, we still use base 60 for time and degrees of a circle because we have found it to be more convenient in those cases.
      (1 vote)
  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Isaac
    How did they make the tools to write the words? And what did they use to make the writing surface? Also what is the process of making the writing surface?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      looking at the video, I noted that the tool for writing was a smooth stick with a tapered end. You could make one of those by rubbing a piece of wood against a rock. The writing surface, it was noted in the video, was clay that was "nearly dry". I suppose one would make that by digging up clay from a riverbank, kneading it to get the impurities and bubbles out, then making it into cylinders, slabs and other shapes and laying them out to get "nearly dry" before writing on them.
      That's kind of what I got from the video. What did YOU get?
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user 401042
    why did the sumerians call cuneiform cuneiform
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf red style avatar for user Nelly Keshishyan
    How do you know all these stuff when I researched it and I couldn't find it
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user harkiranjanjua7
    Was cuneiform invented by the sumerians
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Manna Tsao
    How do historians know whether they deciphered the cuneiform correctly? Or are they not certain what is truly written in cuneiform and are just merely guessing?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

- Because the Cyrus Cylinder was meant for a Babylonian audience, it was written in the Babylonian language, which is a Semitic tongue related to the modern languages of Hebrew and Arabic and Aramaic. The writing system which Cyrus' officials used was the traditional cuneiform script which had been invented in ancient Iraq well before 3,000 B.C., which is written by pressing a stylus, something a bit like a chopstick, into the surface of the clay which is nearly dry and the signs which convey the sound of the language consist of different arrangements of these strokes. They are written one by one, and the reader has to join them up and the sound emerges from the clay. This is the line that says, "I am Kurash (mumbling) "King of the World, the Great King, King of Babylon," and so it goes on. So we begin to write Kurash, so the first sign Ku has the big vertical, two small horizontals, one bigger horizontal, a little vertical, and another horizontal like a box, this is Ku. Then Ra, we have three strong horizontals to begin, one big one next to it, and then one little vertical wedge and one bigger vertical wedge, Ku, Ra. Now we do Ash, which is three long horizontals comme ça and then a vertical in the middle. So we can read this, Ku Ra Ash, the name of Cyrus. (lively music)