Recently in Semitics Category

The head of the Buccellati(see previous) jewelry family, Gianmaria Buccellati has died after a period of sickness.  It wasn't until reading the notice that I realized that his brother is is Georgio, who has published one of the best modern Akkadian grammars, A Structural Grammar of Babylonian.



Ancient Scribal Recreation

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Between 2 fragments (K. 8520 : British Museum (London) and ND 4311 (IM 59264) : Iraq Museum (Baghdad)) archaeologists have recovered 80% of a fascinating tablet.  Written in the 7th C BCE, it contains two archaic, event at the point when they were written, forms of cuneiform, Old Babylonian signs (2nd and 4th columns) from about the time of Hammurapi (18th C) and Sumerian pictographs from approx 3400 BCE. 

See more information and speculation as to the reasons behind it in the full article by Cécile Michel.


The big news this week (overshadowing the Hazor Sphinx) is the discovery of what is, so far, the oldest alphabetic inscription in Jerusalem, predating the Hezikah inscription by over 200 years. The inscription is near the neck of a fragmentary pithos, the linebacker of storage jar(large and neckless). One of six recently found in Eilat Mazar's dig in the Ophel, near the Temple Mount, that seem to have been used as fill under later construction.

hy130710_mazar1.jpg (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photographed by Noga Cohen-Aloro.)

There's a bunch of debate about the inscription already, so enjoy. Of the three, I'd pick Rollston's for completeness, he's also a well-regarded specialist in the field


Sumerians in Spain

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There was recently an exhibit on Sumerian art in Barcelona, though it closed at the end of February.  One bit of it that has persisted is a 15 minute segment of an interview with Gonzalo Rubio, in English.  It's available online (you need MS Starlight)



There's finally been some good progress on the decipherment of one of the last untranslated ANE scripts, the so-called proto-Elamite.  Researchers at Oxford, led by Dr. Jacob Dahl, have constructed a new system for photographing the tablets, which were really poorly made 5000 years ago, to allow them to be examined from all angles digitally.   All of the new images have been added to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, in the proto-Elamite section.

Part of the reason proto-Elamite is so hard to read is apparently the scribes weren't really very good, so the tablets seem to be much more filled with errors then the more professional Babylonian works,
It was used in administration and for agricultural records but it was not used in schools - the lack of a scholarly tradition meant that a lot of mistakes were made and the writing system may eventually have become useless as an administrative system. Eventually, the system was abandoned after some two hundred years.
(Dr. Dahl)


Gazing on the Deep: Ancient Near Eastern and Other Studies in Honor of Tzvi Abusch. Jeffrey Stackert, Barbara Nevling Porter and David Wright, Ed. Bethesda, Md: CDL Press. 2010.

First a bit of background, Prof. Abusch was a professor at Brandeis while I was there and I technically took 2 semesters of Akkadian with him, though they were primarily taught by his grad student Kathryn Kravitz.  

This Festscrift is a massive tome in honor of the 70th birthday of Tzvi Abusch, and as appropriate to such a volume it covers a wide range of topics within the span of Prof. Abusch's field, the history of the Ancient Near East.  In this case that has somewhat expanded to include 2500 years of Mesopotamian history and literature, linguistic and religious topics in the Old Testament, topics in post-biblical Jewish history and an article on an Indian Myth.  To actually finish the 670 page volume you'd need to have the ability to read German, Latin, Akkadian and Hebrew, as well as a knowledge of related fields.  

That said, the articles I was able to understand are a fascinating collection of pieces of scholarship.  Some focus on Tzvi's main field of research, demons and whitchcraft, while others hew to the specialities of the author, eg. Prof. Ravid's article on the Jews of Venice.  The most interesting ones, from my perspective are the weird little ones that seem to be "something interesting, but not enough to publish in an academic journal".  An example of the last category was one of my favorite bits, an analysis of the bitemarks that are sometimes seen in clay practice tablets to establish the age of the student scribes(Guinan, Ann and Erle Leichty. "Tasteless Tablets" pp. 49-51).

Several of the articles fall prey to the academic foul of "more footnotes then text" on the page, but that is luckily rare in the volume.

All told, it is an excellent read for those interested in the fields covered, and gives a much deserved nod to the life, work, and academic influence of the honoree.


April Fools Roundup

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Unicorn Cookbook found at the British Library

Antigravity archaelogical dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Vianney Halter and his Ocean Antiqua


Apple patents the rectangle.

Atlassian puts out Irkd, file bugs on the real world and reassign them

Google's Chrome Multitask mode
Screen shot 2012-04-01 at 9.40.03 PM.png
Kindergarten Cop, from the Criterion Collection


Eiffel Tower

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What?  This is completely how I remember it.  The guy on the street doesn't notice anything different either...

One of the more mysterious objects found in the excavations of Ur by Leonard Woolley was found in the site labeled Private Grave 779 (PG 779).  It's a trapazoidal box with mosaic on 4 sides, and not obvious function.  Woolley named it the "Standard of Ur" assuming it was some sort of military banner, but there's been little support for that since.  People have conjectured it as a cash-box, a musical instrument and other vaguely-plausible ideas.  Over at the Sumerian Shakespere blog though there's a good defense of the original explaination, based partly of the iconography of the decorations themselves, and some good pictures of the standard as well.  Have a read.

I know, I know those words make no sense, neither does the phrase "video game based on the book of Enoch". I can't deny the reality of "El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron" but I can share the confusion



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