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Cuneiform writing, Luwian, cuneiform script, Hurrian, Sumerians

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Cuneiform (Latin cuneus, “wedge”), term applied to a mode of writing utilizing wedge-shaped strokes, inscribed mainly on clay but also on stone, metals, wax, and other materials. This technique was used by the ancient people of Western Asia. The earliest texts in cuneiform script were made in about 3000 bc, having antedated the use of alphabets by some 1500 years. The latest cuneiform inscriptions date from the 1st century ad. Cuneiform writing, which originated in southern Mesopotamia, was invented probably by the Sumerians, who used it to inscribe the Sumerian language; it was subsequently adapted for writing the Akkadian language, of which Babylonian and Assyrian are dialects. Because Akkadian, the language of later inhabitants of Sumer, became the language of international communication it was studied in schools throughout the ancient Middle East, and the use of cuneiform spread to Asia Minor, Syria, Persia, and, for diplomatic correspondence, to Egypt. It was also adapted for the writing of local languages, such as Hurrian in northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and Asia Minor; Eblaite in Syria; Hittite, Luwian, Palaic, and Hattic in Asia Minor; Urartian, known also as Vannic, in Armenia; and Elamite in Persia. New systems of writing, using the wedge as the basic writing tool but differing from the Babylonian system in terms of the shape and use of characters, were devised also. Such systems were developed in Ugarit (Ra’s Shamrah, Syria) to inscribe Ugaritic, a Semitic language, and in Persia to inscribe the Old Persian language of the Persian Empire (550-331 bc)bc.


Guterbock, Hans G., Ph.D.

Professor Emertius of Hittitology, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Coeditor, "The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago".

Article key phrases:

Cuneiform writing, Luwian, cuneiform script, Hurrian, Sumerians, southern Mesopotamia, Semitic language, Elamite, Persian Empire, ancient Middle East, Hittite, Asia Minor, Assyrian, dialects, Armenia, Egypt, bc, wax, century, clay, metals, stone, technique, schools, materials, years, terms, Ugarit, Sumerian language, Akkadian language

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