Saturday, October 6, 2012

1. Introduction

The instructions given in the posts on this blog reflect my own technique of writing cuneiform, learned mainly from my teacher, Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, at the University of California, Berkeley, but modified by my experience. The technique (i.e., the stylus used and the order of writing the signs) may not reflect exactly how cuneiform was written at every point in antiquity. Over the three millennia of writing cuneiform techniques evolved, so it is difficult to specify one correct technique. But this provides a good starting place on which you can build.

These instructions allow modern students to employ another mode of learning to help cement the learning of cuneiform signs. You'll sense that you are using a different part of your brain and advantageously so.   

Writing out two-dimensional cuneiform signs on paper with pen or pencil can be a time consuming process. The three-dimensional production of cuneiform in clay actually takes much less time once the basic techniques are learned. A student might find writing cuneiform in clay rather therapeutic. It allows disengagement from modern technology to ply natural material in the act of writing.

Writing in clay not only helps one learn the signs, but also allows a student to become attuned to what the limitations and scribal mistakes possible and, thus, be able to better judge the nature of irregularities on ancient tablets.

The focus in this blog will be on Akkadian Neo-Assyrian signs, but the technique can be used for all periods of Akkadian as well as other cuneiform languages, including Sumerian, Ugaritic, and Hittite. One might find it easier to start writing characters from the Ugaritic alphabet and from there graduate to the logo- and syllabographic cuneiform of the other cuneiform languages. 

Unfortunately this technique requires writing with the right hand. A left handed technique may be possible, but I am not sure how this would be done. It may be possible to write with a left hand by rotating the tablet 90 degrees clockwise so that one writes a line from the top to bottom, like the direction of lines and signs in the bands ("columns") of Hammurabi's law stele. All the instructions in this blog would have to be adapted accordingly.