Cuneiform – Mysteries of Ancient Script

Abbey Museum’s Cuneiform Collection

One of the earliest known systems of writing in the world is cuneiform which developed in Sumer in the Middle East from about 4000 BC and then spread north to Syria.  Rulers maintained vast libraries of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform that listed everything from taxes to marriage proposals, declarations of war and tributes to the temples. However, cuneiform is difficult to read, hundreds of tablets have never been published, and there are very few people that are able to read this text.

You can see some fine examples of Cuneiform tablets at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York…..or you could simply visit the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology, north of Brisbane,  to see their small but very significant collection of artefacts with cuneiform inscriptions. When you visit, you can see them in Museum Case 21.

Cuneiform - Fragment of inscribed tablet

Fragment of inscribed tablet

In July, 2015  we were approached by Dr Luis Siddall from Macquarie University, who can read cuneiform. He was working on a cross-university project to read and publish all the artefacts with cuneiform script in Australia and New Zealand. The result being a book on cuneiform and information about the field of Ancient Near-Eastern Studies in Australasia.  The project combines expertise from Monash University, Latrobe University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Who would have thought Australia had a community of cuneiform readers?!!


Cuneiform - Inscribed tablet contract for a loan of silver by Rimut to Babylon

This inscribed tablet contains details of a contract for a loan of silver by Rimut to Babylon!

Luis visited the Museum in September 2015 to take a closer look at the Museum’s tablets and translate the cuneiform inscriptions.  He also introduced Prof. Wayne Horowitz to the Abbey Museum who has since then become a great friend and expert companion to our little museum.

 Voices in Exile: the lost Jewish Communities of ancient Babylon

In September 2016, we had a visit from Prof. Horowitz, who gave an intriguing lecture at the Abbey Museum entitled ‘It’s in the stars: Astronomy from ancient Babylonian tablets‘. Like any exciting story, this was not the end of the cuneiform mysteries, and has resulted in a follow-up visit.  We are more than excited to have Prof. Horowitz back this September on Tuesday 19th for another talk entitled ‘Voices in Exile: the lost Jewish communities of ancient Babylon‘.  This talk will provide an update on the cuneiform collections of the Abbey Museum and offer extended valuable research on the museum’s cuneiform texts,  addressing questions of astronomy and geography and the relative intricacies of divination and religion.

And there’s more…….accompanying Prof. Horowitz will be Peter Zilberg, also of the Jewish University who will give a talk entitled ‘Ezekiel and the Grand Canal of Babylon’ .

To book your tickets for this fascinating and very social event focusing on the Cuneiform texts in the Abbey Museum, please click here (arrive at 6.00 for a view of the museum and why not linger a little after the talk for some wine and cheese)

We look forward to seeing you then!