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The Cuneiform Lexical Text “Word List Z”

Dec 01, 2018 — Nov 01, 2019

Among the earliest examples of cuneiform writing, dating as far back as c. 3200 BCE, are written texts called lexical lists. These texts are essentially inventories arranged around a common theme, such as place names, animals and plants, professions, or similar topics. One such text that appears in the cuneiform record in the middle of the third millennium, c. 2600 BCE, is known as Word List Z. To date the text has been poorly studied, and suggestions for the interpretation of this text have ranged from literary text to a lexical collection. The goal of this project, therefore, was to thoroughly examine this unique text and understand its place within the Mesopotamian lexical tradition.

The project reconstructed the text from the existing six cuneiform manuscripts, and created an edition, translation, and commentary on the text. The investigation revealed that despite the damage and gaps in the surviving cuneiform tablets, about 75% of the text can be reconstructed. Furthermore, a comparison of Word List Z with other contemporary texts revealed that the text was in fact not a piece of literature, but a list of personal names. These names are all duplicated in administrative documents that date to the same period as the earliest manuscript of the text (c. 2600 BCE). The geographic and temporal scope of the preserved manuscripts, as well as the type of tablets used to transmit the text (clay prisms and large multicolumn tablets) demonstrate that the text most likely belongs to the so called “All Babylonian Tradition”, which is an important group of scholarly texts that formed part of the scribal tradition of the third millennium BCE in the ancient Near East. Thus, the project was able to show that the text Word List Z should be included in this traditional group of scholarly texts and can be renamed Early Dynastic Personal Name List A. The text was most likely used, like the other scholarly lists, to preserve the heritage of scribal knowledge, as well as during the process of training new scribes the correct execution of cuneiform signs. Overall, the project was able to reconstruct and study an important addition to the corpus of early scholarly texts.

Institution: Institut für Altorientalistik
Project Management: Dr. Nicholas Kraus
Funded by: Fritz Thyssen Stiftung
Duration: 01.12.2018 - 01.11.2019