Online Resources for Ancient Mesopotamia?

There has been a big push in recent years to make more academic research and resources openly-available. This is fantastic if you’re a student who, for some reason, finds it difficult to get to your university library (like me!) and even more important if you’re an interested layperson who hasn’t been shown how to navigate academic abbreviations and sometimes esoteric naming conventions in order to find what you’re looking for. This month, I thought I’d provide descriptions and links for some of those amazing resources – in my opinion, the more people who know about and have access to them, the better!


electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary and ePSD2

The ePSD is the electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary, and the ePSD2 is the public beta of the second version of the same. This website is an invaluable resource for anyone learning and translating Sumerian, one of the languages used in Mesopotamia. The original ePSD is an easy-to-use dictionary that includes information such as the different ways in which words can be written, the number of attestations for a particular word or ‘spelling’ and its Akkadian equivalent. ePSD also allows you to search by individual cuneiform sign, rather than whole word. This means that if you are able to identify one sign in a word you are then able to search for that sign and see a list of words it appears in. This is definitely helpful when you are new to Sumerian and haven’t yet developed an understanding for what words appear in what contexts.

I yet haven’t explored the ePSD2 extensively, but what I have seen is incredibly impressive and clearly the result of a lot of hard work. It includes all kinds of useful things, such as glossaries of personal names and emesal, a dialect of Sumerian used for ritual liturgies and to represent women’s speech in some literary texts. Most excitingly for this who work remotely is the entire corpus of lemmatized texts, meaning that if I want to view all literary texts in Sumerian from the Ur III period found at the site of Nippur, I can do just that from the comfort of my computer desk.

ePSD staff note in the website credits the reliance of the platform on other online corpora, which links nicely to the next website included here…


Electronic Textual Corpus of Sumerian Literature

ETCSL is the go-to online resource for transliterations (Sumerian written in Roman characters) and translations of Sumerian literary texts. It’s a fabulous place to just browse through ancient literature, and you can either use the search function or navigate to a specific composition. The compositions are also helpfully grouped by genre (i.e. ‘narrative and mythological compositions’, or ‘royal praise poetry’), and then grouped again according to various criteria, most usually by time period, or the name of the protagonist. Once you select a category to view, there’s then the option to display the transliteration (helpful if you want to know the signs used, or how a particular verbal form is constructed), or translation (for those who want to read the text in English). Also included are sources for the publication history of a particular text, and references to the cuneiform objects upon which the text was written, meaning that you can hunt down photos or copies of the object and look at it for yourself. You can also switch between the two viewing formats very easily but simply clicking on the line number that you wish to see.


Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative

CDLI is, without a doubt, the website I use most of all for my own work. It is an online database that aims to include every object that carries a cuneiform inscription, with an associated wiki with various interesting articles, including information on deities, rulers, and technologies, The ‘tools’ section of the wiki is also full of essential reference material for anyone interested in Assyriology, including bibliographic tools (such as the every-hand ‘Assyriological Abbreviations‘ page), a list of museums and other institutions housing collections of cuneiform objects, and a ‘who’s who’ section that provides a guide to important, thought sadly deceased, members of the Assyriological community.

The CDLI database is a fantastic resource in its own right, gathering together cuneiform objects from collections from across the world in one place. Each entry includes information such as the known publication history, current location and museum number, site of origin and excavation number, text genre, and, where available, photographs, drawings, and translations. It is also (very excitingly!) freely available for download via their GitHub, allowing researchers to use their information in their own projects. It is also being used as part of Google’s Summer of Code 2018, with an incredibly exciting project aimed at producing a way to automatically translate and annotate Sumerian texts. Given how many cuneiform tablets still remain untranslated, this would result in a huge boost to Assyriological studies.


The Ancient World Online

A blog devoted to cataloguing and commenting on open-access resources for the study of the ancient world, AWOL is an invaluable resource for those who don’t have the money to pay for journal subscriptions, or access to the same through a university library. The blog includes a helpful collection of open-access textbooks for learning ancient languages.


Openly Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus

Oracc is “an international cooperative which provides facilities and support for the creation of free online editions of cuneiform texts and educational ‘portal’ websites about ancient cuneiform culture”. In other words, it’s a hub of fascinating, academic research that can be enjoyed by anyone with a computer and internet access. For example, the whole of the Royal Inscriptions of Babylonia series is available, all of the Royal Inscriptions from the Neo-Assyrian Period (can you tell me particular area of interest yet?), and all of the texts published in the State Archives of Assyria series. Smaller and more specialized projects are also available, such as Sources of Early Akkadian Love Literature, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, and the Digital Corpus of Mathematical Texts. This is obviously not an exhaustive overview of Oracc, but I highly encourage you to take a look for yourself and discover the fascinating information that’s available for free.


Ur-Online Project

The Ur-Online Project is another database-driven resource, but one that focuses on an individual archaeological site. The excavations of the city of Ur were carried out in the 1920s-1930s, with the finds being split between the British Museum, the Penn Museum, and the Iraq Museum. The Ur-Online Project aims to bring these widely-spread objects back into a cohesive group. Not only are all of the objects found at Ur included, but so is information about the site itself, including the history of Ur, and the different contexts in which excavations were carried out. All of this is also linked back to the original field notes and excavation report, making it easy to carry out further research on specific objects.


I’ve really only scratched the surface of resources available for online research, but hopefully this overview at least provides an idea of the amazing work being done by Assyriologists and Archaeologists to make their research easily available.


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