CUNEIFORM READING SERVICE.
(Please see note below about academic databases)
I offer a cuneiform transliteration and translation service, provided by an academic Assyriologist through me.
This covers inscribed tablets, cones, bricks, plaques, vessels and inscribed cylinder seals inter alia.
Working from good pics is perfectly feasible: in order to cast shadows into the wedges to facilitate reading the lighting should come from the upper left corner at about a 45 degree angle, obliquely at a 'raking' angle. That is to say the light source should be very little in front of the area it is illuminating. (If you are unsure which way the tablet should be positioned I can easily advise you).
JPEGs saved in low resolution (72ppi), about c. 500 pixels high for objects up to 3 inches tall; larger objects would need several photos.
For inscribed seals, an appropriately illuminated photo of the seal impression is also needed.
It is generally possible to make statements about authenticity of inscribed clay tablets, cones, and bricks, even from a photo.
However, the authenticity of engraved stone or metal cannot be guaranteed in this way so no statement about authenticity can be offered for seals, or vessels. However a fake inscription will suggest either that the entire piece is a forgery or that the inscription has been added to an otherwise genuine artefact to enhance its value.
Prices: these vary quite a lot as some tablets are very easy to read but some are rather difficult
As from January 2011 I have been obliged to add 20% VAT to these fees for people within the EU.
So, the prices shown in brackets here are inclusive of VAT for EU residents but the lower price is for the rest of the world.
Readings of tablets are basically of two types: a basic reading which will note the period, language, general description of contents, remarks on interesting names, the name of the person mentioned on any sealing impressions, date, or other features or a full reading which would be a full transliterations and translation. See the fragment below for an example of a full reading.
Prices vary depending on the extent of the text and its readability and range between about £35 for a basic reading for a small typical URIII or Old Babylonian administrative tablet, or about £60 for a full reading to around £120 for a full reading of a larger more complex tablet.
TABLETS/FOUNDATION CONES/ BRICKS etc
The fees for reading a foundation cone, stamped brick, or short votive inscriptions on objects are rather less.
No statement about authenticity can be offered for seals.
A seal inscription: from either a seal or from a impression on a tablet
Full transliteration and translation about £40
If your piece is thought to be fake:
Faked tablets are usually very easily spotted
Pastiches; some tablets on the market are actually recomposed of fragments of several tablets, covered with mud to hide the joins.
These take a bit more study to determine and generally they are not really translatable since the pieces are fragments.
For producing a basic description of the item if it is thought to be a fake or pastiche. Particular “errors” would be commented upon. About £25
You would normally get a note about any errors/variations in the inscription.
We cannot go into iconographic and thematic details to any extent; the emphasis is on the inscriptions as such. About £50
To encourage collectors to have their cuneiform artefacts properly read we offer a small discount if you have six or more pieces to send for reading at the same time.
ACADEMIC DATABASES AND PUBLICATION
If the piece is of academic importance and interest we request that you would kindly agree to allow the images/read text to be recorded in a database so the new information can be available to scholars; or indeed possibly be published.
I will let you know if your pics are suitable. I can advise you how to best photograph your piece to show the inscription to best advantage for reading it.
In many instances it might be a good idea to actually send me the tablets so that I can photograph them.
Images and information about several tablets shown elsewhere on this website ( and a several others also sent for readings but not shown on my website) have been shared with several academic databases, the CDLI (The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative ) and other online academic resources.
This has been principally through David I Owen, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Cornell University, New York. LINK
Contact me if you would like to use the service.
An example of what you can ascertain from a mere fragment of a cuneiform tablet.
This is part of an administrative account of the Third Dynasty of Ur,
This is a fragment of a large administrative tablet recording amounts of several food products: bran and vegetable oil are the only preserved terms. Although the concluding section which contained the name of the official involved and the date the tablet was written is not preserved, there is a date (year name) in the fragment which refers to the year the particular transaction occurred: "The year the land of Zabshali was destroyed.", which is year 7 of King Shu-Suen of Ur.
The original tablet was multi-columned, with parts of three columns still preserved on this fragment . The left column (i') has only a single vertical wedge at the end of one line; the second middle column preserves all of three lines and part of a fourth, while the right column iii preserves the beginning of 3 lines.
The traditional English measurement terms used in the translation do not convey closely the actual volume of the Mesopotamia terms, but show the relative size- greater or lesser only- of the units.
* The full text for this named year would be:
mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 lugal an ub-da 4-ba ma-da za-ab-sza-liki mu-hul
The full named year list is as follows:
1a. mu us2-sa en-dnanna kar-zi-daki-ka ba-hun
1b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal-am3
2a. mu us2-sa dszu-dsuen lugal
2b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 ma2 dara3-abzu den-ki in-dim2 mu-du8 Year: "Shu-Suen, the king of Ur, made / caulked the boat of Enki (called the) ‘ibex of the abzu"
3a. mu us2-sa ma2 dara3-abzu den-ki ba-ab-du8 ba-dim2
3b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 si-ma-num2ki mu-hul
4a. mu us2-sa dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 si-ma-num2ki mu-hul
4b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 bad3 mar-tu mu-ri-iq ti-id-ni-im mu-du3
5. mu us2-sa dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 bad3 mar-tu mu-ri-iq ti-id-ni-im mu-du3
6a. mu us2-sa dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 bad3 mar-tu mu-ri-iq ti-id-ni-im mu-du3 mu us2-sa-a-bi
6b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 na-ru2-a mah den-lil2 dnin-lil2-ra mu-ne-du3
7a. mu us2-sa dszu-dsuen lugal-e na-ru2-a mah mu-du3
7b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 lugal an ub-da 4-ba ma-da za-ab-sza-liki mu-hul
8a. mu us2-sa ma-da za-ab-sza-liki ba-hul
8b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 ma2-gur8 mah den-lil2 dnin-lil2-ra mu-ne-dim2
9a. mu us2-sa dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 ma2-gur8 mah den-lil2 dnin-lil2-ra mu-ne-dim2
9b. mu dszu-dsuen lugal uri2ki-ma-ke4 e2-dszara2 ummaki-ka mu-du3
Shu-sin was king of Sumer and Akkad, and was the penultimate king of the Ur III dynasty. He succeeded his brother Amar-Sin, and reigned circa 2036 BC-2028 BC.
Following an open revolt of his Amorite subjects, he directed the construction of a fortified wall between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, intending it to hold off any further Amorite attacks. He was succeeded by his son Ibbi-Sin.
Third Dynasty of Ur c. 2112-2004 B.C.
Neither Shu-Suen nor Ibbi Suen are known to have had male children and the father of Ibbi-Suen is not known.
Another example; this time a full reading of a partial tablet.
This is a list of personal names.
The reverse has a double ruling near the bottom, and below it may have a total of the number of persons / workers.
The last line could be either part of a personal name (...-Inana) who might be an overseer, or maybe the workers are identified as belonging to the Inana temple workforce.
Obv. Names: Dada, Ur-shara, Ur-Gilgamesh, Ur-ennun, Kalba, Ur-sukal, ...
Rev... bailiff, ..., ...-da, smithy, (double ruling) [N] workers (under the supervision of ?) ...-Inana (Or: belonging to the Inana temple/fields...)
In the photos below you can see what signs are what. The lowercase m (the vertical wedge) is the "personenkeil" which preceds personal names. The lowercase d ('star" sign) is the "divine determinitive" which precedes the names of deities.
The name Ur-Gilgamesh is simply the name using the now deified Gilgamesh as a regular Sumerian deity. Well attested in the Lagash period and Ur III.
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