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July 15, 2003 Press Contact: William Harms
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Dictionary documents ancient Mesopotamian language



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It happened first in ancient Mesopotamia

Ancient Mesopotamians were among the first people to develop writing. They used reeds to press wedge-shaped impressions - known as cuneiform - into clay tablets to record commercial information, scientific texts and literature. Because of the durability of the tablets, a vast wealth of material survives from the ancient cultures of the Mesopotamian region.

Archaeological excavations, including those conducted by the Oriental Institute, have unearthed hundreds of thousands of tablets in the area now known as Iraq. In 1921, James Henry Breasted, the founder of the Oriental Institute, initiated the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary as an authoritative resource on the ancient languages of the region. Ever since, scholars at the institute, assisted by scholars from around the world, have been working to compile a comprehensive dictionary of the dialects of Akkadian, the earliest known Semitic language, which was recorded in cuneiform texts dating from c. 2400 B.C. to A.D. 100.

Although called a dictionary, the volumes are more comprehensive than a simple set of words and definitions. For instance, in an entry for the word “barber,” the dictionary identifies who would be a barber in ancient Mesopotamia as well as who would have visited a barber.

Some of the world’s leading authorities on ancient Mesopotamian languages have overseen the project, including Martha Roth, Professor in the Oriental Institute, who is currently editor-in-charge. Since the publication of the first volume in 1956, 22 volumes have appeared; three more volumes are in press and the final volume is in preparation.
Last modified at 04:52 PM CST on Tuesday, July 29, 2003.

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