Huge ancient language dictionary finished after 90 years

June 05, 2011

An ambitious project to identify, explain and provide citations for the words written in cuneiform on clay tablets and carved in stone by Babylonians, Assyrians and others in Mesopotamia between 2500 B.C. and A.D. 100 has been completed after 90 years of labor, the University of Chicago announced June 5.

To mark the completion of the 21-volume Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, the Oriental Institute at the University, where the project was housed, will hold a conference Monday, June 6, during which scholars from around the world will discuss the significance of the achievement.

"I feel proud and privileged to have brought this project home," said Martha Roth, editor-in-charge of the dictionary and dean of Humanities Division at the University of Chicago, who has been working on the project since 1979. "I feel this will be a foundation for how to do more dictionary projects in the future."

"The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary is one of the most important and unique contributions of the Oriental Institute to understanding the civilizations of the ancient Near East," said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute. "The CAD is the single most impressive effort I know of to systematically record, codify and make accessible the Akkadian language that forms the heart of the textual record of civilization in the place of its birth: Mesopotamia.

"The CAD is not simply a word list. By detailing the history and range of uses of each word, this unique dictionary is in essence a cultural encyclopedia of Mesopotamian history, society, literature, law and religion and is an indispensable research tool for any scholar anywhere who seeks to explore the written record of Mesopotamian civilization," he added.

The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project was started in 1921 by James Henry Breasted, founder of the Oriental Institute and one of the country's premier Middle Eastern archaeologists. The cultures it documents occupied modern Iraq.

Although originally named after the Assyrian language, scholars found that Assyrian was a dialect of another Semitic language, Akkadian. Over the years, researchers filled out millions of index cards with references to the use of 28,000 words. The entries for each word denote various meanings and reference the contexts and ways in which it was used.

In the final volume, for instance, the listing for the word umu, meaning "day," covers 17 pages and documents its use, for example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh: "Those who took crowns who had rule of the land in the days of yore."

Robert Biggs, professor emeritus at the Oriental Institute, worked on the dictionary and also as an archaeologist on digs where he recovered tablets.

"You'd brush away the dirt, and then there would emerge a letter from someone who might be talking about a new child in the family, or another tablet that might be about a loan until harvest time. You'd realize that this was a culture not just of kings and queens, but also of real people, much like ourselves, with similar concerns for safety, food and shelter for themselves and their families.

"They wrote these tablets thousands of years ago, never meaning for them to be read so much later, but they speak to us in a way that makes their experiences come alive," he said.
-end-


University of Chicago

Related Mesopotamia Articles from Brightsurf:

How malaria parasites withstand a fever's heat
The parasites that cause 200 million cases of malaria each year can withstand feverish temperatures that make their human hosts miserable.

New mathematical method shows how climate change led to fall of ancient civilization
A Rochester Institute of Technology researcher developed a mathematical method that shows climate change likely caused the rise and fall of an ancient civilization.

Research links Southeast Asia megadrought to drying in Africa
Physical evidence found in caves in Laos connects the end of the Green Sahara, when once heavily vegetated Northern Africa became a hyper-arid landscape, and a previously unknown megadrought that crippled Southeast Asia 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Researchers link end of Green Sahara with SE Asia megadrought
In a new study published by Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team of researchers link the end of the Green Sahara with a previously unknown megadrought which caused mass population shifts in Southeast Asia during the mid-Holocene period.

Climate change and the rise of the Roman Empire and the fall of the Ptolemies
The assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 B.C.E. triggered a 17-year power struggle that ultimately ended the Roman Republic leading to the rise of the Roman Empire.

Human mobility and Western Asia's early state-level societies
The regions of Anatolia, the Northern Levant and the Caucasus played important roles in the development of complex social and cultural models during the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age.

Genomic analysis shows long-term genetic mixing in West Asia before world's first cities
Scientists analyzed DNA data from 110 skeletal remains in West Asia dated 3,000 to 7,500 years ago.

Global cooling event 4,200 years ago spurred rice's evolution, spread across asia
A major global cooling event that occurred 4,200 years ago may have led to the evolution of new rice varieties and the spread of rice into both northern and southern Asia, an international team of researchers has found.

Societal transformations and resilience in Arabia across 12,000 years of climate change
Recent archaeological and paleoenvironmental research in the Arabian Peninsula shows a range of societal responses to a series of extreme climatic and environmental fluctuations over thousands of years.

Strong winter dust storms may have caused the collapse of the Akkadian Empire
Fossil coral records provide new evidence that frequent winter shamals, or dust storms, and a prolonged cold winter season contributed to the collapse of the ancient Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia.

Read More: Mesopotamia News and Mesopotamia Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.