This post is dedicated to Brian Sloan. Friend. Gamer.
There is/was/will be/whatever a social media meme of of "List X of Y things for some reason". Almost always you are asked to not give a reason for why you chose them. Sometimes you are asked to tag N number of other folks to do the same.
Some time in May of 2020 this came floating down my digital stream:
"I have been nominated to post 180 Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform tables in 180 days that profoundly influenced me, at any point in my life. I was instructed to post each tablet without explanation."
Along with an image of this tablet:
This started on my Facebook feed. I had to catch up on my twitter feed after not doing it on twitter on the first day.
That day was May 11, 2020.
I had done some longish running "art" projects. The first being "#ParkingGarageSock". That was in the halcyon Before Times starting August 2, 2019 on Twitter, In Real Life, it started July 2nd.
Ok, I've been meaning to post this for about a month.
My little art project #ParkingGarageSock
I noticed this lost soul on 2019-07-02
— gizmomathboy @gizmomathboy 12:47 PM · Aug 2, 2019
So, I guess I can have a will towards things.
Being in a pandemic gave me few outlets for such...whimsy, so I decided to "make this a thing" and gave it the hashtag #MyCuneiformTablets.
The line "profoundly influenced me, at any point in my life" gave me the latitude to do this in an honest and earnest manner. Each tablet profoundly influenced me on the day I decided to post it, or even on the day I selected it to post in the future. Some actually more than others.
Ok, I needed to find a lot of cuneiform tablets. A quick Duck Duck Go search led me to this:
I now had 100 tablets I could use. Cool, almost half of the 179 I needed. Or so I thought.
Going through that list and looking for tablets with images was not very fruitful. I was able to get about 50 tablets with an associated image. Most even have an interesting description or page to go with it.
So..just 130 to go.
On the left side menu was the link Cuneiform Collections which looked promising for more places to look for tablets.
Indeed, there was more. I wandered about for a bit but it wasn't very satisfactory.
So, there is CDLI: Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative. As near as I can tell it catalogues all cuneiform objects. I. Mean. All. Cuneiform. Objects.
There is an associated wiki that serves as documentation for the project as well.
There were a few of the fields that I really needed:
- Physical Information
- Object type
- Text Content
Object type includes: tablet, tablet & envelope, bulla, tag, prism, barrel, cylinder, brick, cone, sealing, seal.
The real fun is the Text Content fields.
Genre has lots of choices:
- Lexical; Literary
- Lexical; Literary; Mathematical
- Lexical; Mathematical
- Literary; Mathematical
- fake (modern)
- other (see subgenre)
Sub-genre is more free form and no real categories like Genre. It can be stuff like "witness", "composite", etc. For searches I would look at the Sub-genre to what is there to use in other searches.
Translation is just that, a translation of the text. If available it can be the English translation or even just the transliteration of the written cuneiform. This means you can search for tablets with a translation of "dog" in them.
MySQL is the back end for all of this. For those fields you can use MySQL regular expressions. I used it in the Translation field to search for an alpha characters. That syntax is [:alpha:].
Once I understood how search worked I wrote a script to automate the searching for tablets and then downloading any that had a photo of it.
I searched Mathematical, Astronomical, Scientific, School, Literary, Administrative, and Royal Genres. I would also search translations containing things like magic, spells, Gilgamesh, etc.
This then generated a lot of tablets that I could then sift through, read, and select for "publication".
And that is how I found about 180 cuneiform tablets to post.
So, a little bit about how I chose tablets.
Days 005 through 054 basically come from the top 100 cuneiform tablets/things. After that it was me fumbling around to find things until I figured how to use the CDLI search.
You might be wondering if any of them were meaningful or impactful.
Well, yes and no.
Day 002 to day 051 are all interesting. They are the top 100 cuneiform artefacts as judged by cuneiform people.
Of those, for me the most interesting are Day 006. This is the derivation/calculation of the square root of 2.
Day 007 is more math. Lots of quadratic problems. Stuff with rectangles and squares. This is people thousands of years ago working out some decently complex math.
Day 012 is neat since it's the floor plan and such for a temple. That feeds my dungeon master soul.
Day 023 is the Descent of Ishtar to the Netherworld. Ancient mythology right there.
Day 031 I liked because of how it is about border and water conflicts between 2 states.
Day 038 is a peace treaty. Always cool.
Day 041 is kinda famously known as the Plympton table. It's a list of "Pythagorean Triples". The a2+b2=c2 equations. Thousands of years before Pythagoras.
Day 043 is calculations for the area of various bits of land.
Day 048 is another important tablet. This is the Flood Myth. Way older and basically the same story you'll find in the Book of Genesis for you Abrahmic religion folks.
Day 050 The. Codex. Hammurapi. One of the first "these are the laws" kind of things.
Day 051 Is kind of a Rosetta Stone. It has Greek, Akkadian, and Sumerian on it. Helpful to figure what everything might translate or transliterate to.
After that are a lot of mathematical tablets. I mostly choose those for hopefully obvious reasons.
Also, as near as I can determine, all of those round tablets are basically homework. Scribes or whomever learning to write or even how to do math.
Day 064 starts with "as for the liar". Seemed appropriate for the times we are living in.
Day 067 is fun because it's basically a hype table for Kind Nabu. Always be stroking egos.
A bunch of parables and such go on for a bit after this.
Day 093 I started looking for magic and such. This is a curse against Agade. You know just a king having a throw down with the gods.
This starts a bunch of Literary genre search choices.
Day 094 is just lamenting about Ur getting messed up by a storm and the goddess Ningal being sad about it.
By day 097 my search for magic and such led to some rituals.
Many tablets that are just School work follow.
Day 114 is for Jon Johnson I think. It's about a liver being used for a sacrifice.
Day 115 is another hype tablet. This time for the city of Ur.
Day 125 is some instructions to farmers for how run their farms.
Day 126 is a Creation Myth, always interesting to read such things.
Day 145 through 147 are some riddles. Just showing you that your culture dictates assumptions about what one might or should know.
From here onwards I was trying to avoid "School" tablets and for interesting ones by shape. Which is most anything else. Mostly Literay stuff. I did some searches for Gilgamesh to see what that turned up.
Day 170 might one of the first times Gilgamesh shows up in my choices.
After that are bunches of mythology related stuff.
Days 178 and 179 are total coincides for choices. I wasn't thinking about the election or anything when I selected them for those days.
Day 180 was the only deliberate choice for a specific day. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are epic friends. This tale is important to that. It also is coincidentally appropriate for this day as well.
Dave Jacoby sent this wonderful video about cuneiform and how to write it.
I hope you enjoyed the distraction this has been for the last 180 days.
Some folks have asked in comments to my FB and Twitter posts about what happens next.
Where do I go from here?
Well, I am using a 3 digit number for the days.
Below are all of the 180 days of My Cuneiform Tablets.
The text is a link to either the CDLI wiki with a paragraph or so explaining the text. Otherwise the text links will go to the CDLI page for the tablet. The images are all thumbnails. If you click on an image it links to a higher resolution version of it.
The descriptions are brief and for the most part my quick summary of what the English translation of the tablet is.