bmoretti on Fri, 9 Nov 2001 20:50:48 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Cuneiform Digital Library


The Cuneiform Digital Library

The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) represents the efforts of
an international group of Assyriologists, museum curators and historians
of science to make available through the internet the form and content of
cuneiform tablets dating from the beginning of writing, ca. 3200 B.C.,
until the end of the third millennium. Despite the 150 years since the
decipherment of cuneiform, and the 100 years since Sumerian documents of
the 3rd millennium B.C. from southern Babylonia were first published, such
basic research tools as a reliable paleography charting the graphic
development of cuneiform, and a lexical and grammatical glossary of the
approximately 120,000 texts inscribed during this period of early state
formation, remain unavailable even to specialists, not to mention scholars
from other disciplines to whom these earliest sources on social
development represent an extraordinary hidden treasure. The CDLI, directed
by Robert. K. Englund of the University of California at Los Angeles and
Peter Damerow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science,
Berlin, is pursuing the systematic digital documentation and electronic
publication of these 3rd millennium sources. Cooperative partners include
leading experts from the field of Assyriology, curators of European and
American museums, and computer specialists in text markup. The CDLI data
set will consist of text and image, combining document transliterations,
text glossaries and digitized originals and photo archives of early

This electronic documentation should be of particular interest to
cuneiform scholars distant from collections, and to museum personnel
intent on archiving and preserving fragile and often decaying cuneiform
collections. The data will form the basis for the development of
representations of the structure of 3rd millennium administrative and
lexical documents, making the contents of the texts accessible to scholars
from other disciplines. A typology of accounting procedures, graphical
representations of formal structures of bookkeeping documents, and
extensive glossaries of technical terms later supplemented by linguistic
tools for accessing the primary sources by non-Assyriologists are being
developed. Data formats, including Extensible Markup Language (XML) text
descriptions, with vector-based image specifications of computer-assisted
tablet copies, will be chosen to insure high conformance with ongoing
digital library projects. Metadata-based lexemic and grammatical analysis
of Sumerian in the CDLI markup environment will not onl y put at the
disposal of specialists in the fields of Assyriology and Sumerology
available cuneiform documents from the first thousand years of Babylonian
writing, but also general linguists, semioticists, and historians of
communication and cognition, of administration and early state formation,
will for the first time have access to the form and content of these

In an initial three-year phase funded by the Digital Library Initiative of
the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the
Humanities (see text of funding proposal), project staff and associates
expect to complete the digitization of the early cuneiform collections of
the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, the
Louvre, Paris, the Yale Babylonian Collection, New Haven, and the
University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.  
Approximately half of large holdings of the British Museum should be
finished in this period. Dual track internet presentations of these
collections (conforming on the one hand with individual museum
presentation, on the other with archival data sets of the CDLI) will be
implemented in steps, beginning in January 2001 with that of the
Vorderasiatisches Museum. The ca. 3200 tablets of that museum represent
one of the finest collections of early cuneiform known to us, with
representative text groups from all of the major phases of writing in
Mesopotamia. Project staff are currently preparing for insertion in our
internet pages the full image data sets of the Hermitage, with its
substantial archives of pre-Sargonic Lagash (ca. 2400-2350 B.C.) and Ur
III (ca. 2050-2000 B.C.) administrative documents, and of all collections
of tablets deriving from the period of proto-cuneiform (ca.  3200-3000
B.C.). Such research tools as a reliable paleography of twelve hundred
years of cuneiform, and a lexical and grammatical glossary of the
wide-ranging records from the period of early Babylonian history will
follow from the cooperative research on these data sets sponsored by the

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