Proto-Elamite Tablets

Proto-Elamite Tablets


Proto-Elamite Tablets - History

Map of the Elamite Empire

For a long time scholars confused Elam with Susiana, equivalent to the plain and lower Zagros foothills in the present Persian province of Khûzestân. Two important factors have recently modified this understanding, however. First, Tal-e Malyan (Mâlîân) in Fârs has been identified as the ancient center of the component kingdom of Anshan (q.v. Hansman Lambert Reiner, 1973b), and, second, it has been established that Susa and Elam were distinct entities (Vallat, 1980). In fact, during the several millennia of its history the limits of Elam varied, not only from period to period, but also with the point of view of the person describing it. For example, Mesopotamian sources permit establishment of a relatively detailed map of Elam in the late 3rd millennium B.C.E., owing in particular to the "Geography of Sargon of Akkad" (ca. 2300 B.C.E. Grayson Vallat, 1991), a Neo-Assyrian representation of the extent of Sargon's conquests. It seems that Mesopotamians in the late 3rd millennium B.C.E. considered Elam to encompass the entire Persian plateau, which extends from Mesopotamia to the Kavîr-e Namak and Dašt-e Lût and from the Caspian (q.v.) to the Persian Gulf. Elamite cultural, if not political, influence in that period extended far beyond those limits, however, reaching Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the southern shores of the Persian Gulf (Amiet, 1986). It should be emphasized that during the last centuries of the 3rd millennium Susiana was sometimes a political dependency of the Mesopotamian empires centered first on Akkad and later on Ur and was included only for a brief period in the Elamite confederation, which embraced the kingdoms of Awan (probably in the Zagros), Simaški (in Assyrian Šimaški see Steve, 1989, p. 13 n. 1 probably extending from Kermân to the Caspian), and Anshan (the present province of Fârs with its natural outlet to the Persian Gulf in the vicinity of Bûšehr, q.v.). Furthermore, this entire definition was Meso-potamian. For the people of the Persian plateau, Awanites and Simaškians, Elam meant the country of Anshan (Vallat, 1980 idem, 1991 idem, 1993).

When the Elamites, in alliance with the people of Susiana, brought an end to the empire of Ur in 2004 B.C.E., they annexed Susiana, where the Epartid, or sukkalmah, dynasty was founded by the ninth king of Simaški the dynasty thus had its origins on the plateau. It is difficult to determine the eastern limits of the Epartid kingdom, but the decline of its power in the 18th century B.C.E. (see below) probably led to a reduction of influence in the east. As for the "kings of Anshan and Susa" of the Middle Elamite period (1500-1100 B.C.E.), according to the available documents, they controlled at least the territory of the present-day provinces of Khûzestân and Fârs with Bûšehr.

In the 1st millennium B.C.E. the spread of populations speaking Indo-Iranian languages and dialects onto the Persian plateau forced the Elamites to relinquish one area of their empire after another and to take refuge in Susiana, which only then became coterminous with Elam. It is this reduced territory that is referred to in the annals of Aššurbanipal (q.v. see, e.g., Aynard, pp. 38-61), the Achaemenid inscriptions (Weissbach), and the Bible and Apocrypha (Daniel 8:2 Esdras 4:9).

Despite recent progress, Elamite history remains largely fragmentary. Because there are few indigenous sources, attempts at reconstruction must be based primarily on Mesopotamian documentation. By far the largest proportion of the known Elamite texts have been excavated at Susa, a city that, from its foundation ca. 4000 B.C.E., alternated between subjection to Mesopotamian and Elamite power (Amiet, 1979). The earliest levels excavated at the site furnished remarkable pottery that has no equivalent in Mesopotamia, whereas in the succeeding period (levels 22-17 in the excavations conducted by Le Brun, 1978, pp. 177-92) the archeological material is identical with that of Mesopotamia in the Uruk period. From about 3200 B.C.E. the influence of the Persian plateau can be observed in the presence of numerical and then proto-Elamite tablets identical with those found in smaller numbers at different sites on the plateau, as far away as Šahr-e Sûkhta in Sîstân (Vallat, 1986). The proto-Elamite script (see iii, below), which has defied all efforts to decipher it, remained in use until about 2700 B.C.E., but it was in the little-known period that followed, between the end of the Proto-Elamite period and the establishment of the dynasty of Awan, that Elam began to emerge from anonymity. The first attestation of the name of the kingdom is in a text of the king Enmebaragesi of Kish, who ruled in about 2650 B.C.E. But it is only from the beginning of the Akkadian period that Elam really enters into history. In the following survey the variable orthography of proper names has been standardized, in the interests of simplification.

The Old Elamite period (ca. 2400-1600 B.C.E.)

In the Old Elamite period three dynasties ruled in succession (Table 1). The kings of the first two, those of Awan and Simaški, are mentioned in the king list from Susa of the Old Babylonian period (Scheil, 1931). In this document twelve names are mentioned, followed by the phrase "twelve kings of Awan," then by twelve more names and the phrase "twelve Simaškian kings." In contrast to similar texts from Mesopotamia, neither a regnal year nor any mention of parentage appears in this simple document nor is there any indication that the two lists are exhaustive. But, despite the somewhat artificial character of this document, some of the individuals mentioned are also known from other sources, Susian or Mesopotamian. The third dynasty, that of the Epartids, often called "of the sukkalmahs" because of the title borne by its members, was contemporary with the Old Babylonian period in Mesopotamia.

The Awan dynasty (ca. 2400-2100 B.C.E.). The Awan dynasty was partially contemporary with that of Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 B.C.E.), and its last king, Puzur-Inšušinak, is thought to have reigned in the time of Ur-Nammu (2112-2095 B.C.E.), founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur (Wilcke, p. 110). At that point the information in the sources becomes more explicit, for the Mesopotamians were attracted by the natural riches of the Persian plateau that they themselves lacked (wood, stone, metals). The records of their military campaigns provide important indications for the reconstruction of the history and geography of Elam.

Although nothing is known of the first seven kings enumerated in the Old Babylonian king list, the eighth and ninth are mentioned (in inverse order) in reports of the campaigns of Sargon and his son Rimuš (Hirsch, pp. 47-48, 51-52 Gelb and Kienast, pp. 180-81, 188, 206-07). The primary purpose of these Akkadian expeditions was the economic exploitation of Elamite territory, including Marahaši (Baluchistan, q.v. i-ii). It seems, however, that they were raids, rather than real conquests of this vast territory. The Akkadian king Maništusu (2269-55 B.C.E.) continued to fight in the south, where he achieved a victory at Šehirum on the Persian Gulf, which he then crossed in order to subdue an alliance of thirty-two cities on the Arabian coast (Gelb and Kienast, pp. 220-21). In the reign of the Akkadian Naram-Sin a treaty (König, 1965, no. 2) was concluded between Naram-Sin's vassal ruling at Susa and a king of Awan, perhaps Hita (Cameron, p. 34) it is the first known Elamite text to have been written in cuneiform characters, but interpretation remains difficult.

The last king in the king list, Puzur-Inšušinak (Gelb and Kienast, pp. 321-37), conquered Susa, then Anshan, and he seems to have managed to impose an initial unity on the Elamite federation by subduing also the king of Simaški. His successors, however, were unable to hold Susa within the Elamite sphere. Puzur-Inšušinak left several documents in his name at Susa. Some are inscribed in Akkadian and others in linear Elamite, a script of which only a few signs have been deciphered with certainty (Vallat, 1986 see v, below) these signs may have been derived from proto-Elamite. But the establishment of the Elamite kings at Susa was of short duration. Several years later Šulgi of Ur (2094-47) retook the city with the surrounding region, which once again became an integral part of the Mesopotamian empire and remained so until that empire collapsed.

The Simaški dynasty (ca. 2100-1970 B.C.E.). Of the twelve Simaškian kings mentioned in the king list from Susa, nine have been documented elsewhere (Stolper, 1982, pp. 42-67). The first part of this period was characterized by incessant Meso-potamian attacks on the Persian plateau the principal objective, though rarely attained, seems to have been Simaški, the homeland of the Elamite kings, in the area of modern Kermân. These campaigns alternated with periods of peace, marked by dynastic marriages. For example, Šu-Sin of Ur, after having given one of his daughters in marriage to a prince of Anshan, led at least two expeditions to the southeastern coast of the Caspian (Kutscher, pp. 71-101). It seems that the Mesopotamians alternated between peaceful and more forcible approaches, in order to obtain the raw materials they needed. But Mesopotamian power was weakening. The last king of the dynasty of Ur, Ibbi-Sin (2028-04), was unable to penetrate very deeply into Elamite territory, and his agent Ir-Nanna no longer controlled more of the eastern empire than the countries along a northwest-southeast line from Arbela to Bašime on the north bank of the Persian Gulf (Thureau-Dangin, pp. 148-51). In 2004 the Elamites, allied with the "Susianans" under the leadership of Kindattu, sixth king of Simaški, conquered Ur and led Ibbi-Sin away to Elam as a prisoner.

The Epartid or sukkalmah dynasty (ca. 1970-1600 B.C.E.). This long period of nearly three centuries still seems one of the most confused in Elamite history, despite the greater abundance and variety of the available documentation. Modern historians (König, 1931 Cameron, p. 229 Hinz, p. 183) have been misled by three factors that have completely distorted historical reconstruction.

First, the order of succession and the genealogy of the rulers of this period were distorted by a misinterpretation of the expression "son of the sister of Šilhaha" (Ak. mâr ahâti(-šu) ša Šilhaha). It was believed that the correct translation of mâr ahâti was "nephew," as in Mesopotamia, and that the term referred to a real biological relationship. The result was a theory about the division of power between the direct and collateral lines specific to Elam. The reality was quite different: The words "son of the sister of Šilhaha" do not mean "nephew" but rather "son that Šilhaha sired with his own sister" and are evidence of royal incest, which ensured the legitimacy of the heir. Furthermore, the expression was only a title, as is confirmed by its use for centuries after the death of Šilhaha, for example, by Untaš-Napiriša and Hutelutuš-Inšušinak. It may be added that this Akkadian expression was rendered in Elamite as ruhu-šak, ruhu meaning "son" when referring to the mother and šak "son" when referring to the father. There is thus no question of the word "sister" (Vallat, 1990, p. 122 idem, 1994).

A second factor, which played just as negative a role in historical reconstruction as the first, is a text of Šilhak-Inšušinak, who enumerated those of his royal predecessors who had restored a temple of Inšušinak (König, 1965, no. 48) the majority of historians have considered that this enumeration provides a chronological scheme that has only to be completed by insertion of the names of kings who are not mentioned in it. Although generally early sovereigns are mentioned first in the text and the most recent ones last, within each group there are obvious contradictions with other documents. These distortions result from enumeration according to lineages sometimes the direct line is given, then the collateral lines, but sometimes the collateral lines precede the direct line, without relation to actual chronology. For the sukkalmah period the order is Eparti (Ebarat), Šilhaha, Siruk-tuh, Siwe-palar-huppak, Kuk-Kirmaš, Atta-hušu, Temti-halki, and Kuk-Našur. Although the sequence Eparti, Šilhaha, Siruk-tuh, Siwe-palar-huppak in the direct line is correct, the two kings mentioned next, Kuk-Kirmaš and Atta-hušu, are not in the correct place, for they ruled between the reigns of Šilhaha and Siruk-tuh. Kuk-Kirmaš was thus a collateral, as is confirmed by the fact that in this list he is designated "son of Lankuku," an individual unknown elsewhere, who probably never ruled it is probable that he was the brother of a sukkalmah who died without a direct heir or whose heir was too young to reign. Further confirmation comes from the inscriptions of certain high functionaries who served him after having been in the service of Idaddu II, tenth king of Simaški. He could thus not have reigned in the 15th century B.C.E., as had been incorrectly supposed. Temti-halki and Kuk-Našur, the last two sukkalmahs known, were probably in the direct line.

Finally, an inscription of Atta-hušu (Sollberger, 1968-69, p. 31 Vallat, 1989, no. 101) has been considered as evidence that Eparti, Šilhaha, and Atta-hušu were contemporaries, constituting the first "triumvirate" of the dynasty. In fact, from different documents, particularly cylinder seals (q.v.) of servants of these sovereigns, it is possible to demonstrate (Vallat, 1989, no. 34) that between Šilhaha and Atta-hušu six sukkalmahs or sukkals exercised power: Pala-iššan, Kuk-Kirmaš, Kuk-sanit, Tem-sanit, Kuk-Nahhunte, and Kuk-Našur I, a group that reigned in the 20th century B.C.E. and not in the 16th century, as most commentators have believed (e.g., Hinz and Koch, p. 555).

Taking into account the corrected interpretations on these three points, it is possible today to write a coherent, though incomplete, history of the Epartid dynasty. The Simaškian kings who succeeded Kindattu were installed at Susa after the fall of the empire of Ur. The Simaškians Idaddu I and Tan-Ruhurater II (who married Mekubi, daughter of Bilalama of Ešnunna in Mesopotamia) built or restored temples at Susa. But Eparti II, though named as the ninth Simaškian king in the king list, was the founder of a new dynasty, called the Epartids by modern historians. It is surprising that the first Epartid sovereigns reigned at the same time as the last "Simaškian kings," Idaddu II, Idaddu-napir, and probably Idaddu-temti. Eparti, the first of his dynasty, was at least partially contemporary with the sukkalmah-sukkal group (see below) the second, Šilhaha, is mentioned in two documents from the time of Atta-hušu, contemporary with Sumu-abum (1894-81 B.C.E.), the first king of the first dynasty of Babylon. The last Epartid, Idaddu-temti, is known only from the king list. It is not known how power was divided, for, although Idaddu II and Idaddu-napir are attested at Susa, Kuk-Kirmaš bore the title, among others, "sukkal of Elam, of Simaški, and of Susa" (Thureau-Dangin, pp. 182-83), which implies that he ruled the entire Elamite confederation. Despite these titles, it is probable that the last Simaškians governed the eastern part of the empire while the first Epartids governed the western part.

At any rate Eparti, Šilhaha, and their immediate successors lived in troubled times. Rulers of several Mesopotamian states attempted to retake Susa from the Elamites. Several raids are known, particularly those of Gungunum of Larsa, and it was perhaps because of such a raid that Atta-hušu seized power. In fact, there are several indications that he was a usurper: Unlike all his predecessors and successors Atta-hušu was not associated with any other sovereign in the economic and juridical documents. His titles, too, are unusual. Although he called himself "son of the sister of Šilhaha," it was probably in order to legitimate himself a posteriori he also bore the title "shepherd of the people of Susa," which no other dynast during that period assumed, with the exception of a certain Tetep-mada, who may have been his successor.

The name of Siruk-tuh, which appears on a tablet from Šemšarra, permits linkage of Elamite history with Mesopotamian chronology, for he was contemporary with the Assyrian Šamši-Adad I (1813-1781 B.C.E.). But the best-known sukkalmah of the dynasty is Siwe-palar-huppak, who for at least two years was the most powerful person in the Near East. According to the royal archives of Mari, kings as important as Zimri-Lim of Mari and Hammurabi of Babylon addressed him as "father," while calling each other "brother" and using the word "son" for a king of lesser rank (Charpin and Durand). But the interventions of Siwe-palar-huppak and his brother and successor, Kudu-zuluš, in Mesopotamian affairs (as far away as Aleppo) did not last long (Durand, 1986 idem, 1990 Charpin, 1986 idem, 1990). Siwe-palar-huppak's suzerainty was broken by an alliance led by Hammurabi, which put an end to Elamite ambitions in Mesopotamia.

The reigns of Kutir-Nahhunte I and his thirteen successors as sukkalmah or sukkal down to Kuk-Našur III, the last known sukkalmah, are documented only in the juridical and economic records from Susa (Scheil, 1930 idem, 1932 idem, 1933 idem, 1939) and in some rare royal inscriptions (Thureau-Dangin, pp. 184-85 Sollberger and Kupper, pp. 262-64). These documents suggest that daily life in Susa and Elam was quite insular. Although no military activity is noted in the documents, it is astonishing that so many royal or princely names are attested at the same time. For example, Kutir-Nahhunte is associated with five potential heirs: Atta-mera-halki, Tata, Lila-irtaš, Temti-Agun, and Kutir-Šilhaha only the last two, however, attained supreme power, the status of sukkalmah. Following them Kuk-Našur II, a contemporary of Ammisáaduqa, king of Babylon (1646-26 B.C.E.) Temti-raptaš Simut-wartaš II Kuduzuluš II and Sirtuh exercised power in an order that cannot yet be established with certainty, despite association with royal names in the texts. The three last known sukkalmahs, Tan-Uli and his two sons Temti-halki and Kuk-Našur III, all three of whom were styled "son of the sister of Šilhaha," constituted a group that is linked by no document to its predecessors. These different factors raise the question whether, during the second half of this period, palace intrigues had not replaced international conflicts.

This dynasty, which was remarkable for its duration, was also characterized by a progressive "semitization" of the royal line owing to the annexation of Susiana to the Elamite empire, the sukkalmahs ensured that Susa would remain a major center. This process is reflected in different spheres. For example, the Elamites did not impose their language on the Susians the vast majority of the documents from this period excavated at Susa, most of them juridical or economic texts related to daily life in the name of the sukkalmah or a sukkal, were written in Akkadian. Similarly, the Susians preserved their Suso-Mesopotamian pantheon, at the head of which was Inšušinak, the tutelary divinity of the city (see vi, below). Gods of Elamite origin were rare. Finally, this semitization, or westernization, is illustrated by the titulary. The title "king of Anshan and Susa" borne by Eparti, the founder of the dynasty, was soon abandoned in favor of titles that had belonged to Mesopotamian functionaries posted in Susiana or Elam during the Ur III period. The supreme power was held by the sukkalmah. It happened that the ruler delegated certain powers to his children, who were then given the title "sukkal of Elam and of Simaški" while in charge of the eastern provinces of the empire and "sukkal of Susa" when governing Susiana. This last title could be replaced by "king of Susa."

It is thus necessary to set aside the theory of the division of Elamite power (Cameron, pp. 71-72). The succession to the throne was based on male primogeniture, with, however, an important additional element: the different degrees of legitimacy exemplified by the primacy of endogamy over exogamy. The child born to a union of the king with an Elamite princess, that is, a foreigner, was legitimate. The child born to a union of the king with his own sister had a higher degree of legitimacy. An elder son born to the marriage of a sovereign with a princess outside the family (exogamy) thus had to cede the throne to a younger brother born to a later union of the king and his sister (endogamy). The supreme degree of legitimacy was accorded to the son born to a union of the king with his own daughter. That was the case some centuries later with Hutelutuš-Inšušinak, who seems to have been the son of Šutruk-Nahhunte by his daughter Nahhunte-utu (Vallat, 1985). In the eventuality that a sovereign had no male heir or an heir was too young to exercise power then, as often elsewhere, power was secured by a collateral branch (Vallat, 1994).

The association of a "sukkal of Elam and of Simaški" and a "sukkal of Susa" with the supreme authority of the sukkalmah was not the rule. It sometimes happened, however, that the king associated his children in power for practical reasons: It is probable that, as in the Achaemenid period, the court left the extreme heat of Susa in summer and took refuge on the more temperate plateau. It was thus prudent to leave a trusted man in charge of the low countries.

The Middle Elamite period (ca. 1500-1100 B.C.E.).

The Middle Elamite period was marked by a sharp reversal from the preceding period. It was, in fact, characterized by an "elamization" of Susiana. The kings (Table 2) abandoned the title sukkalmah or sukkal in favor of the old title "king of Anshan and of Susa" (or "king of Susa and of Anshan" in the Akkadian inscriptions). The Akkadian language, still in use under the first family of rulers, the Kidinuids, became rare in the inscriptions of the later Igihalkids and Šutrukids. Furthermore, in this period the Elamite pantheon was imposed in Susiana and reached the height of its power with the construction of the politicoreligious complex at Chogha Zanbîl (q.v.).

The "dynasty" of the Kidinuids (ca. 1500-1400 B.C.E.).

The term "dynasty" for the Kidinuids is perhaps improper, for there is no indication of any filial relationship among the five rulers who succeeded one another in an order that is not yet certain: Kidinu, Inšušinak-sunkir-nappipir, Tan-Ruhurater II, Šalla, and Tepti-Ahar (Steve, Gasche, and De Meyer, pp. 92-100). Susa and Haft Tepe (ancient Kabnak) have furnished evidence (Reiner, 1973b Herrero) of a break between the period of the sukkalmahs and the Middle Elamite period. The first element was the titulary: Kidinu and Tepti-ahar styled themselves "king of Susa and of Anzan," thus linking themselves with an old tradition. Both also called themselves "servant of Kirwašir," an Elamite divinity, thus introducing the pantheon from the plateau into Susiana. As in the preceding period, however, they continued to use Akkadian in all their inscriptions.

The Igihalkid dynasty (ca. 1400-1210 B.C.E.).

Until quite recently the Igihalkid dynasty seemed one of the best known in Elamite history. It was believed (e.g., Stolper, 1984, pp. 35-38) that, following a raid by the Mesopotamian Kassite ruler Kurigalzu II (1332-08 B.C.E.) against a certain Hurpatila, king of Elam, Igi-halki seized power, in about 1320, power that he than passed on to his six successors, the most celebrated of whom was Untaš-Napiriša, who built the famous ziggurat at Chogha Zanbîl (ca. 1250). This period ended with Kidin-Hutran, who put an end to the grandeur of the Kassites by winning two victories over Enlil-nadin-šumi (1224) and Adad-šuma-iddina (1222-17).

Combined information from a letter now in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin (Van Dijk, 1986) and two fragments of a statue rediscovered in the Louvre (Steve and Vallat, pp. 223-38) has, however, led to a complete revision of this scheme. The letter in Berlin is a Neo-Babylonian document written in Akkadian, whereas the statue fragments contain an inscription in Elamite. The letter was addressed by an Elamite king whose name is lost but who may well have been Šutruk-Nahhunte (see below) to assert his claim to rule Babylonia the name of the person to whom it was addressed is also not preserved in the letter. In support of his claim the king mentioned the names of all the Elamite kings who had married Kassite princesses, followed by the names of the children born of these unions. For example, the immediate successor of Igi-halki, Pahir-iššan, married the sister or daughter of Kurigalzu I, whose reign ended in 1374 B.C.E., which implies that the Igihalkid dynasty was older by about a century than had previously been thought. Furthermore, two previously unknown kings, Kidin-Hutran, son of Untaš-Napiriša (who could not have been the Kidin-Hutran who fought the Kassites), and his son Napiriša-untaš, are mentioned in this text. As the fragments of the Louvre statue are attributed to another Kidin-Hutran, son of Pahir-iššan, there must have been three kings of the same name in this dynasty: Kidin-Hutran I, son of Pahir-iššan Kidin-Hutran II, son of Untaš-Napiriša and Kidin-Hutran III, whose paternity is unknown. The number of kings known to have succeeded to the Elamite throne has thus been raised from seven to ten, without any certainty that the list is complete. In fact, the first surviving description of this dynasty occurs in a text of the Šutrukid Šilhak-Inšušinak (König, 1965, no. 48), in which he enumerated those of his predecessors who had restored a temple of Inšušinak. As for the Berlin letter, only the dynasts who married Kassite princesses or their children are mentioned in it. A king who belonged in neither of these two categories would remain unknown. Finally, it can now be confirmed that Hurpatila was not an Elamite king but king of a country known as Elammat (Gassan).

The main characteristic of this dynasty is to have "elamized" Susiana the religious complex at Choghâ Zanbîl, ancient Dur-Untaš (or Âl Untaš-Napiriša), is evidence of this policy, which had been initiated under the "Kidinuids." Whereas the Epartids had adopted their titulary, gods, and language from the Susians, the Igihalkids emphasized the Elamite aspect of Susiana. Documents written in Akkadian are thus especially rare from their rule, and most are only curses against those who might tamper with dedicated works, as if such outrages could come only from Mesopotamia. Second, the old royal title "king of Anshan and of Susa" was revived. Finally and most important, the gods of the plateau appeared in force in Susiana. For example, the attitude of Untaš-Napiriša at Chogha Zanbîl is revealing. The king began by constructing a small ziggurat in the middle of a courtyard 105 m2 surrounded by temples. This first ziggurat bore the obligatory dedication to the tutelary god of Susa and Susiana, Inšušinak. But very quickly the king changed his mind and undertook construction of a large ziggurat. The small one was destroyed, and the buildings that surrounded the square courtyard were incorporated in the first story of the new monument, which consisted of five stories, each smaller in area than the one below (Ghirshman Amiet, 1966, pp. 344-49). It must be emphasized that the new building was dedicated jointly to Napiriša, the principal god of Anshan, and to Inšušinak, who was always mentioned second, or even third when Kiririša, the associate of Napiriša, was also named. The primacy of the Elamite component over that of Susa was thus reflected on the divine plane. But the situation was even more complex. Within three concentric walls at Chogha Zanbîl temples were constructed for different gods of the new Suso-Elamite pantheon, and it seems that all the constituent elements in the Elamite confederation were represented (Steve, 1967). For example, Pinikir, Humban, Kirmašir, and Nahhunte probably belonged to the Awanite pantheon, whereas Ruhurater and Hišmitik were of Simaškian origin. Among the Anshanite gods the pair Napiriša and Kiririša, as well as Kilah-šupir and Manzat, can be mentioned. Other divinities of Suso-Mesopotamian origin, like Inšušinak, Išmekarab, Nabu, Šamaš, and Adad, helped to establish a balance between Elamite and Susian power. The creation of this city from nothing had more a political than a religious character, for it implied the cultural and political subjugation of Susiana by the old Elamite confederation. Curiously, this huge complex was quickly abandoned. No king other than Untaš-Napiriša left his name there, and Šutruk-Nahhunte reported having carried some inscriptions from Dur-Untaš to Susa. Nothing is known of the two immediate successors of Untaš-Napiriša, Kidin-Hutran II and Napiriša-Untaš. The campaigns led by the last sovereign of the dynasty, Kidin-Hutran III, against the Kassite kings Enlil-nadin-šumi and Adad-šuma-iddina of Babylonia are evidence that the good relations that had existed between the two royal families had quickly deteriorated.

The Šutrukid dynasty (ca. 1210-1100 B.C.E.).

Under the Šutrukids Susa regained its greatness, which had been somewhat eclipsed by Chogha Zanbîl, and Elamite civilization shone in all its glory. The riches of Šutruk-Nahhunte and his three sons and successors, Kutir-Nahhunte II, Šilhak-Inšušinak, and Hutelutuš-Inšušinak permitted these new "kings of Anshan and of Susa" to undertake frequent military expeditions against Kassite Mesopotamia and to embellish the Elamite empire and particularly Susiana with luxuriously restored temples.

Šutruk-Nahhunte, son of Hallutuš-Inšušinak, perhaps following the Babylonian rejection of the Elamite claims to sovereignty in the Berlin letter discussed above, undertook several campaigns against Mesopotamia, whence he carried off a number of trophies, which he had inscribed with his name. It is thus known that he raided Akkad, Babylon, and Ešnunna, from the last of which he carried off the statues of Maništusu. It was he who brought to Susa such renowned documents as the code of Hammurabi and the stele of Naram-Sin. In 1158 B.C.E. he killed the Kassite king, Zababa-šuma-iddina, and placed his own eldest son, Kutir-Nahhunte, on the throne of Babylon. When Šutruk-Nahhunte died Kutir-Nahhunte succeeded him and continued his policy in Mesopotamia, putting an end to the long Kassite dynasty by deposing Enlil-nadin-ahi (1157-55 B.C.E.). He reigned only a short time before he was succeeded by his brother Šilhak-Inšušinak, who left a large number of inscriptions in Elamite, recording his numerous campaigns against Mesopotamia, on one hand, and, on the other, dedicating to the gods temples that he built or restored for example, on one stele twenty temples "of the grove" in Susiana and Elam are mentioned (König, 1965, no. 48). The last king of the dynasty, Hutelutuš-Inšušinak, who called himself sometimes "son of Kutir-Nahhunte and of Šilhak-Inšušinak" and sometimes "son of Šutruk-Nahhunte, of Kutir-Nahhunte, and of Šilhak-Inšušinak," was probably a son of Šutruk-Nahhunte by his own daughter, Nahhunte-utu (Vallat, 1985, pp. 43-50 idem, 1994), apparently another example of incest in the royal Elamite family. Less brilliant than his predecessors, Hutelutuš-Inšušinak had to abandon Susa briefly to Nebuchadnezzar (1125-04 B.C.E.). He took refuge at Anshan, where he built or restored a temple (Lambert Reiner, 1973b), then returned to Susa, where his brother Šilhina-amru-Lagamar may have succeeded him. With this king Elamite power faded from the political scene for a long time.

The Neo-Elamite Period (1100-539 B.C.E.).

The essential element that distinguished the Neo-Elamite period was the massive arrival of Iranians on the Iranian plateau, which had the result of reducing still further what remained of the former Elamite empire. Although these invaders appeared only late in the Elamite texts, they were documented in Assyrian sources, where two groups of Medes were distinguished: the Medes or "powerful Medes" and the "distant Medes" or "Medes who live beside Mount Bikni, the mountain of lapis lazuli." The first group, which occupied the region around Ecbatana (q.v. modern Hamadân), was well-known because of its frequent and often warlike contacts with the Assyrians, but the second group, which encompassed all the tribes that held territories between the region around modern Tehran and eastern Afghanistan was not the Achaemenids (and following them Herodotus) designated the latter group by their proper names: Parthians, Sagartians, Arians, Margians, Bactrians, Sogdians, and probably neighboring peoples. In the Assyrian annals, however, all these Iranian tribes were confused under the general appellation "distant Medes." An identification of Mount Bikni with Damâvand (q.v. Cameron, p. 149) or Alvand (Levine, 1974, pp. 118-19) must thus be rejected. An identification with the sources of lapis lazuli in Badakhšan was not only credited by some classical authors but also lends a certain coherence to history, whether recorded by Assyrians, Elamites, or Iranians (Vallat, 1993).

The slow progression of the Medes and the Persians across the plateau pushed the Elamites in the region of Anshan toward Susiana, which had been the second center of their empire for almost a millennium and a half. The country of Anshan gradually became Persia proper while Susiana then—and only then—became known as Elam. In most sources of the period, particularly those from Mesopotamia, Susiana is designated as Elam. Nevertheless, the Neo-Elamite kings (Table 3) still called themselves "king of Anshan and of Susa," except for the last three, Ummanunu, Šilhak-Inšušinak II, and Tepti-Humban-Inšušinak.

Neo-Elamite I (ca. 1100-770 B.C.E.).

No Elamite document from this first phase of two and a half centuries provides any historical information. The tablets from Malyan (Stolper, 1984), which M.-J. Steve (1992, p. 21) attributes to the beginning of the period, reveal that Anshan was still at least partially Elamite, for almost all the individuals mentioned in them had names of Elamite origin. Mesopotamian tablets from the same period offer very little additional information it is known only that the Babylonian king Mar-biti-apla-usáur (984-79 B.C.E.) was of Elamite origin and that Elamite troops fought on the side of the Babylonian king Marduk-balassu-iqbi against the Assyrian forces under Šamši-Adad V (823-11 B.C.E.).

Neo-Elamite II (ca. 770-646 B.C.E.).

Only after the middle of the 8th century B.C.E. does the Babylonian Chronicle (Grayson, 1975) provide the elements of a historical framework, particularly the role of Elam in the conflicts between Babylonians and Assyrians. The king Humban-nikaš (743-17 B.C.E.), son of Humban-tahra and brother of Humban-umena II, came to the aid of Merodach-baladan against the Assyrian Sargon II, which seems to have had little permanent result, as his successor, Šutruk-Nahhunte II (716-699), son of Humban-umena II, had to flee from Sargon's troops during an attempt on the region of [email protected] in 710. The Elamite was again defeated by Sargon's troops two years later finally he was beaten by Sargon's son Sennacherib, who dethroned Merodach-baladan and installed his own son Aššur-nadin-šumi on the throne of Babylon. Šutruk-Nahhunte was then murdered by his brother Hallušu, mentioned in the Babylonian Chronicle (698-93). After several skirmishes with the troops of Sennacherib, Hallušu was assassinated and replaced by Kudur, who quickly abdicated the throne in favor of Humban-umena III (692-89). Humban-umena recruited a new army, including troops from Ellipi, Parsumaš, and Anshan, in order to assist the Babylonians in the battle against the Assyrians at Halule on the Tigris in 691. Each side proclaimed itself the victor, but Babylon was taken by the Assyrians two years later. Elamite relations with Babylonia began to deteriorate during the reign of Humban-haltaš II (680-75), son of Humban-haltaš I (688-81), which may explain why his brother and successor, Urtak (674-64), at first maintained good relations with the Assyrian king Aššurbanipal (668-27), who helped him by sending wheat during a famine. But peaceable relations with Assyria also deteriorated, and it was after a new Elamite attack on Mesopotamia that the king died. He was replaced on the throne by Te-Umman (664-53 B.C.E.). The new king was the object of a new attack by Assurbanipal, who, after the battle of the Ulaï in 653, put an end to the king's life. After this victory Aššurbanipal installed in power the son of Urtak, who had taken refuge in Assyria. Humban-nikaš II (Akkadian Ummanigaš) was installed at Madaktu, an advance post toward Mesopotamia, and Tammaritu at Hidalu, a retreat in the eastern mountains on the road to Anshan. These two towns thus functioned as capitals from the beginning of the 7th century, to the detriment of Susa. The war that broke out between Aššurbanipal and his brother Šamaš-šum-ukin, whom he had installed on the throne of Babylon, provided some respite for the Elamites, who profited from it to fight among themselves. Tammaritu captured the throne of Humban-nikaš II and was in turn driven out to Assyria by Indabigaš, who was himself killed by Humban-haltaš III in 648. The collapse of the Elamite kingdom seems even clearer when it is realized that a certain Umba-habua reigned at Bupila and that Pa'e was called "king of Elam" at Bît-Imbi. The coup de grace, however, was delivered by Aššurbanipal in 646, when he sacked Susa after having devastated the whole of Susiana (Streck Aynard Grayson, 1975).

The defeat of the Elamites was, however, less devastating than Aššurbanipal made it appear in his annals, for after his victory the Elamite kingdom rose from the ashes with Šutur-Nahhunte, son of Humban-umena III.

Neo-Elamite III (646-539?B.C.E.).

So far nothing has been known about the century between the sack of Susa by Aššurbanipal in 646 and the conquest of Susiana, thus of Elam, by the Achaemenids, perhaps by Cyrus in 539. This apparent gap in the history was owing in fact to two errors of interpretation by modern scholars, who, first, considered that the Neo-Elamite kings Šutruk-Nahhunte, son of Humban-umena Šutur-Nahhunte, son of Humban-umena and sometimes even Šutur-Nahhunte, son of Indada, were the names of a single sovereign (Hinz, 1964, pp. 115-20). Now, it is possible to show that they belonged to three different individuals. The first, who reigned from 717 to 699, is known from the Mesopotamian sources. He was the son of Humban-umena II (ca. 743), whereas Šutur-Nahhunte was the son of Humban-umena III (692-89) and reigned after the fall of Susa. As for Šutur-Nahhunte, son of Indada, he was a petty king in the region of Èza/Malâmîr in the first half of the 6th century (Vallat, 1995).

The second error of interpretation was to have considered the names of the Elamite kings mentioned in the Mesopotamian documents as simple distortions of the names of kings known from their inscriptions at Susa. For example, it was believed that the name Šutruk-Nahhunte was rendered Šutur-Nahhunte in Assyria and Ištar-hundu in Babylonia. Again, it can be demonstrated from internal analysis of the Elamite documents that these identifications are erroneous and that, with the exception of Šutruk-Nahhunte II, all the Neo-Elamite kings known from Susian inscriptions reigned after Aššurbanipal's sack of Susa (Vallat, 1996).

For this period no text furnishes a synchronism with Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, one group of more than 300 tablets (Scheil, 1909) can be dated by the iconography of their seal impressions to the first quarter of the 6th century. Analysis of the language of these documents, which was no longer classical but not yet Achaemenid, reveals details that permit a chronology in relation to other inscriptions. In addition, on one of these tablets a king (Ummanunu) and on another the name of Humban-kitin, who was probably the son of Šutur-Nahhunte, are mentioned (Vallat, 1995). It is thus possible to locate the reigns of Šutur-Nahhunte, son of Humban-umena III Hallutaš-Inšušinak, son of Humban-tahra II and Atta-hamiti-Inšušinak, son of Hutran-tepti in the second half of the 7th century. Ummanunu, who is mentioned in the tablets from the Acropolis, appears to have been the father of Šilhak-Inšušinak II, himself the father of Tepti-Humban-Inšušinak. These three individuals ruled in succession between 585 and about 539, at a time when Elamite royalty seems to have been fragmented among different small kingdoms, though it is not possible to determine that there was any sort of vassal relationship with the king of Susa. It is thus known that Šutur-Nahhunte, son of Indada ruled in the region of Malâmîr Humban-šuturuk, son of Šati-hupiti, probably in the region of Kesat in what was later Elymais and the first Achaemenids over the city of Anshan. It is interesting to note that the three kings at the end of the 7th century (Šutur-Nahhunte, Hallutaš-Inšušinak, and Atta-hamiti-Inšušinak) still called themselves "king of Anzan and of Susa" or "enlarger of the kingdom of Anzan and of Susa," whereas Ummanunu and Šilhak-Inšušinak II bore the simple title "king," without any further specification, and Tepti-Humban-Inšušinak did not even allude to his royal position! This last known king of Elam did boast, however, of having led a campaign in the Zagros.

The Achaemenid period (539-331 B.C.E.).

With the Achaemenids in general and Darius I (q.v.) in particular Susa regained its previous greatness, but Elam lost its independence, becoming the third "province" of the empire, after Persis and Media. Curiously, in that period, though the country was called Elam (Elamite Hatamtu, Akkadian NIM) in the sources, in Old Persian it was called Susiana (Uja). Susa eclipsed the other capitals, like Anshan and Pasargadae, in Cyrus' time and even Persepolis, founded by Darius himself, and Ecbatana. It is striking, for example, that officials traveling to such distant destinations as Egypt, India, or Arachosia departed from Susa and returned to Susa, as confirmed in numerous archival tablets found at Persepolis (Hallock, nos. 1285-1579). Furthermore, these documents were written in Elamite, as if Darius had wished to make use of a class of scribes belonging to an already existing administration. The majority of royal inscriptions were written in Old Persian, Akkadian, and Elamite versions, but Elamite had by then absorbed Iranian influences in both structure and vocabulary. The Elamite gods, after having benefited from a final revival of the cult under Darius and Xerxes, disappeared forever from the documents. Elam was absorbed into the new empire, which changed the face of the civilized world at that time.

(For abbreviations found in this bibliography, see "Short References.")


Start

Proto-Elamite is still largely undeciphered, although a majority of the material has been abailable for study for more than three quarters of a century.

Early work on proto-Elamite centered around comparing individual signs with signs from the neighboring cuneiform writing system. It has since been conclusively shown that a graphical similarity between signs from two writing systems is not proof of a semantical similarity.

For a variety of reasons it has been argued that proto-Elamite was used to write Elamite, a language which is first attested around 2300 BC. This cannot be proven at present, although it is of course a possibility. However, the earliest proto-Elamite tablets, if not all, were in fact language neutral. Although this is not the same as suggesting that they could be read by anyone, it means that they were not coding speech.

Since the publication of Jöran Friberg's groundbreaking study, concerning ancient Near Eastern metrology, in the seventies, the decipherment of the world's earliest writing systems has been moving steadily away from a traditional linguistic research mapping individual signs in complex strings onto the grammatical elements of a spoken language, and into the realm of history of science and related fields.


Proto-Elamite script [ edit ]

It is uncertain whether the Proto-Elamite script was the direct predecessor of Linear Elamite. Both scripts remain largely undeciphered, and it is mere speculation to postulate a relationship between the two.

A few Proto-Elamite signs seem either to be loans from the slightly older proto-cuneiform (Late Uruk) tablets of Mesopotamia, or perhaps more likely, to share a common origin. Whereas proto-cuneiform is written in visual hierarchies, Proto-Elamite is written in an in-line style: numerical signs follow the objects they count some non-numerical signs are 'images' of the objects they represent, although the majority are entirely abstract.

Proto-Elamite was used for a brief period around 3000 BC ⎘] ⎙] (Jemdet Nasr period in Mesopotamia), whereas Linear Elamite is attested for a similarly brief period in the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC.

Proponents of an Elamo-Dravidian relationship have looked for similarities between the Proto-Elamite script and the Indus script. ⎚]

Inscription corpus [ edit ]

The Proto-Elamite writing system was used over a very large geographical area, stretching from Susa in the west, to Tepe Yahya in the east, and perhaps beyond. The known corpus of inscriptions consists of some 1600 tablets, the vast majority unearthed at Susa.

Proto-Elamite tablets have been found at the following sites (in order of number of tablets recovered):

    (more than 1500 tablets) , or Malyan (more than 30 tablets) (27 tablets) (22 tablets) (two tablets) (one tablet) (one tablet)

None of the inscribed objects from Ghazir, Chogha Mish or Hissar can be verified as Proto-Elamite the tablets from Ghazir and Choga Mish are Uruk IV style or numerical tablets, whereas the Hissar object cannot be classified at present. The majority of the Tepe Sialk tablets are also not proto-Elamite, strictly speaking, but belong to the period of close contact between Mesopotamia and Iran, presumably corresponding to Uruk V - IV.

Decipherment attempts [ edit ]

Although Proto-Elamite remains undeciphered, the content of many texts is known. This is possible because certain signs, and in particular a majority of the numerical signs, are similar to the neighboring Mesopotamian writing system, proto-cuneiform. In addition, a number of the proto-Elamite signs are actual images of the objects they represent. However, the majority of the proto-Elamite signs are entirely abstract, and their meanings can only be deciphered through careful graphotactical analysis.

While the Elamite language has been suggested as a likely candidate underlying the Proto-Elamite inscriptions, there is no positive evidence of this. The earliest Proto-Elamite inscriptions, being purely ideographical, do not in fact contain any linguistic information, and following Friberg's 1978/79 study of Ancient Near Eastern metrology, decipherment attempts have moved away from linguistic methods.

In 2012, Dr Jacob Dahl of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, announced a project to make high-quality images of Proto-Elamite clay tablets and publish them online. His hope is that crowdsourcing by academics and amateurs working together would be able to understand the script, despite the presence of mistakes and the lack of phonetic clues. ⎛] Dahl assisted in making the images of nearly 1600 Proto-Elamite tablets online. ⎜]

Clay tokens circa 3500 BC (Uruk period) terracotta from Susa Louvre (Paris)


Proto-Elamite Tablets - History

This Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) system at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford takes photographs of the tablets in 76 different light settings.

One of the many proto-Elamite documents scanned and made available to the public through the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website.

The vast majority of the proto-Elamite texts come from the capital at Susa (Biblical Shushan), a city that played a major role proto-Elamite, Elamite, Mesopotamian, Persian and Parthian history over the course of several millennia. Shushan is well known from the Hebrew Bible Esther becomes a queen there before saving the Jews, and Nehemiah and Daniel both reside there during the Babylonian exile. The Book of Jubilees (8:21 & 9:2) connects Susa to the earlier Elamite population, who are mentioned in earlier Biblical narratives. According to the Bible, the Elamites are descendants of Elam, one of the sons of Shem and grandson of Noah.

While the Tower of Babel narrative presents a Biblical tradition for the origins of the Elamite language and people, the uncertain connection between the Elamites and their proto-Elamite predecessors has proved a challenge for scholars. The script includes some common elements with early Mesopotamian writing, but a lack of bilingual texts and a great deal of scribal deviations have hampered the researchers’ ability to discover linguistic patterns. The language appears to use both symbolic and phonetic combinations, but the poor scribal tradition and the uncertain relationship with neighboring or later Elamite languages has challenged linguists for decades. However, with the development of RTI technologies and a new universal access made available through digitization, researchers are confident that they have reached the breakthrough point.

Want to try a crowdsourcing project to help ancient research? Find out how you can help with the Oxyrhynchus Papyri in “Scholars Seek Amateur Assistance.”


Proto-Elamite script

It is uncertain whether the Proto-Elamite script was the direct predecessor of Linear Elamite. Both scripts remain largely undeciphered, and it is mere speculation to postulate a relationship between the two.

A few Proto-Elamite signs seem either to be loans from the slightly older proto-cuneiform (Late Uruk) tablets of Mesopotamia, or perhaps more likely, to share a common origin. Whereas proto-cuneiform is written in visual hierarchies, Proto-Elamite is written in an in-line style: numerical signs follow the objects they count some non-numerical signs are 'images' of the objects they represent, although the majority are entirely abstract.

Proto-Elamite was used for a brief period around 3000 BC [5] [6] (Jemdet Nasr period in Mesopotamia), whereas Linear Elamite is attested for a similarly brief period in the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC.

Proponents of an Elamo-Dravidian relationship have looked for similarities between the Proto-Elamite and the Indus script. [7]

Inscription corpus

The Proto-Elamite writing system was used over a very large geographical area, stretching from Susa in the west, to Tepe Yahya in the east, and perhaps beyond. The known corpus of inscriptions consists of some 1600 tablets, the vast majority unearthed at Susa.

Proto-Elamite tablets have been found at the following sites (in order of number of tablets recovered):

  • Susa (more than 1500 tablets) , or Malyan (more than 30 tablets)
  • Tepe Yahya (27 tablets)
  • Tepe Sialk (22 tablets) (two tablets) (one tablet) (one tablet)

None of the inscribed objects from Ghazir, Chogha Mish or Hissar can be verified as Proto-Elamite the tablets from Ghazir and Choga Mish are Uruk IV style or numerical tablets, whereas the Hissar object cannot be classified at present. The majority of the Tepe Sialk tablets are also not proto-Elamite, strictly speaking, but belong to the period of close contact between Mesopotamia and Iran, presumably corresponding to Uruk V - IV.

Decipherment attempts

Although Proto-Elamite remains undeciphered, the content of many texts is known. This is possible because certain signs, and in particular a majority of the numerical signs, are similar to the neighboring Mesopotamian writing system, proto-cuneiform. In addition, a number of the proto-Elamite signs are actual images of the objects they represent. However, the majority of the proto-Elamite signs are entirely abstract, and their meanings can only be deciphered through careful graphotactical analysis.

While the Elamite language has been suggested as a likely candidate underlying the Proto-Elamite inscriptions, there is no positive evidence of this. The earliest Proto-Elamite inscriptions, being purely ideographical, do not in fact contain any linguistic information, and following Friberg's 1978/79 study of Ancient Near Eastern metrology, decipherment attempts have moved away from linguistic methods.

In 2012, Dr Jacob Dahl of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, announced a project to make high-quality images of Proto-Elamite clay tablets and publish them online. His hope is that crowdsourcing by academics and amateurs working together would be able to understand the script, despite the presence of mistakes and the lack of phonetic clues. [8] Dahl assisted in making the images of nearly 1600 Proto-Elamite tablets online. [9]


Proto-Elamite Tablets - History

A short history of money.
Agustí Chalaux de Subirà, Brauli Tamarit Tamarit.

Numbers and Measures in the Earliest Written Records.

1. PROTO-SUMERIAN TABLET from Jemdet Nasr in Iraq records the rations allotted to a total of 40 men in the course of a five-day week. The signs farthest to the left in the top three rows indicate «Day 1», «Day 2» and «Day 3». The text on the reverse of the tablet indicates that each of the men received rations equivalent in value to two minor units of barley per day. Barley was the currency of the period. The triangular sign near the right end of the fourth row probably means «workers». The tablet is in the British Museum.

2. IRAQ AND IRAN are the regions of southwest Asia where early forms of writing arose before 3000 B.C., primarily for the purpose of recording numbers and commodities. The seven sites in Iraq have yielded numerons cuneiform tablets. Two of them, Jemdet Nasr and Uruk, are the sources of tablets bearing the earliest Mesopotamian script, proto-Sumerian. The five sites in Iran, Susa in particular, are the sources of a linguistically unrelated script, proto-Elamite, that is about as old as proto-Sumerian. Both scripts relied on essentially identical special notations to represent numbers and measures, so that the tablets bearing numerical records and accounts are decipherable (Source: Alan D. Iselin).

3. CUNEIFORM TABLET FROM LARSA, described in 1855 by Sir Henry Rawlinson, is reproduced in part. The script is Old Babylonian cuneiform the text is a table of square roots. Next to the top two and bottom two lines are transliterations into English script and Arabic numerals (black). Below the transliterations are free translations (color). Many such tablets were study copies made by novice scribes (Source: Alan D. Iselin).

4. ANOTHER TABLET FROM LARSA, part of a conversion table for linear measurements, was also probably a novice scribe's practice exercise. At the right, from the top to the 10th row, is a single column of numbers from 2 to 12 (color), omitting 7. The last intact line, from left to right, reads «Two beru [equals] 12». Because in the Old Babylonian script the numbers 12, 12 X 60 and 12 X 60 2 were all written in the same way, what this actually means is that two beru are equal to a distance of 43,200 cubits (12 X 60 2 cubits), The missing 7 may be a mistake (Source: Alan D. Iselin).

5. RELIGIOUS OFFERINGS OF BEER are recorded on the obverse side (left) and reverse side (right) of this Sargonic-period tablet from Umma in Iraq. The signs at the left in the top three rows of the obverse side respectively indicate three jars of beer, one jar and one jar. The colored symbols to the right in the first line are units of capacity, from left to right a bariga and a ban (six ban make one bariga). The unit below that is five ban and below that three ban. The sense of the three lines is that a daily offering of beer is to be made, consisting of three one-ban jars with a value in barley of one bariga, of one jar with a value of five ban and of one additional jar valued at only three ban. The wide line (4) of the reverse side summarizes the total value of the offering over a month of 30 days: from left to right (color) 3 times 10 gur plus 6 gur plus 1 bariga. (Four bariga is equal to one gar). The last line of tbe reverse side (5) records the date «Year 2, Month 4» (Source: Alan D. Iselin).

6. PROTO-SUMERIAN TEXT FROM URUK records the amount of emmer wheat given to a number of men and women. The system of capacity notations in archaic texts such as this one proceeds from a major unit (M in the factor diagram above the text) via a principal unit (C) to a minor unit (m) and fractions of a minor unit. The double lines that appear with the units of measure indicate the grain is emmer. (A different symbol, an ear of grain, represents barley). The text reads from right to left and units are in color. Two supervisors, a and b, respectively receive 64 C and 6 C. Six of seven men (c-l, c-2, c-4, c-5, c-6 and c-7) receive 1 C each one man (c-3) receives 2 C's. Three women (d-l, d-2 and d-3) respectively get 3 m's, 2 m's and 3 m's (Source: Alan D. Iselin).

7. ANOTHER PROTO-SUMERIAN TEXT, an exercise dealing with large quantities of bread and beer, uses a «bi-sexagesimal» number system shown in the factor diagram above the text. The largest number is 20 X 60 the smallest is 1. Boxes farthest to the left in the top row (a) state that 6,000 loaves of bread (valued at a fractional minor unit of barley each) would have a total cost of 1 M + 3 X 6 C + 2 C (equal to 200 C). Boxes farthest to left in the second row (b) state that 5 (X 60 is understood) jars of beer would have a cost of 3 X 6 C + 2 C, or 15 jars per C (Source: Alan D. Iselin).

8. PROTO-ELAMITE TABLET FROM SUSA shows lines of number signs only along its top and bottom edges. Much of the remaining surface of the tablet is marked by the impression of a cylinder seal that shows lions dominating bulls and vice versa. The signs to the right at the top of the tablet summarize many entries on the reverse side of the tablet: slightly more than 1,200 principal units of capacity. To the left is a smaller number, about 360 principal units. It is probably a tax or fee imposed on the transaction by the authorities (Source: Vincent Scheil).


Proto-Elamite

The Proto-Elamite period is the time from ca. 3400 BC to 2500 BC. [ 1 ] In archaeological terms this corresponds to the late Banesh period, and it is recognized as the oldest civilization in Iran.

The Proto-Elamite script is an Early Bronze Age writing system briefly in use before the introduction of Elamite cuneiform.

Contents

Overview [ edit ]

During the period 8000–3700 BC, the Fertile Crescent witnessed the spread of small settlements supported by agricultural surplus. Geometric tokens emerged to be used to manage stewardship of this surplus. [ 2 ] The earliest tokens now known are those from two sites in the Zagros region of Iran: Tepe Asiab and Ganj-i-Dareh Tepe. [ 3 ]

The Mesopotamian civilization emerged during the period 3700–2900 BC amid the development of technological innovations such as the plough, sailing boats and copper metal working. Clay tablets with pictographic characters appeared in this period to record commercial transactions performed by the temples. [ 2 ]

Besides Susa, one important Proto-Elamite site is Tepe Sialk, where the only remaining Proto-Elamite ziggurat is still seen. Texts in the undeciphered Proto-Elamite script found in Susa are dated to this period. It is thought that the Proto-Elamites were in fact Elamites (Elamite speakers), because of the many cultural similarities (for example, the building of ziggurats), and because no large-scale migration to this area seems to have occurred between the Proto-Elamite period and the later Elamites. But because their script is yet to be deciphered, this theory remains uncertain.

Some anthropologists, such as John Alden, maintain that Proto-Elamite influence grew rapidly at the end of the 4th millennium BC and declined equally rapidly with the establishment of maritime trade in the Persian Gulf several centuries later.

Proto-Elamite pottery dating back to the last half of the 5th millennium BC has been found in Tepe Sialk, where Proto-Elamite writing, the first form of writing in Iran, has been found on tablets of this date. The first cylinder seals come from the Proto-Elamite period, as well. [ 4 ]

Proto-Elamite script [ edit ]

It is uncertain whether the Proto-Elamite script was the direct predecessor of Linear Elamite. Both scripts remain largely undeciphered, and it is mere speculation to postulate a relationship between the two.

A few Proto-Elamite signs seem either to be loans from the slightly older proto-cuneiform (Late Uruk) tablets of Mesopotamia, or perhaps more likely, to share a common origin. Whereas proto-cuneiform is written in visual hierarchies, Proto-Elamite is written in an in-line style: numerical signs follow the objects they count some non-numerical signs are 'images' of the objects they represent, although the majority are entirely abstract.

Proto-Elamite was used for a brief period around 3000 BC [ 5 ] [ 6 ] (Jemdet Nasr period in Mesopotamia), whereas Linear Elamite is attested for a similarly brief period in the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC.

Proponents of an Elamo-Dravidian relationship have looked for similarities between the Proto-Elamite and the Indus script. [ 7 ]

Inscription corpus [ edit ]

The Proto-Elamite writing system was used over a very large geographical area, stretching from Susa in the west, to Tepe Yahya in the east, and perhaps beyond. The known corpus of inscriptions consists of some 1600 tablets, the vast majority unearthed at Susa.

Proto-Elamite tablets have been found at the following sites (in order of number of tablets recovered):

  • Susa (more than 1500 tablets)
  • Malyan (more than 30 tablets)
  • Tepe Yahya (27 tablets)
  • Tepe Sialk (22 tablets)
  • Jiroft (two tablets)
  • Ozbaki (one tablet)
  • Shahr-e Sukhteh (one tablet)

None of the inscribed objects from Ghazir, Chogha Mish or Hissar can be verified as Proto-Elamite the tablets from Ghazir and Choga Mish are Uruk IV style or numerical tablets, whereas the Hissar object cannot be classified at present. The majority of the Tepe Sialk tablets are also not proto-Elamite, strictly speaking, but belong to the period of close contact between Mesopotamia and Iran, presumably corresponding to Uruk V - IV.

Decipherment attempts [ edit ]

Although Proto-Elamite remains undeciphered, the content of many texts is known. This is possible because certain signs, and in particular a majority of the numerical signs, are similar to the neighboring Mesopotamian writing system, proto-cuneiform. In addition, a number of the proto-Elamite signs are actual images of the objects they represent. However, the majority of the proto-Elamite signs are entirely abstract, and their meanings can only be deciphered through careful graphotactical analysis.

While the Elamite language has been suggested as a likely candidate underlying the Proto-Elamite inscriptions, there is no positive evidence of this. The earliest Proto-Elamite inscriptions, being purely ideographical, do not in fact contain any linguistic information, and following Friberg's 1978/79 study of Ancient Near Eastern metrology, decipherment attempts have moved away from linguistic methods.

In 2012, Dr Jacob Dahl of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, announced a project to make high-quality images of Proto-Elamite clay tablets and publish them online. His hope is that crowdsourcing by academics and amateurs working together would be able to understand the script, despite the presence of mistakes and the lack of phonetic clues. [ 8 ] Dahl assisted in making the images of nearly 1600 Proto-Elamite tablets online. [ 9 ]


Proto-Elamite Codebreakers Try Crowdsourcing To Help Decipher Mystery Language

Researchers at Oxford University hope new technology and crowdsourcing on the Internet will help them decipher the world's oldest writing system that still remains a mystery.

The ancient writing from what is now southwest Iran, called proto-Elamite, was used during the Bronze Age between 3200 BC and 2900 BC but has defied academics who long ago found the Rosetta Stone to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics and other ancient languages. Although proto-Elamite was borrowed from neighboring Mesopotamia, its scribes devised their own symbols that have made it all but undecipherable for millennia.

But now, according to BBC News, scholars believe they have the tools to make significant headway.

"I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough," Jacob Dahl, a fellow in the Oriental Studies department at Oxford University, told the BBC. "It's an unknown, uncharted territory of human history."

Dahl and other researchers at Oxford have spent more than a decade studying the right-to-left writing on clay tablets. So far, they have deciphered 1,200 symbols but that merely scratches the surface. Basic words such as "cattle" remain unknown, the BBC adds.

So the scholars have turned to a device known as a Reflectance Transformation Imaging System (RTI). Developed by a team of international developers, RTI uses light to capture photos of every groove on a clay tablet to produce super-sharp images.

Dahl's team shipped an RTI machine to the Louvre museum in Paris, home to the world's largest trove of proto-Elamite tablets, and exposed the tablets to them. The high-resolution images will be put online to allow academics around the world to crowdsource a translation, ideally within two years.

The ancient writing has proven particularly maddening to scholars, Dahl says, because it appears to be full of mistakes that have made deciphering them all the more difficult. There also have been no bilingual texts to use for comparison nor any lists of symbols or primers to use as a reference. In addition, scholars don't know how the language was spoken and thus lack phonetic clues that might have helped their work.

Yet the writing system is hugely important to experts in ancient languages because it was the first to use syllables and represents the first recorded example of one people adopting writing from another people nearby.


Proto-Elamite Tablets - History

P roto-Elamite (3400 – 2500 BC)

The Proto-Elamite period is the time from ca. 3400 BC to 2500 BC. In archaeological terms this corresponds to the late Banesh period, and it is recognized as the oldest civilization in Iran.

The Proto-Elamite script is an Early Bronze Age writing system briefly in use before the introduction of Elamite cuneiform.

During the period 8000–3700 BC, the Fertile Crescent witnessed the spread of small settlements supported by agricultural surplus. Geometric tokens emerged to be used to manage stewardship of this surplus. The earliest tokens now known are those from two sites in the Zagros region of Iran: Tepe Asiab and Ganj-i-Dareh Tepe.

The Mesopotamian civilization emerged during the period 3700–2900 BC amid the development of technological innovations such as the plough, sailing boats and copper metal working. Clay tablets with pictographic characters appeared in this period to record commercial transactions performed by the temples

The most important Proto-Elamite sites are Susa and Anshan. Another important site is Tepe Sialk, where the only remaining Proto-Elamite ziggurat is still seen. Texts in the undeciphered Proto-Elamite script found in Susa are dated to this period. It is thought that the Proto-Elamites were in fact Elamites (Elamite speakers), because of the many cultural similarities (for example, the building of ziggurats), and because no large-scale migration to this area seems to have occurred between the Proto-Elamite period and the later Elamites. But because their script is yet to be deciphered, this theory remains uncertain.

Some anthropologists, such as John Alden, maintain that Proto-Elamite influence grew rapidly at the end of the 4th millennium BC and declined equally rapidly with the establishment of maritime trade in the Persian Gulf several centuries later.

Proto-Elamite pottery dating back to the last half of the 5th millennium BC has been found in Tepe Sialk, where Proto-Elamite writing, the first form of writing in Iran, has been found on tablets of this date. The first cylinder seals come from the Proto-Elamite period, as well.


2 thoughts on &ldquoDeciphering and interpreting (proto-)cuneiform&rdquo

I am taking a brief course on global history. I am curious about how people have come to interpret these tablets of cuneiform. One thing that I have been thinking about is that these older civilizations, that have recorded things on tablets like you have discussed above, might’ve had a much more advanced writing system than we think. We know that the Egyptians had a lot of writing on papyrus- the Ebers papyrus for example and Hammurabi’s code on stone tablets. But, maybe everyday farm type accounting papers and small pieces of art have vanished all together. Our civilization today still has large primitive type “documents” like the Georgia Guidestones and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. If another civilization maybe 5,000 years from now, found these, they would think that we were just on the brink of common fluent literacy (or nowhere close to there). But all the housing deeds and newspapers and handouts that are commonplace are going to be completely gone by then.

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