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Comparative Cultures


Elamite. Eblaite. Hittite. Hurrian. Utartian. Ugaritic. Hellenistic. 331 BCE -250 ... identical texts in three languages: Old Persian, Babylonian and Elamite ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Comparative Cultures

Comparative Cultures
  • Mass Cultural Council
  • Creative Schools
  • Professional Development Grant Year 2

Where are you in Social Studies ?

Review of Tech Assets
  • WGBH
  • All Powerpoint lessons available on Kimberley's
  • Linked Portaportal

Civilization Hallmark Neolithic Ancient Mesopotamia Phoenicia China
Monumental Architecture Mounds Ziggurat
Agriculture Agricultural revolution Irrigation canals
Religion Goddess statues Bestow kings with power
Warfare unknown Destroyed Jerusalem
Technology pottery bronze
Trade Grain Surplus Grain surplus
Artisans sculptures weavers
Writing Map drawings Cuneiform Alphabet Calligraphy

Out of the Euphrates Origins of Writing
  • Mass Cultural Council
  • Creative Schools
  • Professional Development Grant Year 2

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Petrographs to Pictographs
  • Most languages were never written down
  • Spoken language predates written language
  • The earliest 'writing'
  • pictographic symbols
  • Pictographs date to at least 5000 BCE

Ideographic / logographic
  • First true writing system date
  • 3500 BC
  • they consist of logographic or logophonetic
    symbols etched on clay tablets
  • abstract form of writing
  • represent ideas and abstract objects
  • The best way to think of an ideographic system is
    that each symbol represents a word
  • Egyptian is both logographic and logophonetic

syllabic system
  • Syllabary
  • each symbol represents a syllable
  • Less symbols required to write the language
  • Japanese (the Katakana Syllabary) has
    seventy-five basic symbols, three of which
    combine to form an additional thirty-six symbols.

  • Last writing system developed
  • Each symbol represents a sound
  • Roman Alphabet
  • English, Spanish, French, German,
  • Cyrillic Alphabet
  • Greek, Russian and many languages of Eastern
  • Arabic and Hebrew are also alphabetic
  • the earliest alphabetic system we know of is from
    modern-day Syria
  • North Semitic language group

Theories on the advent of writing
  • invention for complex cultures with large
  • record keeping to correctly count agricultural
  • for keeping the calendar to plant crops at the
    correct time
  • religious purpose i.e. divination, communicating
    with deities
  • socio-political functions i.e. reinforcing power
    of the ruling elite
  • Writing was invented independently
  • Mesopotamia, China, and Mesoamerica
  • Recent discoveries suggest that writing was
    invented in Egypt and Indus independently of

Writing, Creation and the Gods
  • Sumerian
  • god Enlil was the creator of writing
  • Assyrian and Babylonian
  • god Nabu was credited as the inventor of writing
    and scribe of the gods
  • Similar to the Egyptian god Thoth,
  • Mesopotamian scribal gods also exhibit the power
    of creation via divine speech

Cuneiform denotes not one but several kinds of
writing systems
  • Sumerian
  • Akkadian/Assyrian/Babylonian (Eastern Semitic)
  • Elamite
  • Eblaite
  • Hittite
  • Hurrian
  • Utartian
  • Ugaritic

8000 BCE Prehistoric
3500-3000 BCE Proto-literate, Sumer (Uruk) 
3000-2350  BCE Early Dynastic 
2350-2200  BCE Old Akkadian 
2100-2000  BCE Ur III or  Neo-Sumerian 
2000-1600 BCE Old Babylonian 
2000-1400 BCE  Old Assyrian 
1600-1100 BCE Kassite 
1400-1000 BCE Middle Assyrian 
1000-612 BCE Neo Assyrian 
625-539 BCE Neo Babylonian 
539-331 BCE Persian 
331 BCE -250 BCE Hellenistic
Bullae and Tokens
  • Part of a number system
  • Bulla find from Nuzi (Northern Iraq)
  • Dated to1600 B.C.E.
  • Contained 49 small tokens
  • The lengthy cuneiform inscription on the outside
    translates to
  • 21 ewes
  • 6 female lambs
  • 8 adult rams
  • 4 male lambs
  • 6 female goats
  • 1 male goat
  • 3 female kids
  • The Seal of the shepherd
  • Cylinder Seals make a repeating pattern

The Philadelphia Tablet Found near Baghdad,
Iraq 3100-2900 BC
  • This tablet is one of the earliest on record
  • Records the transfer of 300 acres of land
    between two parties.
  • illustrates the transition from token oriented
    record keeping to cuneiform.
  • The tablet is divided into 3 columns, which are
    further subdivided in panels.
  • Solid lines mark both the columns and the panels.
  • Reading begins at the top left (column 1), moves
    down the three panels on that side. and continues
    around the bottom edge and on to the reverse
  • The text picks up again on the front at the top
    of column 2, which continues down and around to
    the back. Column 3 does the same.
  • Column 1 describes the acquisition of 180 iku
    (63.5 hectares) of land by a person or temple
    household of a deity.
  • Columns 2 and 3 describe how the 180 iku is
    divided into 4 fields.
  • The round holes in the tablet count the bur (or
    field size).

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The Round School Tablet
  • Babylonian city of Nippur
  • Hammurabi Dynasty
  • "lentil" or "bun" shape
  • 4 rows of signs on the front of the tablet.
  • The teacher inscribed the signs in rows 1 and 2.
  • The student then copied the text into rows 3 and
  • Sumerian signs were already 1000 years old
  • The signs in row 1 were pronounced gi-gur
  • "reed basket."
  • Row 2 reads gi-gur-da
  • large reed basket.
  • This lesson was both for handwriting and

The Key to Deciphering Cuneiform inscriptions on
a cliff

Sir Henry Rawlinson found inscriptions on a cliff at Behistun in 1835 Translated to the King Darius of Persia (522-486 BC) identical texts in three languages Old Persian, Babylonian and Elamite After translating the Persian, Rawlinson began to decipher the others. By 1851 he could read 200 Babylonian signs
Cylinder Seals
  • Developed as part of Ancient Near Eastern
    numerological system
  • tokens and bulla perhaps representing barley
    and wheat
  • later these were flattened out and became pillow
  • Amulet-like cylinders worn on cords
  • Depictions of mythological events and mighty
    deities bring the wearer under the protection of
    personal deity
  • Personal identity
  • many temples had seals
  • Priests or administrators had seals for their
  • each individual clan or tribe had their own seal
  • individual family member seals
  • The impressions are the important research aid
  • depictions are regionally specific
  • inscriptions and pictures showing dress styles,
    mythology and kings.

Archaeological Record
  • Cylinder Seals were made of wood, bone, stone,
    faience, and ivory
  • Which do you think survived?
  • Found buried with owners
  • Millions of sealings
  • Less Cylinder Seals

Earliest Cylinder Seals
Sumerian Period
Early Sumerian steatite seal showing a god in a
boat with a river scene of reeds and plants,
birds or chevrons, star of divinity, three dots
and an early inscription in a panel that is
turned 90 degrees. The script is nearly
pictographic, and the short, wide seal form is
more characteristic of Jemdat Nasr than the
Dynastic period. The engraving style is also in a
Jemdat Nasr wheel-cut style.
Uruk Period
Neo-Assyrian Period Banquet scene. Serpentine
cylinder seal and impression
Akkadian Period
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Property and Personal Identity
  • Cylinder seals occupy a 3000 year time frame
  • closely linked to the use of cuneiform.
  • Some examples carved to look like the distal end
    of a bone
  • The stones are rounded to allow a repeating
    pattern over a large or small area
  • Seals can be made of any stone
  • Uruk period they were of softer stones such
    gypsum, later they were made of harder stones.
  • Lapis attests to trade between the Afghanistan
    area and Mesopotamia
  • They are carved in the reverse of cameo called
  • Seals are considered rare and a fine art form

Personal Identity
  • First time individuals can be identified
  • Owner wore on bracelet or necklace
  • Seals can tell a story
  • I am Anu, son of Enki, servant of Uttu
  • Ianna, intercedes on my behalf
  • Some known identities Scribe, Female Scribe,
    Weaver, Stone Cutter, Accountant, Metalworker
  • Nintur, Shepherd

What did they Seal?
  • Clay tablets envelopes
  • Doors
  • Storage jars
  • Bales of commodities
  • Cloth
  • Worn as amulets
  • Signed legal contracts

How did they do it?
  • Carved in reverse, so it will read correctly when
    rolled out
  • Carved into the cylinder intaglio
  • A pattern repeats when rolled on wet clay

Modern Cylinder Seals Iranian artist Ahmad
Tools for making your seal
  • Air-dry clay
  • Plastic knife
  • Tooth pick
  • Plastic straw
  • Wooden skewer
  • Scissors
  • 12-18 inch length of cord

Design Time
  • You have five minutes to lay-out a design for
    your seal on the worksheet
  • Remember that the carvings are reversed
  • Think about your identity and what you want the
    seal to say about you
  • You can use letters, pictures, numbers, designs
    or any combination

Method for making seals
  • Roll out clay to make it smooth give shape
  • Punch into clay
  • Crave out clay
  • Incise clay
  • Press into clay
  • They are carved into the stone called intaglio.

Make your Cylinder Seal Cut piece of clay Roll
clay into shape and form small cylinder
Decorate cylinder - letters are formed in
reverse, scenes, motifs Pierce clay with wooden
skewer Let dry overnight Thread cord through
straw Remove stray leaving the cord in
place Roll out your seal in paint on paper.
Looting in modern Iraq
  • Larsa
  • Sumerian capital

  • Written in a alphabetic cuneiform
  • Clay tablets written in Ugaritic provided the
    first evidence of the "modern" ordering of
  • This writing system was employed in the city of
    Ugarit, located in western Syria from around 1300

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  • Punic
  • Neo-Punic
  • Phoenician proper
  • Late Phoenician cursive
  • Phoenician papyrus
  • Siloam Hebrew
  • Hebrew seals
  • Ammonite
  • Moabite
  • Proto-Canaanite

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Phoenician alphabet
  • developed from North Semitic prototype
  • was in use until about the 1st century BCE
  • trade spreads alphabet
  • All corners of the Mediterranean
  • ancestor of the Greek alphabet
  • of all Western alphabets.
  • Phoenician colonial scripts
  • Cypro-Phoenician (10th-2nd century BCE)
  • Sardinian (c. 9th century BCE) varieties
  • Punic and neo-Punic alphabets of Carthage, gt 3rd
    century CE
  • Punic was a monumental script and neo-Punic a
    cursive form

no vowels
  • 22-character alphabet
  • no vowels are used
  • early inscriptions ran on continuously with no
    division between the words
  • c. 1000 700 BC some words have points or
    vertical strokes to divide them
  • c. 700 BC words separated by spaces
  • Aramaic script replaced old Phoenician

Coffin Lid of King
  • The earliest Phoenician inscription
  • Ahiram epitaph at Byblos in Phoenicia
  • dating from the 11th century BCE
  • written in North Semitic alphabet

Trade Records alphabet
  • efficient method of keeping records
  • pen, ink
  • papyrus, parchment and paper
  • wax-writing tablet was found in an ancient
    Uluburun shipwreck (Canaanite Phoenician)

Uluburun shipwreck
gallery/ekw737.html 737 Found K15 on map
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Alphabet Tables
Table of the Phoenician Alphabet Names of
Characters, Phonetics, Derivatives and Modern
Phoenician Phoenician Phoenician Phoenician Latin (passed via Etruscans to Roman Alphabet) Latin (passed via Etruscans to Roman Alphabet)
 Sign Names in Phoenician, Arabic Hebrew Meaning Phone Latin History
                   Aleph Ox A laryngeal consonent A Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent alryngeal consonant ('), or glotal stop. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and reversed its form, changed its name to Alpha and made the sign stand for the vowel A.
                  Beth, Bait  House B consonant B Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent b consonant. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and inverted/reversed its form, changed its name to Beta and made the sign stand for the consonant B.
                   Gimel, Gamel Camel G consonant C, G Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent g consonant. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and reversed/curved its form, changed its name to Gamma and made the sign stand for the consonant G.
                   Daleth, Dal Door D consonant D Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent d consonant. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and reversed/curved its form, changed its name to Delta and made the sign stand for the consonant D.
                  He  Window H consonant E Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent h consonant. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and reversed its form, changed its name to Epsilon and made the sign stand for the vowel E.
                  Waw Hook W semi- consonant F Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent w semi- consonant. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and reversed/altered its form, changed its name to Digamma and made the sign stand for the semi- consonant W.
                   Heth, Hait  Wall H laryngeal consonent H Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent h laryngeal consonent. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and removed the upper and lower bars, changed its name to Eta and made the sign stand for the consonant H.
                  Yodh, Yad Hand Y semi- consonant I,J Around 1700 B.C. this letter was used to represent y semi- consonant. After 900 B.C. the Greeks borrowed the sign from Phoenician and removed its bars, changed its name to Iota and made the sign stand for the vowel I.
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Oldest Abecedary
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Tel Zayit abecedary
  • inscribed with an extremely fine point
  • limestone boulder
  • The boulder was later incorporated into the wall
    of a building, with the inscribed side facing the
    interior of a stone-paved room.
  • firmly datable archaeological context (10th c BCE)

Ancient China
Ancient China
  • Chinese civilization
  • Yellow River valley
  • Recent archaeological discoveries
  • complex cultures of Neolithic China
  • distinct and independent cultures in various
  • interacted with and influenced each other 
  • Yangshao culture (5000-3000 BC) of the middle
    Yellow River valley, known for its painted
  • Longshan culture (2500-2000 BC) distinguished for
    its black pottery.     

Invention of writing
  • In China, the is attributed to an ancient sage
    named Ts'ang Chieh,
  • minister in the court of the legendary Yellow
    Emperor - Huang Ti
  • While not divine, this invention occurred in
    mythological times
  • Served as communication tool between heaven
    (realm of gods and ancestors) and earth (realm of

Archaeological Evidence -China
  • Scientifically excavated objects can be placed
    more accurately in time and place
  • Texts often go through a process of accretion
    over time
  • many passages added later
  • Thousands of early archaeological sites have been
    excavated in China, most of them graves

Fu Hao's Tomb  c1250bce bce                      
Oracle Bones
  • The earliest surviving examples of writing
  • 13th and 14th c. BCE.
  • divination records
  • results inscribed on oxen shoulder blades
    turtle shells
  • 2/3 not deciphered

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small seal script
  • characters of uniform size and shape
  • move away from the earlier pictographic forms of
    oracle bone script
  • text conforms to a regular grid
  • arranged in vertical columns
  • fairly regular horizontal alignment
  • lack of variation in line quality
  • painstaking execution with a fairly rigid brush
  • or the use of a stylus

  • European term "beautiful writing
  • ornamenting words on the page
  • highly stylized, regular, and decorated with
  • lacking in personal expression
  • tended to curb spontaneity, producing fairly
    static forms 
  • minor art and  

Calligraphy is European concept
  • Chinese culture is embedded in characters.
  • It was highly regulated
  • Went through recognized stages
  • Poets pushed the envelope of character
  • It is still considered a major art form and has
    been for hundreds of years

most widely practiced writing styles
  • favored spontaneity
  • the brush was thought to act like a seismograph
    in recording the movements of arm, wrist, and
  • established as a "high art" form
  • Prior to Tang dynasty 627 to 649 CE
  • continuously enjoyed a high status among the arts
  • practiced today  
  • calligraphic skill serves as a basis for painting
  • the rise of calligraphy to "high art" status
    preceded that of painting by hundreds of years

Drawing exercise
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Undeciphered Scripts
  • Linear A
  • Indus Valley Script

Most recently deciphered
  • Mayan Hieroglyphs

Mayan Hieroglyphs
Next meeting
  • January 7, 2010