Lehrstuhl für Altorientalistik

Cuneiform on Wax

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Cuneiform script, used in the Ancient Near East over more than three millennia, represents one of the world’s earliest writing systems. With hundreds of thousands of recovered manuscripts, cuneiform texts constitute the widest pre-classical written corpus, a heritage of invaluable importance to understand the languages and civilizations of the Ancient Near East as well as the origins of urban culture. Cuneiform is characterized by wedge-shaped marks, typically obtained by impressing a stylus on the moist clay. Besides clay, cuneiform script was also used on stone, metal, and wax. The specific physical properties and challenges posed by the various mediums necessarily determined differences in the writing techniques used on them, as well as in the writing tools. Given the almost total absence of archaeological finds securely identifiable as styli, cuneiform writing techniques are best investigated by combining the evaluation of textual and iconographic sources with the analysis of wedge impressions. As far as the latter point is concerned, wax bears the disadvantage of being extremely perishable as compared to clay, stone, and metal, a fact which tends to obscure the place waxed boards had vis-à-vis other mediums within the cuneiform world.