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How did/do Sumerian numbers sound?

How did/do Sumerian numbers sound?

I cannot find anywhere that has a phonetic definition of the numbers.

Some, though not all, of the Sumerian numbers are known from syllabic spellings. There is an overview here

Sumerian has been a dead language for nearly 4,000 years, and had no known linguistic descendants, predecessors, or relatives.

Its printed form was logographic, which means each word was represented by a symbol. So there's no phonological content to be gleaned from their writing either.

So we don't know for sure how any of it was pronounced.

I don't get the comment about how would you pronounce ancient sumerian? In English. That's not really a helpful answer.

Know it's already been linked, but this one explains the numbers and how they're cognate of other numbers. I think that's the reason it looks like some numbers are missing on lists.

The Language Gulper: Sumerian Language

Semitic languages

The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in West Asia. [1] They are spoken by more than 330 million people across much of West Asia,and latterly also North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Malta, in small pockets in the Caucasus [2] as well as in often large immigrant and expatriate communities in North America, Europe and Australasia. [3] [4] The terminology was first used in the 1780s by members of the Göttingen School of History, [5] who derived the name from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the Book of Genesis.

The most widely spoken Semitic languages today, with numbers of native speakers only, are Arabic (300 million), [6] Amharic (

5 million native/L1 speakers), [9] Tigre (

1.05 million), Aramaic (575,000 to 1 million largely Assyrian speakers) [10] [11] [12] and Maltese (483,000 speakers). [13]

Semitic languages occur in written form from a very early historical date in West Asia, with East Semitic Akkadian and Eblaite texts (written in a script adapted from Sumerian cuneiform) appearing from the 30th century BCE and the 25th century BCE in Mesopotamia and the north eastern Levant respectively. The only earlier attested languages are Sumerian, Elamite (2800 BCE to 550 BCE), both language isolates, Egyptian, and the unclassified Lullubi (30th century BCE). Amorite appeared in Mesopotamia and the northern Levant circa 2000 BC, followed by the mutually intelligible Canaanite languages (including Hebrew, Moabite, Edomite, Phoenician, Ekronite, Ammonite, Amalekite and Sutean),the still spoken Aramaic and Ugaritic during the 2nd millenium BC.

Most scripts used to write Semitic languages are abjads – a type of alphabetic script that omits some or all of the vowels, which is feasible for these languages because the consonants are the primary carriers of meaning in the Semitic languages. These include the Ugaritic, Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, and ancient South Arabian alphabets. The Geʽez script, used for writing the Semitic languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea, is technically an abugida – a modified abjad in which vowels are notated using diacritic marks added to the consonants at all times, in contrast with other Semitic languages which indicate diacritics based on need or for introductory purposes. Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin script and the only Semitic language to be an official language of the European Union.

The Semitic languages are notable for their nonconcatenative morphology. That is, word roots are not themselves syllables or words, but instead are isolated sets of consonants (usually three, making a so-called triliteral root). Words are composed out of roots not so much by adding prefixes or suffixes, but rather by filling in the vowels between the root consonants (although prefixes and suffixes are often added as well). For example, in Arabic, the root meaning "write" has the form k-t-b. From this root, words are formed by filling in the vowels and sometimes adding additional consonants, e.g. كتاب kitāb "book", كتب kutub "books", كاتب kātib "writer", كتّاب kuttāb "writers", كتب kataba "he wrote", يكتب yaktubu "he writes", etc.

How did/do Sumerian numbers sound? - History

"Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a might hunter before the LORD that is why it is said, "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD. " The centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh in Shinar. (Genesis 10:8-10) Many consider this to be a positive, complimentary testimony about Nimrod. It is just the opposite! First, a little background study is necessary.

Cultural Connections in the Ancient Near East

Found at Khorsabad, this eighth century BC stone relief is identified as Gilgamesh. The best-known of ancient Mesopotamian heroes, Gilgamesh was king of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. His story is known in the poetic Gilgamesh Epic, but there is no historical evidence for his exploits in the story. He is described as part god and part man, a great builder and warrior, and a wise man in the story. Not mentioned in the Bible, the author suggests Gilgamesh is to be identified with Biblical Nimrod in Genesis 10:8-12.

Besides the stories of the Creation and Flood in the Bible, there ought to be similar stories on clay tablets found in the cultures near and around the true believers. These tablets may have a reaction, or twisted version, in their accounts of the Creation and Flood. In the post-Flood genealogical records of Genesis 10, we note that the sons of Ham were: Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan. Mizraim became the Egyptians. No one is sure where Put went to live. And it is obvious who the Canaanites were. Cush lived in the "land of Shinar," which most scholars consider to be Sumer. There they developed the first civilization after the Flood. The sons of Shem -- the Semites -- were also mixed, to some extent, with the Sumerians.

We suggest that Sumerian Kish, the first city established in Mesopotamia after the Flood, took its name from the man known in the Bible as Cush. The first kingdom established after the Flood was Kish, and the name "Kish" appears often on clay tablets. The early post-Flood Sumerian king lists (not found in the Bible) say that "kingship descended from heaven to Kish" after the Flood. (The Hebrew name "Cush" was much later moved to present-day Ethiopia as migrations took place from Mesopotamia to other places.)

The Sumerians, very early, developed a religio-politico state which was extremely binding on all who lived in it (except for the rulers, who were a law unto themselves). This system was to influence the Ancient Near East for over 3000 years. Other cultures which followed the Sumerian system were Accad, Babylon, Assyria, and Persia, which became the basis of Greece and Rome's system of rule. Founded by Cush, the Sumerians were very important historically and Biblically.

Was "Nimrod" Godly or Evil?

Nimrod started his kingdom at Babylon (Genesis 10:10). Babylon later reached its zenith under Nebuchadnezzar (sixth century BC). Pictured are mudbrick ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's city along with ancient wall lines and canals.

First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning "rebel." Adding an "n" before the "m" it becomes an infinitive construct, "Nimrod." (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b also BDB 1962: 597). The meaning then is "The Rebel." Thus "Nimrod" may not be the character's name at all. It is more likely a derisive term of a type, a representative, of a system that is epitomized in rebellion against the Creator, the one true God. Rebellion began soon after the Flood as civilizations were restored. At that time this person became very prominent.

In Genesis 10:8-11 we learn that "Nimrod" established a kingdom. Therefore, one would expect to find also, in the literature of the ancient Near East, a person who was a type, or example, for other people to follow. And there was. It is a well-known tale, common in Sumerian literature, of a man who fits the description. In addition to the Sumerians, the Babylonians wrote about this person the Assyrians likewise and the Hittites. Even in Palestine, tablets have been found with this man's name on them. He was obviously the most popular hero in the Ancient Near East.

Part of Nimrod's kingdom (Genesis 10:11), Nineveh along the Tigris River continued to be a major city in ancient Assyria. Today adjacent to modern Mosul, the ruins of ancient Nineveh are centered on two mounds, the acropolis at Kuyunjik and Nebi Yunis (Arabic "Prophet Jonah"). Pictured is Sennacherib's "Palace without a rival" on Kuyunjik, constructed at the end of the seventh century BC and excavated by Henry Layard in the early 20th century.

The Gilgamesh Epic

The Babylonian Flood Story is told on the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, almost 200 lines of poetry on 12 clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform script. A number of different versions of the Gilgamesh Epic have been found around the ancient Near East, most dating to the seventh century BC. The most complete version came from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. Commentators agree that the story comes from a much earlier period, not too long after the Flood as described in the story.

The person we are referring to, found in extra-Biblical literature, was Gilgamesh. The first clay tablets naming him were found among the ruins of the temple library of the god Nabu (Biblical Nebo) and the palace library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. Many others have been found since in a number of excavations. The author of the best treatise on the Gilgamesh Epic says,

The Epic of Gilgamesh has some very indecent sections. Alexander Heidel, first translator of the epic, had the decency to translate the vilest parts into Latin. Spieser, however, gave it to us "straight" ( Pritchard 1955: 72). With this kind of literature in the palace, who needs pornography? Gilgamesh was a vile, filthy, man. Yet the myth says of him that he was "2/3 god and 1/3 man."

Gilgamesh is Nimrod

How does Gilgamesh compare with "Nimrod?" Josephus says of Nimrod,

What Josephus says here is precisely what is found in the Gilgamesh epics. Gilgamesh set up tyranny, he opposed YHVH and did his utmost to get people to forsake Him.

Two of the premiere commentators on the Bible in Hebrew has this to say about Genesis 10:9,

Often attributed to Nimrod, the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) was not a Jack and the Beanstalk type of construction, where people were trying to build a structure to get into heaven. Instead, it is best understood as an ancient ziggurat (Assyrian "mountaintop"), as the one pictured here from ancient Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham's hometown (Genesis 11:31). A ziggurat was a man-made structure with a temple at its top, built to worship the host of heaven .

After the Flood there was, at some point, a breakaway from YHVH. Only eight people descended from the Ark. Those people worshipped YHVH. But at some point an influential person became opposed to YHVH and gathered others to his side. I suggest that Nimrod is the one who did it. Cain had done similarly before the Flood, founding a new city and religious system.

Our English translation of the Hebrew of Genesis 10:8-10 is weak. The author of this passage of Scripture will not call Gilgamesh by his name and honor him, but is going to call him by a derisive name, what he really is -- a rebel. Therefore we should translate Genesis 10:8-10 to read,

Likewise, Gilgamesh was a man who took control by his own strength. In Genesis 10 Nimrod is presented as a type of him. Nimrod's descendants were the ones who began building the tower in Babel where the tongues were changed. Gilgamesh is a type of early city founders. (Page numbers below are from Heidel 1963)

Gilgamesh Confronts YHVH!

The name of YHVH rarely appears in extra-Biblical literature in the Ancient Near East. Therefore we would not expect to find it in the Gilgamesh epic. But why should the God of the Jews rarely be mentioned? The Hebrew Bible is replete with the names of other gods.

On the other hand, the nations surely knew of Him even though they had no respect for Him. If so, how might His Name appear in their literature, if at all? The name of YHVH, in a culture which is in rebellion against His rule, would most likely be in a derisive form, not in its true form. Likewise, the writers of Scripture would deride the rebels.

Putting the Bible and the Gilgamesh Epic Together

The Gilgamesh Epic describes the first "God is Dead" movement. In the Epic, the hero is a vile, filthy, perverted person, yet he is presented as the greatest, strongest, hero that ever lived. (Heidel 1963: 18). So that the one who sent the Flood will not trouble them anymore, Gilgamesh sets out to kill the perpetrator. He takes with him a friend who is a monstrous half-man, half-animal -- Enkidu. Together they go on a long journey to the Cedar Mountain to find and destroy the monster who sent the Flood. Gilgamesh finds him and finally succeeds in cutting off the head of the creature whose name is "Huwawa" ("Humbaba" in the Assyrian version see Heidel 1963: 34ff).

Is there a connection with the Gilgamesh epic and Genesis 10? Note what Gilgamesh says to Enkidu, the half-man, half-beast, who accompanied him on his journey, found in Tablet 111, lines 147 - 150.

But the next five lines are missing from all tablets found so far! Can we speculate on what they say? Let's try . . . We suggest that those five lines include,

Why do we say that? Because Genesis 10:9 gives us the portion missing from the Gilgamesh tablets. Those lines include. "it is said, Nimrod (or Gilgamesh) the mighty vanquisher of YHVH." This has to be what is missing from all the clay tablets of the Gilgamesh story. The Gilgamesh Epic calls him Huwawa the Bible calls Him YHVH.

This face supposedly represents Huwawa who, according to the Gilgamesh's Epic, sent the Flood on the earth. According to the story, Huwawa (Humbaba in the Assyrian version) was killed by Gilgamesh and his half-man/half-beast friend, Enkidu. The author suggests Huwawa is the ancient pagan perspective of Yahweh (YHVH), the God of the Bible. About 3 inches (7.5 cm), this mask is dated to around the sixth century BC. Of an unknown provenance, it is now in the British Museum.

Heidel, speaking of the incident as it is found on Tablet V says,

The missing lines from the Epic are right there in the Bible!

Because of the parallels between Gilgamesh and Nimrod, many scholars agree that Gilgamesh is Nimrod. Continuing with Gilgamesh's fable, he did win, he did vanquish Huwawa and took his head. Therefore he could come back to Uruk and other cities and tell the people "not to worry about YHVH anymore, he is dead. I killed him over in the Lebanon mountains. So just live however you like, I will be your king and take care of you."

There are still other parallels between the Bible and the Gilgamesh epic: "YaHVeH" has a somewhat similar sound to "Huwawa." Gilgamesh did just as the "sons of god" in Genesis 6 did. The "sons of god" forcibly took men's wives. The Epic says that is precisely what Gilgamesh did. The Bible calls Nimrod a tyrant, and Gilgamesh was a tyrant. There was a Flood in the Bible, there is a flood in the Epic. Cush is mentioned in the Bible, Kish in the Epic. Erech is mentioned in Scripture, Uruk was Gilgamesh's city. Gilgamesh made a trip to see the survivor of the Flood. This was more likely Ham than Noah, since "Nimrod" was Ham's grandson! Historically, Gilgamesh was of the first dynasty of Uruk. As Jacobsen points out (1939: 157), kings before Gilgamesh may be fictional, but not likely. The fact that the Gilgamesh Epic also contains the Deluge story would indicate a close link with events immediately following the Flood. S.N. Kramer says,

Originally established by Nimrod (Genesis 10:11), and today known as Nimrud, Calah became an important city in Iraq. This is an artist's reconstruction of the interior of Tiglath-pileser III's palace (late seventh century BC).

What a contrast Psalm 2 is compared with the Gilgamesh Epic!


Brown, F., Driver, S.R., and Briggs, C.A.(abbreviated to BDB)
1962 A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Cassuto, U.
1964 A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. 2 Vols., Jerusalem: Magnes.

Frankfort, R.
1948 Kingship and the Gods. Chicago: University Press.

Heidel, A.
1963 The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels. Chicago: University Press.

Jacobsen, T.
1939 The Sumerian Kinglist. Chicago: University Press.

1998 Jewish Antiquities. Books I-III, Loeb Classics, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Kautzsch, E., ed.
1910 Genesius' Hebrew Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon.

Kramer, S. N., ed.
1959 History Begins at Sumer. Garden City NY: Doubleday.

Keil, C. F., and Delitzsch, P.
1975 Commentary on the Old Testament., Vol. I, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Pritchard, J.
1969 Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Old Testament. 3rd ed., Princeton: University Press.

Roux, G.
1992 Ancient Iraq. 3rd ed., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK: Penguin.

A New Discovery

Until recently, it was believed that all human DNA could be traced to a common ancestor in Africa somewhere between 60,000 and 140,000 years ago. This ancestor, who most referred to as ‘Adam,’ wasn’t the first human on earth, but rather the only one whose DNA can be traced directly to all humans today — that is, until Albert Perry’s DNA was tested and found to trace back to an even older ancestor.

After submitting a sample of his DNA to a lab for genealogical testing, Perry’s family was given some profound results: his sample contained a Y-chromosome not found in the known lineage of the majority of humans on Earth today, linking him to an ancestor who existed some 338,000 thousand years ago.

This timeline of 338,000 years would have extended back far before the era in which the divine rulers listed in the Sumerian Kings List are said to have lived. Is it possible that these kings were real and actually ruled over a lost, ancient civilization?

Since this discovery, there have been a small concentration of others with this ancient lineage found in a village in Cameroon, home to the Mbo people.

The extent to whether this DNA is indicative of an ancestor resembling anatomically modern humans or one closer to Neanderthals is debated, but it has led some to question if a human civilization, that eventually went extinct, could have existed that long ago.

Resurrecting the Solfeggio Tones

At the heart (pun intended) of the Solfeggio scale of today lays the homely note of 528 Hertz, a.k.a. “love Hertz.” When I work vocally with the Solfeggio tones in DNA activations and sound-healings, 528 always feels like the “tonal,” like I’ve come home again—it almost caresses the vocal chords as it glides by. Its resonance and ease of singing always impress me.

I don’t care whether it’s a “true” Solfeggio frequency or not. It’s damned useful and bloody beautiful.

In terms of light (I’m aware light and sound aren’t the same thing), 528 nm waves also just happen to lie in the central (green-yellow) part—or heart—of the visible electromagnetic spectrum where chlorophyll harnesses the nourishing energy of sunlight in nature. Coincidence?

“This ‘good vibration’ identified as the ‘miracle frequency’ at the heart of the ancient Solfeggio is, likewise, at the heart of the sound and light spectrum,” states Horowitz.[ix]

A set of meanings has risen up around the tones respectively, they are associated as follows:

UT – 396 Hz – Liberating Guilt and Fear – 9
RE – 417 Hz – Undoing Situations and Facilitating Change – 3
MI – 528 Hz – Transformation and Miracles (DNA Repair*) – 6
FA – 639 Hz – Connecting/Relationships – 9
SOL – 741 Hz – Awakening Intuition – 3
LA – 852 Hz – Returning to Spiritual Order – 6

Given on the right are the single digit numbers the tones’ digits add to using the Pythagorean skein. (I.e. for 528, 5 + 2 + 8 = 15 1 + 5 = 6.) Tesla said: “If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have a key to the universe.” Whether he was speaking about electromagnetism or sound waves is irrelevant.

Strongly linked to DNA repair,[x] 528 is by far the best known of the frequencies and features as perhaps the centrepiece of the Regenetics Method through which I perform those aforementioned activation ceremonies in my capacity as an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church.

528 and the other Solfeggio frequencies seem to be “universal constants” in some way, and are encoded into Pi, as Victor Showell has demonstrated. Pi is

3.142857 repeating to infinity. When doubled, the constant evaluates to 6.285714 to infinity, etc. Remarkably, the digits to the right of the decimal point include transpositions of the Solfeggio frequencies 528 Hz and 741 Hz, which, when combined, produce a dissonant sound known, in musicology, as the “Devil’s tone.”[xi]

In the Middle/Dark Ages, musical composition was largely viewed as homage to Deity. Thus the interval in question, due to its dissonance and perceived unpleasantness (which it would have been in the context of choral church music) came to be called “diabolus in musica,” meaning “the devil in music.”[xii] The tritone, or so-called Devil’s tone is simply an augmented 4 th a crucial passing note in blues and rock.

Interestingly, this arrangement of Solfeggio-related digits to the right of the decimal point in Pi remains however many times the value of Pi is doubled.

Michael Tyrell details his own journey of discovery with the Solfeggio tones in The Sound of Healing. He, like Puleo, was both fascinated with the Solfeggio music and a devout Christian (unlike this author). Tyrell pondered on Biblical patriarch King David and his ten-stringed lyre/kinnor—an instrument dating back to Ur, the Sumerian city of ancient Mesopotamia that served as the womb for the Abrahamic religions.

David’s was, unlike other kinnors, made from the stronger wood of the cedarwood tree. Tyrell was trying to figure out why this was and what kind of tuning David used for his instrument.

I always imagined David tuned his kinnor [i.e. lyre] with some derivative of the note “A,” which in Western tuning today would be 440 Hz…. I also knew that David tuned higher than many of his contemporaries. Suddenly, I remembered page 222 in my Bible, as well as Isaiah 22:22. I asked myself, “What if I double them to 444? Could the tuning be 444?”

Then the bomb dropped! Could it be more than a note … maybe a key, THE key of David? There was only one way to find out!

I grabbed my guitar and tuned it to 444 (“A”) and there it was: 4 of the 6 solfeggio tones were right under my fingers![xiii]

Thus, in the blink of an eye, Tyrell realised that the so-called “Key of David” was evidently a musical key.

King David with his lyre – Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

Given my interest in this subject (and the fact that I’m a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter) I feel like I would have figured out how to tune my guitar to reveal a few of these frequencies, with a better guitar tuner that displayed hertz—and a little bit of experimentation. Tyrell is correct: Tuning to A=444 gives you C at 528 Hz, G at 396 Hz, G# at 417, and Eb at 639 Hz (for guitarists to play this as an open chord they would tune the guitar down 1 semitone).

To be clear, A at 444 Hz is not one of the Solfeggio tones, but the key to unlocking 4 of them (on a guitar at least).

To get a little “New Age,” with you, the tones are believed by some to correspond as follows with these colours and chakra centres in the body:

  • 852: Crown, purple
  • 741: Third eye, indigo
  • 639: Throat, blue
  • 528: Heart, green
  • 417: Sacral centre, generally labelled as orange, but bright red according to Tyrell (Note: this whole list/schema is an over-simplification – chakras aren’t quite this straightforward)
  • 396: Root/perineum, deep red

In my “healing” and activation work with sound, I have seen the way that the contemporary Solfeggio tones can be powerfully paired with dual sound and light codes (vowel sequences) in order to trigger deep epigenetic changes in recipients—changes that ripple throughout their entire being and whole lives, fostering massive synchronicity and personal growth.

As a guitarist (mostly on electric guitar) I’ve noticed the warm resonance of my acoustic guitar when tuned to C=528 as its chords have vibrated through my torso, massaging my cells. There is just something about 528 and the anomalous “Solfeggio” scale. (For a comprehensive guide on how to play dissonant chords on guitar check out this free guide from Beginner Guitar HQ.)

Hopefully you have a taste now for my interest in this compelling arena. I trust that this introduction to the Solfeggio frequencies has been interesting and hopefully now you grasp that answering the question “Where did Solfeggio frequencies come from?” is sadly not as straightforward as one might hope.

To personally experience a transformational shamanic usage of these tones in real-time, check out my Evolve Yourself program.


[iii] See Horowitz, Healing Codes for the Biological Apocalypse.

The system of music notation we use now wasn&rsquot invented until 1000 AD. This is something altogether different.

The notation here is essentially a set of instructions for intervals and tuning based around a heptatonic diatonic scale. There&rsquos much more detail about the precise language and instructions here.

The lyrics are very difficult to translate, but one academic has come up with this rendering of them:

&lsquoOnce I have endeared the deity, she will love me in her heart,
the offer I bring may wholly cover my sin,
bringing sesame oil may work on my behalf in awe may I'

Cuneiform: The Invention of Writing

A Cuneiform tablet about administrative account with entries concerning malt and barley groats 3100-2900 BC (Image: By Metropolitan Museum of Art/Public Domain)

Full-fledged writing, by my definition, means that you’re able to reproduce on a two-dimensional form, whether it be on mudbrick, which is the principle building material of Mesopotamia, or on papyrus, or on vellum—full-fledged writing means that writing system will be able to express every nuance of the spoken language, including verbs, tense, and mood by reading the text, one knows exactly what was said by the author of that text.

All subsequent writing systems in Eurasia, in my opinion, ultimately go back to this writing system created in the cities of Sumer.

This is a transcript from the video series Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Why Sumer?

Map of the cities of Sumer civilization,(Image By Ciudades_de_Sumeria.svg: Cratesderivative work: Phirosiberia (talk)/Public Domain)

There are several reasons driving the development of writing. One was the economic development you had to have some kind of record of your inventory. You’ve got to keep control over these records. Second, the Sumerian language was well suited for this jump from speaking to a written language and that is because Sumerian is an agglutinative language. What do we mean by that? That means a stick-together language it comes from the Latin “to glue” or “to stick” and Sumerian operates on the same principles—it’s not the same language—but the same principles of Turkic languages or Finno-Ugarian languages, represented in Europe by the Finnish and Hungarian. The grammar and syntax of a language is indicated by the adding of prefixes and suffixes to the root word so that the word is changed by these endings and the internal basic word does not change. This is different from inflected languages represented by the two great language families in western Eurasia—Indo-European languages, represented by most of the languages of Europe, Iran, and India today, or what used to be called the Hamito-Semitic, and are now called Afro-Asiatic languages: Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew or Hamitic languages such as Berber or ancient Egyptian. Sumerian belongs to neither language group.

Sumerian doesn’t belong to any language group we know. This raises the obvious question—how do we read it in the first place?

In fact, Sumerian doesn’t belong to any language group we know. This raises the obvious question—how do we read it in the first place? Here, again, we were lucky in that Sumerian, being the first language to be committed to writing, became the religious language of the urban-based civilization of Mesopotamia, so later peoples who came to rule over this area or came under the influence of the Sumerians, adopted Sumerian as a literary and religious language and, therefore, they had to learn it. And therefore, they had to create dictionaries and bilingual inscriptions and texts and vocabularies in order to learn this unfamiliar language, and it is through those types of documents that the structure of Sumerian was finally determined. The language is still being studied and is not completely understood there are breakthroughs and improvements on Sumerian grammar that are still occurring, but we can read it now with a great deal of confidence.

Limestone Kish tablet from Sumer with pictographic writing, 3500 BC.
(Image: By José-Manuel Benito/Public Domain)

How is Cuneiform Written?

Cuneiform is written by pressing a wedge-shaped stylus into wet clay (Image: By Bastian Groscurth/Shutterstock)

The writing material was wet clay and, as a result of writing in wet clay with a stylus, you tend to shape your characters in the form of a wedge. So the writing, when it was first discovered in the 19th century, was called cuneiform from the Latin word cuneus, wedge—wedge-shaped writing. Cuneiform refers to the writing system, not the language that’s being expressed. Cuneiform, as a writing system, will be used by many different peoples, including non-Sumerian speakers. It will be used in Semitic languages, such as Akkadian, the language of Ebla—that town in northern Syria—Indo-European languages, such as Hittite, and otherwise unrelated languages, such as Hurrian or Urartian, languages that occur later in this course. You have basic writing materials, you have the impetus for creating writing, and it seems that the way the development occurred was that scribes who were assigned to keeping records in the temple accounts did that by using, essentially, little tokens. These would take the form of little animals, very often reproduced in art history textbooks they could be cattle, or they could be sheep, as well as tally marks that were base-ten system, so that four of those with one cattle represented four cattle.

Here’s where the nature of the Sumerian language kicks in. Sumerian was a language with large numbers of monosyllabic words, and since it was based on an agglutinative principle, very often monosyllabic words were strung together to create more complex words, or prefixes and suffixes were put on those basic words to express mood or tense for a verb, or number or gender for a noun or adjective. As a result of that, very quickly, the Sumerians could take what was a pictogram and apply it to a sound because in the Sumerian language, which by definition was language rich in what we would call homonyms and homophones—that is, words that sound the same and are written the same, but have different meanings, or words that sound the same, but are written slightly differently.

An example of a homonym in English would be the word “well”—which could be a noun or an adverb. A homophone would be a word that sounds alike and is spelled differently, such as the word sun for the sun in the sky, or son, the male human.

Sumerian had large numbers of these possible combinations and, therefore, very early on, it was easy for Sumerian scribes, writing around 3400 B.C., to make the conclusion that they have word called ti, which represents a “bow,” as in a bow and arrow—that word could be extended to cover the homophone, that is the same word ti when used as a verb, which means “to live” and, therefore, what was originally a picture could then be applied to use as sound because it’s a monosyllabic word in both cases. Once again, the English example would be sun and son what you do is you take a picture of the sun and you use it to represent the human. They could also then take that concept and extend it a bit further. We can take the concept as a picture sun and extend it to denote an idea, or an ideogram as philologists would say, and that would be, say, day or even sunlight. So, you see where the original power of those pictograms—those, in effect, pictures—could be applied to express more complicated concepts.

Common Questions About Cuneiform

Much like the Rosetta stone, a separate tablet called the Behistun inscription was used to decipher cuneiform .

Initial drawings, called pictographs , have been dated to show cuneiform as early as 3500 BCE.

By far, most cuneiform text were written on fragile clay tablets however, wax, metal and stone have all been found with cuneiform.

Cuneiform is believed to have been in use by the Sumerians from 3500-3000 BCE.

Origins of the Genre

Clay tablets with text commentaries from the eighth and seventh centuries BCE are known so far from the Assyrian cities Nineveh, Kalḫu, Assur, and Ḫuzirina (Sultantepe). But the Assyrian scholars and kings of this time were clearly not the first to write and study such treatises. Subscripts on many of Nabû-zuqup-kenu’s and Assurbanipal’s commentary tablets reveal that they had been copied from tablets from cities in Babylonia, Assyria’s neighbor, political rival, and cultural model in the south. Even though, due to the chances of discovery, no actual commentary tablets securely datable to the time before the sixth century BCE have yet been found in the Mesopotamian south, it was there, in all likelihood, that Mesopotamian scholars first composed commentaries on literary and learned texts. The beginnings of their exegetical endeavors may go back to the end of the second millennium, when Babylonia experienced a flourishing of scribal activity. This activity reached its peak when Esagil-kīn-apli, personal scholar of the 11th century king Adad-apla-iddina, reorganized ancient divinatory, medical, and magical texts in a number of newly composed series.

While it cannot be proven that Esagil-kīn-apli was also involved in the creation of the earliest commentaries, there is little doubt that the emergence of a commentary tradition in ancient Mesopotamia is closely linked to the creation of a new corpus of canonical or semi-canonical texts, texts that were regarded by later Babylonian and Assyrian scholars as perfect and unchangeable, but in need of clarification. It is also obvious that the new genre was not without precedent – the scholars who composed the first text commentaries could draw on earlier Mesopotamian traditions of interpretation, especially in the realm of omens and in lexicography and translation. There was, moreover, an earlier corpus of texts with glosses.

Standard of Ur and other objects from the Royal Graves

Intentionally buried as part of an elaborate ritual, this ornate object tells us so much, but also too little.

Standard of Ur, c. 2600-2400 B.C.E., 21.59 x 49.5 x 12 cm (British Museum)

The city of Ur

Postcard printed photograph showing archaeological excavations at Ur, with Arab workmen standing for scale in the excavated street of an early second millennium B.C.E. residential quarter © Trustees of the British Museum

Known today as Tell el-Muqayyar, the “Mound of Pitch,” the site was occupied from around 5000 B.C.E. to 300 B.C.E. Although Ur is famous as the home of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham (Genesis 11:29-32), there is no actual proof that Tell el-Muqayyar was identical with “Ur of the Chaldees.” In antiquity the city was known as Urim.

The main excavations at Ur were undertaken from 1922-34 by a joint expedition of The British Museum and the University Museum, Pennsylvania, led by Leonard Woolley. At the center of the settlement were mud brick temples dating back to the fourth millennium B.C.E. At the edge of the sacred area a cemetery grew up which included burials known today as the Royal Graves. An area of ordinary people’s houses was excavated in which a number of street corners have small shrines. But the largest surviving religious buildings, dedicated to the moon god Nanna, also include one of the best preserved ziggurats, and were founded in the period 2100-1800 B.C.E. For some of this time Ur was the capital of an empire stretching across southern Mesopotamia. Rulers of the later Kassite and Neo-Babylonian empires continued to build and rebuild at Ur. Changes in both the flow of the River Euphrates (now some ten miles to the east) and trade routes led to the eventual abandonment of the site.

The royal graves of Ur

Close to temple buildings at the center of the city of Ur, sat a rubbish dump built up over centuries. Unable to use the area for building, the people of Ur started to bury their dead there. The cemetery was used between about 2600-2000 B.C.E. and hundreds of burials were made in pits. Many of these contained very rich materials.

Cylinder seal of Pu-abi, c. 2600 B.C.E., lapis lazuli, 4.9 x 2.6 cm, from Ur © Trustees of the British Museum

In one area of the cemetery a group of sixteen graves was dated to the mid-third millennium. These large, shaft graves were distinct from the surrounding burials and consisted of a tomb, made of stone, rubble and bricks, built at the bottom of a pit. The layout of the tombs varied, some occupied the entire floor of the pit and had multiple chambers. The most complete tomb discovered belonged to a lady identified as Pu-abi from the name carved on a cylinder seal found with the burial.

The majority of graves had been robbed in antiquity but where evidence survived the main burial was surrounded by many human bodies. One grave had up to seventy-four such sacrificial victims. It is evident that elaborate ceremonies took place as the pits were filled in that included more human burials and offerings of food and objects. The excavator, Leonard Woolley thought the graves belonged to kings and queens. Another suggestion is that they belonged to the high priestesses of Ur.

The Standard of Ur

Peace (detail), The Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 B.C.E., shell, red limestone, lapis lazuli, and bitumen (original wood no longer exists), 21.59 x 49.53 x 12 cm (British Museum photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This object was found in one of the largest graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, lying in the corner of a chamber above the right shoulder of a man. Its original function is not yet understood.

Leonard Woolley, the excavator at Ur, imagined that it was carried on a pole as a standard, hence its common name. Another theory suggests that it formed the soundbox of a musical instrument.

When found, the original wooden frame for the mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli had decayed, and the two main panels had been crushed together by the weight of the soil. The bitumen acting as glue had disintegrated and the end panels were broken. As a result, the present restoration is only a best guess as to how it originally appeared.

War (detail), The Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 B.C.E., shell, red limestone, lapis lazuli, and bitumen (original wood no longer exists), 21.59 x 49.53 x 12 cm (British Museum photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The main panels are known as “War” and “Peace.” “War” shows one of the earliest representations of a Sumerian army. Chariots, each pulled by four donkeys, trample enemies infantry with cloaks carry spears enemy soldiers are killed with axes, others are paraded naked and presented to the king who holds a spear.

The “Peace” panel depicts animals, fish and other goods brought in procession to a banquet. Seated figures, wearing woolen fleeces or fringed skirts, drink to the accompaniment of a musician playing a lyre. Banquet scenes such as this are common on cylinder seals of the period, such as on the seal of the “Queen” Pu-abi, also in the British Museum (see image above).

Queen’s Lyre

Leonard Woolley discovered several lyres in the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. This was one of two that he found in the grave of “Queen” Pu-abi. Along with the lyre, which stood against the pit wall, were the bodies of ten women with fine jewelry, presumed to be sacrificial victims, and numerous stone and metal vessels. One woman lay right against the lyre and, according to Woolley, the bones of her hands were placed where the strings would have been.

Queen’s Lyre (reconstruction), 2600 B.C.E., wooden parts, pegs and string are modern lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone mosaic decoration, set in bitumen and the head (but not the horns) of the bull are ancient the bull’s head in front of the sound box is covered with gold the eyes are lapis lazuli and shell and the hair and beard are lapis lazuli panel on front depicts lion-headed eagle between gazelles, bulls with plants on hills, a bull-man between leopards and a lion attacking a bull edges of the sound-box are decorated with inlay bands eleven gold-headed pegs for the strings, 112.5 x 73 x 7 cm (body), Ur © Trustees of the British Museum

The wooden parts of the lyre had decayed in the soil, but Woolley poured plaster of Paris into the depression left by the vanished wood and so preserved the decoration in place. The front panels are made of lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone originally set in bitumen. The gold mask of the bull decorating the front of the sounding box had been crushed and had to be restored. While the horns are modern, the beard, hair and eyes are original and made of lapis lazuli.

This musical instrument was originally reconstructed as part of a unique “harp-lyre,” together with a harp from the burial, now also in The British Museum. Later research showed that this was a mistake. A new reconstruction, based on excavation photographs, was made in 1971-72.

Suggested readings:

J. Aruz, Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus (New York, 2003).

D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern Art (London, 1995).

H. Crawford, Sumer and Sumerians (Cambridge, 2004).

N. Postgate, Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History (London, 1994).

M. Roaf, Cultural atlas of Mesopotamia (New York, 1990).

C.L. Woolley and P.R.S. Moorey, Ur of the Chaldees, revised edition (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1982).

N. Yoffee, Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilization (Cambridge, 2005).

R. Zettler, and L. Horne, (eds.) Treasures from the Royal Tomb at Ur (Philadelphia, 1998).

How did/do Sumerian numbers sound? - History

From the Creation to the Flood

Hebrew is classified as a Semitic (or Shemitic, from Shem, the son of Noah) language. Was Hebrew just one of the many Semitic languages such as Canaanite, Aramaic, Phoenician, Akkadian, etc., that evolved out of a more ancient unknown language? Or, was Hebrew, and the Semitic family of languages, the original language of man?

According to the Bible all people spoke one language (Genesis 11:1) until the construction of the Tower of Babel , in southern Mesopotamia which occurred sometime around 4000 BC (Merrill F. Unger, "Tower of Babel," Unger's Bible Dictionary , 1977 ed.: 115). During the construction of the Tower, God confused the language of man and scattered the nations (Genesis 11:7,8).

It is at this time that the Sumerians (from the land of Sumer, known as Shinar in the Bible - Genesis 10:10), speaking a non-Semitic language, appear in southern Mesopotamia (J.I. Packer, Merril C. Tenney, William White, Jr., Nelson's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995) 337.). It is believed that the Sumerians are related to the people living between the Black and Caspian Seas (Madelene S. Miller and J. Lane Miller, "Sumer," Harper's Bible Dictionary , 1973 ed.: 710) known as the Scythians, descendents of Noah's son Japheth (Merrill F. Unger, "Scythian," Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1977 ed.: 987).

At approximately the same time the Sumerians appeared in Mesopotamia, another civilization emerges in the South, the Egyptians. The original language of the Egyptians is Hamitic (From Ham, the second son of Noah) and is also unrelated to the Semitic languages (Merrill F. Unger, " Egypt," Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1977 ed.: 288).

During the time of the Sumerians and the Egyptians, the Semitic peoples lived in Sumeria and traveled west into the land of Canaan.

It would appear that after the Tower of Babel, the descendants of Japheth traveled north with their language, the descendants of Ham traveled southwest with their language and the Semites traveled west with their language.

"That is why it was called Babel - because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11.9).

What was the one language spoken prior to the Tower of Babel? When God created Adam he spoke to him (Genesis 2:16) indicating that God gave Adam a language and this language came from God himself, not through the evolution of grunts and groans of cave men. When we look at all the names of Adam's descendent we find that all the names from Adam to Noah and his children are Hebrew names , meaning that their name has a meaning in Hebrew. For instance, Methuselah (Genesis 5:21) is Hebrew for "his death brings" (The flood occurred the year that he died). It is not until we come to Noah's grandchildren that we find names that are of a language other than Hebrew. For instance, the name Nimrod (Genesis 11:18), who was from Babylon/Sumer/Shinar and possibly the Tower of Babel, is a non-Hebrew name. According to the Biblical record of names, Adam and his descendants spoke Hebrew.

In addition, Jewish tradition as well as some Christian Scholars, believed that Hebrew was the original language of man (William Smith, "Hebrew Language," Smith's Bible Dictionary , 1948 ed.: 238).

From the Flood to the Babylonian Captivity

The first mention of a Hebrew is in Genesis 14:13 where Abraham is identified as a "Hebrew" ( Eevriy in Hebrew). In Exodus 2:6 Moses is identified as one of the "Hebrews" ( Eevriym in Hebrew) and throughout the Hebrew Bible the children of Israel are often identified as "Hebrews." A "Hebrew" is anyone who is descended from "Eber" ( Ever in Hebrew), an ancestor of Abraham and Moses (See Genesis 10:24).

The language used by the descendants of "Eber" is called "Hebrew" ( Eevriyt in Hebrew), but is never called "Hebrew" in the Hebrew Bible, but is instead referred to as the "Language of Canaan" (Isaiah 19:18) and the "Language of Judah" (II Kings 18:28, Isaiah 36:11, 13, Nehemiah 13:24, II Chronicles 32:18). While the Hebrew Bible may not refer to the language of the Hebrews as "Hebrew," we do know that their language was in fact "Hebrew," as attested to in the many inscriptions discovered in the land of Israel from this period of time.

From the Babylonian Captivity to the Bar Kockba Revolt

After the time of King David, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians around 740 BC and the southern Kingdom of Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity about 570 BC.

During their captivity in Babylon, the Hebrews continued to speak the Hebrew language, but instead of writing the language with the Hebrew script (often referred to as Paleo-Hebrew), they adopted the Aramaic square script to write the Hebrew language and the Hebrew script was used on a very limited basis such as a few Biblical scrolls and coins.

When the Hebrews returned to the land of Israel, around 500 BC, it was believed that the Hebrews had abandoned the Hebrew language and instead spoke the Aramaic language, the language of their captors in Babylon. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church , in its first edition in 1958, stated " [Hebrew] ceased to be a spoken language around the fourth century B.C. " However, much textual and archeological evidence has been discovered over recent years, which has revised this long established theory.

Bar Kochba letter from 135 A.D.

One of the most compelling evidences for the continued use of Hebrew into the 2nd Century A.D. is a letter from the Jewish General Simon Bar Kockba (Shimon ben Kosva, as the first line of the letter states in the above picture), which is dated at 135 A.D., which he wrote during the second Jewish revolt against Rome. This letter, along with many others, was written in Hebrew, establishing the fact that Hebrew was still the language of the Jewish people, even into the second century AD.

Because of the overwhelming evidence of Hebrews continued use, the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church , in its third edition in 1997 now, states " [Hebrew] continued to be used as a spoken and written language in the New Testament period ."

From the Bar Kockba Revolt to Today

When the Jews, led by Simon Bar Kockba, were defeated in the revolt of 135 AD the Jews were expulsed from the land and dispersed around the world initiating the Diaspora. At this point most Jews adopted the language of the country they resided in, but Hebrew continued to be spoken in the synagogues and Yeshivas (religious schools) for the teaching and studying of the Torah and the Talmud.

In the late 19th Century Eliezer Ben-Yehuda began a revival of the Hebrew language as a living language for the Jewish people in Israel and when the state of Israel was established as an independent nation in 1948, Hebrew became the official language and, once again, Hebrew became the native language of the Hebrew people.

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Related Pages by Jeff A. Benner

Watch the video: The Sound of the Akkadian language Numbers, Words u0026 The Code of Hammurabi (January 2022).