Current Projects

Geomapping Landscapes of Writing (GLoW): Large-Scale spatial Analysis of the cuneiform corpus (c. 3400 Bce to 100 ce)

Jakob Andersson (Principal Investigator)
Carolin Johansson (Project Assistant)
Seraina Nett (Investigator)
Rune Rattenborg (Co-Principal Investigator)
Gustav Ryberg Smidt (Research Assistant)

Cuneiform is one of the oldest scripts in human history. It also ranks among the largest bodies of historical documentation from the ancient world. Rough estimates suggest the total word count of all cuneiform records to outmatch those of Egypt and Rome by a considerable margin. Written primarily on clay, cuneiform writing was widely used across the Middle East for over three millennia, from c. 3400 BCE to 100 CE. Conveyed on an omnipresent and extremely durable type of material, cuneiform texts are preserved in larger numbers than virtually any other type of written media. Informed guesses put the total number of cuneiform records anywhere between 500,000 and one million individual texts. No attempt has ever been made to geomap this corpus in full. Set at the intersection of philology, archaeology, and comparative linguistics, this project assembles and analyses a full digital record of this corpus drawing on recent advances in digital humanities and geospatial data mapping. As a first quantifiable and corpus-wide study of one of the greatest corpora of historical records from the ancient world, it will provide a benchmark example of the application of digital and spatial computing tools to the study of writing in early human history. Engaging with a historical corpus marred by the many conflicts that have haunted the Middle East in recent years, it will also serve as a key reference document for protecting a unique part of the common, linguistic heritage of humanity.

The GLoW research programme traverses two general, integrated stages; one the collection and integration of primary archaeological and philological data from across the Mediterranean and the Middle East, to be shared with key online open access data repositories, another the execution of a series of substantive research packages focused on the analyses and interpretation of text corpus distribution, language change, and the context of written artefacts. Next to this programme, GLoW will be running several workshops exploring aspects of digital ecosystems, frameworks, and data in cuneiform studies and related fields, including a full two-day conference in 2022. You can find regular updates on project activities on our project blog, along with free data sets, guest contributions, and references for further reading. For more details on the project, please feel free to contact us.

Memories for Life: Materiality and Memory of Ancient Near Eastern Inscribed Private Objects

Jakob Andersson (Principal Investigator, Uppsala)
Christina Tsouparopoulou (Co-Principal Investigator, Cambridge)
Seraina Nett (Investigator, Uppsala)
Rune Rattenborg (Investigator, Uppsala)
Nancy Highcock (Research Associate, Cambridge)
Silvia Ferreri (Research Assistant, Cambridge)
Nils Melin Kronsell (Research Assistant, Uppsala)

The project proposes to produce a more complete understanding of ancient Near Eastern inscribed objects commissioned by private individuals using cuneiform writing betwen ca 2800 BCE–100 CE, covering about 80 percent of the historical periods of the earliest historical Near Eastern societies. The ambitious time frame and scope is without parallel in Near Eastern material and linguistic studies.

The objects were set up for the sake of remembrance, most commonly in cultic contexts, but objects have also been encountered in other contexts, be they primary or secondary.

In the early Near Eastern urbanities, people sought to establish a presence before gods, believed to reside in their temples, to ensure divine favour. The combined strengths of material objects and inscriptions lent permanence to the symbolic act of gift-giving, establishing lasting ties between humans and the divine. But the objects also underlined ties between people and thus helped in constructing and maintaining social and societal identities.

The aim is to identify and highlight the personal perspective in inscribed objects commissioned by private individuals and the relationship- and value-creating potential that come to the fore in such objects. Objects are approached by means of a materiality profiling, combining analyses concerning, e.g., archaeological context, content and finish of the text, along with physical characteristics and production techniques. The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council for the years 2017–2020.

Sargonic Period Personal Names: A Philological and Prosopographical Study

Jakob Andersson

Personal names appear in the majority of the administrative cuneiform documents found in the Near East. Tens of thousands of names are known, and for certain periods, there are good overviews available of the onomastic material.

So far, there is no overview of the onomastic material of the Old Akkadian, or Sargonic, period. This era is of particular interest as two traditions for name-giving, the Sumerian and the Akkadian, met in the multilingual urban environments of southern Mesopotamia, and exerted mutual influence upon each other. Other languages are also represented in the material.

The study aims at providing an exhaustive list of the attested names with accompanying philological analyses. Furthermore, local and regional perspectives, and developments in name-giving practice, for the localities where the material so allows, will be presented.

Digital model and Topographical Study of Babylon

Olof Pedersén

A digital model of Babylon is under development. Both archaeological material and ancient texts are used for the reconstruction. The development of the city will be shown on different historical levels. The model is planned to be gradually made available on the Internet. More information and examples of the work with the digital model are given here.

The digital model is based on a multidisciplinary comprehensive analysis of the topography of Babylon. Archaeological evidence and cuneiform texts constitute the core of material, supplemented by GIS analysis of satellite images, aerial photos, archaeological plans, old maps, including observation on spot (within Pedersén’s duties as consultant to World Monuments Fund), critical use of classical sources and collaboration with other disciplines like hydrological studies. The preliminary results are put together in the 3D architectural model of the city in order to test the correctness of the initial outcomes for different historical periods. 

The preliminary work has received support from the Urban Mind Project financed by Mistra, and the Excellence Cluster Topoi at Freie Universität Berlin.

The Artefacts from the German Excavations in Babylon

Olof Pedersén

The finds from the German excavations in Babylon can now be inspected in the museums in Berlin, Istanbul, Baghdad, and in some other collections. In Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, large sections of the Street of Procession and the Ishtar Gate have been rebuilt in full scale. Due to modern political problems (essentially the World Wars and the division of Germany) most of the material still remains unpublished.

As preparations for a long-term international research project to study and publish all the historically important finds, I have transferred the excavation inventories to a database within the framework of two German research projects. Thereby many of the some 70,000 unearthed artefacts have been preliminary identified and made digitally searchable. Object type, findspot, preliminary dating, previous publication (if it exists), and other parameters can be searched for. For more information see

Reconstruction and publication of the archive in Nebuchadnezzar’s South Palace in Babylon

Olof Pedersén

A detailed analysis and publication of the more than 300 cuneiform texts found in the palace archive in Nebuchadnezzar's South Palace (Südburg) next to the Ishtar Gate and the Street of Procession in Babylon is in an advanced state of work. A large number of clay tablets document the palace administration of foodstuff, especially barley, dates, and sesame oil. The texts have important information dealing with history, languages, economy, cultural history, and Old testament exegesis. Among the many persons referred to in the texts are many peoples sent to Babylon from the countries in Asia Minor, Egypt, Persia; there are also princes from Philistine and Jehoiachin, the king of Judah, who according to the Old testament (2 Kings 24) was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon.

Only selected sections of four of the more than 300 clay tablets from the archive have so far been published. Most of the texts from this archive, preserved in Berlin either as original clay tablets or in the form of photos taken during the excavations, have been transliterated during the present project. The texts will be electronically analyzed, controlled with the originals, provided with copies of the cuneiform texts and published in transliterations with translations and short commentary. The project has been funded by the Swedish Research Council.

Ancient Near East on Google Earth with integration of textual, archaeological, and geographical evidence

Olof Pedersén

A geographical research tool is under development in order to be able quickly to find the correct places of ancient sites in the Near East on Google Earth. Preliminary results, called ANE.kmz, are made available and can be downloaded from a page with more explanations here. There are presently more than 2500 Ancient Near Eastern sites alphabetically listed and marked on Google Earth by means of Placemarks. The preliminary work has received support from the University of Uppsala, the Urban Mind Project financed by Mistra, and the Excellence Cluster Topoi at Freie Universität Berlin.

Cuneiform Site Index (CSI): A gazetteer of findspots for cuneiform texts in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East

Rune Rattenborg

A geospatial index with basic toponym, attribute, and external link data on approximately 250 locations across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East where texts written in cuneiform and derived scripts have been found. The index has been prepared by Rune Rattenborg as part of Memories For Life: Materiality and Memory of Ancient Near Eastern Inscribed Private Objects, a research project based at Uppsala University and the University of Cambridge financed by a Research Project Grant from the Swedish Research Council (grant no. 2016-02028). The index is supplied in .kml (suitable for use with GIS applications and Google Earth), .csv (for database integration) and .geojson (for GIS and web mapping applications). More information and links to the files on a page with more explanations here.