When Speech was Nails

February 22, 2006 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm6:30 pm

Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum, 3260 South Street

When Speech was Nails

Visual Poetics of Writing in Ancient Mesopotamia

Steve Tinney

Clark Research Associate Professor of Assyriology
Director, Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project
University of Pennsylvania

Writing was born in Mesopotamia as pictographs, which then turned into cuneiform characters. Noted Babylonian scholar Steve Tinney explores the interface between writing and image in ancient Mesopotamia from the earliest experiments with the new art of writing, to the sophisticated graphical word games played by the late sages in the royal courts of Assyria and Babylon.

Dr. Steve Tinney is director of the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. He holds a B.A. in Assyriology from Cambridge University, England, and a Ph.D. in Assyriology from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. His research interests include all aspects of Sumerian language, literature, and culture. Much of his current work is devoted to developing and publishing Sumerian texts and to analyzing and presenting the Sumerian language. This work is primarily focussed on the creation of two major projects, the online Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (ePSD), a project he began work on when he joined Penn in 1991 as a postdoctoral research assistant and which he now directs, and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative based at UCLA.

Founded in 1976, ePSD's mission is to produce the first comprehensive dictionary of the world's oldest written language. Implemented as a web-based project, the dictionary is an unfolding work that is continually updated as scholars at Penn and around the world continue to decipher Sumerian writings.

The online Sumerian Dictionary is to be much more than a list of Sumerian words and their English meanings. It will also be accessible through an English language interface that includes grouping of words conceptually and by object type. Because the word definitions link to examples of usage in the online collections of Sumerian texts, the Sumerian Dictionary will be a gateway to early Mesopotamian culture. Tinney and his team plan to augment the Dictionary with essays on concepts, material culture, and ethnographic matters to enhance its cultural function.