Can we crack the world's oldest writing? | University of Oxford

Can we crack the world's oldest writing?

We might finally be able to read clay tablets from the birth of written language.

Cuneiform was developed by the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago, and whilst there are actually more surviving cuneiform texts than in other ancient languages like Latin and Greek, we have only ever managed to translate a tiny portion of them.

Thanks to a revolutionary breakthrough in imaging technology, that could be about to change.

Oxford researchers have applied a technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging, which combines numerous photos of an object, with the angle of the light source changed every time. This means you can digitally explore ever contour and indentation, and decipher inscriptions seemingly lost to history.

The files will even be made available to the public for free online, so anyone can examine these tablets in breath-taking detail – from the comfort of their own home!

Most of these protoelemaic tablets were used for practical purposes, rather than poetry or devotion, so they tell us a great deal about the lives of people all those thousands of years ago.

Time to shed some light on the past!