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Cuneiform, the ancient Sumerian script that emerged in Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent circa 3000 BCE, is the first known system of written communication to move beyond pictograms into abstract representations of language. In this lecture, as unexpectedly funny as it is edifying, Irving Finkel, a writer and curator at the British Museum in London, elucidates how cuneiform developed into an advanced writing system with its own internal logic, contradictions and – for those who would attempt to decipher it centuries later – exasperating snags. Having hooked the audience at the Royal Institution in London, Finkel then reveals how a trilingual inscription at Mount Behistun in modern-day Iran became cuneiform’s very own Rosetta Stone, unlocking secrets of the script previously thought lost to time.
Video by The Royal Institution
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