Behrouz Mehri // AFP // Getty Images
Behrouz Mehri // AFP // Getty Images

Learn How to Write (Very Basic) Cuneiform via YouTube

Behrouz Mehri // AFP // Getty Images
Behrouz Mehri // AFP // Getty Images

Dr. Irving Finkel is an expert on cuneiform, the world's oldest known writing system. It was developed by the ancient Sumerians roughly 5000 years ago. The word "cuneiform" itself derives from the Latin cuneus, or "wedge"—the writing was traditionally done by pressing a wedge-shaped stylus onto a clay surface, which then dries and preserves the mark.

In the video below, Finkel shows Tom Scott and Matt Gray how to read and write just a bit of cuneiform. (Finkel says it takes about six years of training to become fully fluent...yikes!) It's a fascinating review, including the vital information that cuneiform script is syllabic, so you can represent English using cuneiform, minus a few vowel sounds—in the video, "Tom" becomes "Tam" (ta-am) due to a lack of the English "o" sound.

Tune in for a delightful lesson in an ancient writing system:

If you'd like to get started with cuneiform writing, this tool from the Penn Museum is handy. You'll also want some more training and a sample alphabet. Also interesting is this table of cuneiform numbers (note the Sumerian base 60 numbering system!).

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