Digitisation of Ancient Cuneiform Texts

Barrel cylinder of Nebuchudnezzar (CDLI P430895)

Cuneiform tablet, Adminstrative text, Ur IIIWe are excited to announce that the John Rylands Library Cuneiform collection is now available online via the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (, searchable alongside collections held in institutions around the world.

The John Rylands Library holds the third largest collection of cuneiform artefacts in the UK. The  majority of these are 1,030 economic records dating to the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) which give a representative cross-section of the centralized Babylonian economy at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. Most of these documents have previously been known only from early hand copies or catalogues. Gilgamesh and Aga, a cuneiform tabletThe collection contains a smaller number of earlier documents, most notably 23 administrative texts dating to the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC) and written in a very fine scribal hand. In addition we hold a sizeable collection of Old Babylonian letters. Sumerian literature of the Old Babylonian period is represented among others by an outstanding manuscript of the composition “Gilgamesh and Aga”.

Cuneiform votive inscription on stoneFinally, the collection contains several royal inscriptions from various periods of Mesopotamian history. Most noteworthy are a large cone-shaped inscription of the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC) and a fine example of a votive inscription by Gudea of the Lagash II dynasty (ca. 2100 BC) inscribed on serpentine.

The results of this collaborative project have now been added to CDLI pages and are viewable at <>. All texts were imaged by CDLI with conventional photography using High Dynamic Range technology. About 25 per cent of the texts have also been imaged using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) with the assistance of a photo dome.  For more information on RTI see <>.

Barrel cylinder of Nebuchudnezzar (CDLI P430895)The imaging in Manchester and post-capture processing were undertaken by Klaus Wagensonner (University of Oxford) and were made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. They are part of the on-going mission of CDLI to ensure the long-term digital preservation of ancient inscriptions on cuneiform tablets, and, in furtherance of humanities research, to provide free global access to all available text artefact data.

Any queries concerning the collection should be directed to Elizabeth Gow, The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester; any amendments or comments on the catalogue data should be directed to CDLI.

1 comment on “Digitisation of Ancient Cuneiform Texts

  1. Pingback: Ancient building plan « John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

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