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cuneiform

cuneiform (kyōōnē´Ĭfôrm) [Lat.,=wedge-shaped], system of writing developed before the last centuries of the 4th millennium BC in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valley, probably by the Sumerians (see Sumer). The characters consist of arrangements of wedgelike strokes generally impressed with a stylus on wet clay tablets, which were then dried or baked. The history of the script is strikingly parallel to that of the Egyptian hieroglyphic (see also alphabet and inscription). The normal Babylonian and Assyrian writing used a large number (300–600) of arbitrary cuneiform symbols for words and syllables; some had been originally pictographic. There was an alphabetic system, too, making it possible to spell a word out, but because of the adaptation from Sumerian, a different language, there were many ambiguities. A single symbol could be used to represent a concept, an object, a simple sound or syllable, or to indicate the category of words requiring additional definition. Cuneiform writing was used outside Mesopotamia also, notably in Elam and by the Hittites (see Anatolian languages). There are many undeciphered cuneiform inscriptions, apparently representing several different languages. Cuneiform writing declined in use after the Persian conquest of Babylonia (539 BC), and after a brief renaissance (3d–1st cent. BC) ceased to be used in Mesopotamia. A very late use of cuneiform writing was that of the Persians, who established a syllabary for Old Persian. This is the writing of the Achaemenids (mid-6th cent. BC–4th cent. BC), whose greatest monument is that of Darius I at Behistun. Key discoveries of cuneiform inscriptions have been made at Nineveh, Lagash, Uruk, Tell el Amarna, Susa, and Boğazköy. Two great names in the interpretation of cuneiforms are those of Sir Henry C. Rawlinson and G. F. Grotefend.

See E. Chiera, They Wrote on Clay (1956); J. D. Prince, Assyrian Primer (1909, repr. 1966); A. Gaur, A History of Writing (1984).

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cuneiform

cu·ne·i·form / kyoōˈnēəˌfôrm; ˈkyoōn(ē)ə-/ • adj. denoting or relating to the wedge-shaped characters used in the ancient writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit, surviving mainly impressed on clay tablets. ∎  Anat. denoting three bones of the tarsus (ankle) between the navicular bone and the metatarsals. ∎ chiefly Biol. wedge-shaped. • n. cuneiform writing.

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cuneiform

cuneiform System of writing developed in Mesopotamia by c.3000 bc. It consists of wedge-shaped strokes, derived from writing on soft clay with a triangular stylus as a ‘pen’. Cuneiform developed from pictograms. The pictograms came to serve as an ‘alphabet’, eventually consisting of more than 500 characters. Most stood for words, but there were also some that stood for syllables or speech-sounds.

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cuneiform

cuneiform denoting or relating to the wedge-shaped characters used in the ancient writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit, surviving mainly impressed on clay tablets. The name comes ultimately (via French or modern Latin) from Latin cuneus ‘wedge’.

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cuneiform

cuneiform wedge-shaped, spec. of the elements of Assyrian and other inscriptions. XVII (cune(o)form). — F. cunéiforme or modL. cuneiformis, f. cuneus wedge (cf. COIN); see -FORM.

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cuneiform

cuneiformconform, corm, dorm, form, forme, haulm, lukewarm, Maugham, misinform, norm, outperform, perform, shawm, storm, swarm, transform, underperform, warm •landform • platform • cubiform •fungiform, spongiform •aliform • bacilliform •cuneiform, uniform •variform • vitriform • cruciform •unciform • retiform • multiform •oviform • triform • microform •chloroform • cairngorm • sandstorm •barnstorm •brainstorm, rainstorm •windstorm • snowstorm • firestorm •thunderstorm

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