A team led by researchers at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz will be fully transcribing, translating and digitizing a vast collection of 30,000 Hittite-language cuneiform tablets engraved on clay in Anatolia 3,500 years ago, fired and preserved. The project has just been funded to the tune of EUR 520,000 and is expected to take three years.
“This enormous funding can also be seen as recognition of Mainz as a research hub, where Hittitology has been a mainstay since the 1960s,” said Professor Doris Prechel of the Department of Ancient Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and partner in the collaborative project. The Hittitology Archive at the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz holds the world’s largest collection of transliterated Hittite writings, in other words, texts which have been converted from the original cuneiform into the Latin alphabet. “We have a fantastic starting point here, and with the digital thesaurus we can achieve a breakthrough for Hittitology worldwide.” Prechel and her group at JGU will be contributing to the project by compiling a collection of texts on summoning rituals. These rituals mostly took the form of magical invocations designed, among other things, to gain the goodwill of the gods and protect the royal family or the political system from danger.
The cooperation partners intend to bring the remains of the Hittite culture into the 21st century. A large proportion of the 30,000 clay tablets and fragments found in the then Hittite capital of Hattusa and documented on over one million index cards are already available in digitized form. They will now be suitably adapted and provided with commentaries. The collection of texts will be accessible online via the new Hittitology Platform Mainz. It will also be possible to integrate any new cuneiform texts found at Hittite sites in future. Thus, the new platform will be a kind of living archive of cuneiform transcripts and make available a completely new way of accessing source texts for researching the culture and history of the Hittites.
The project will have other research applications as well because Hittite is the oldest known surviving Indo-European language, the language group that includes all of the languages of Europe, northern India and the Persian Plateau. Most people in the world spread out over all the populated continents speak one.
The current Hittitology Platform Mainz already has a large database of digitized Hittite tablets, but it’s a little unwieldy to navigate, is mostly in German and if there are any photographs in the digitized entries, I haven’t found them yet. It will be greatly expanded over the next three years.