Archive for November 15th, 2021

The history of writing in 1.5 hours

Monday, November 15th, 2021

Among the many treasures of this summer’s virtual lecture series accompanying the Getty Museum’s exhibition on 3000 years of Mesopotamian history, there was one particularly sparkly jewel. From Laundry Lists to Liturgies: The Origins of Writing in Ancient Mesopotamia was an absolute revelation, and I’m not just saying that because it was hosted by my favorite Assyriologist, Dr. Irving Finkel of the British Museum. Dr. Finkel and Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts cover an enormous amount of ground on the origins and evolution of cuneiform: the first known writing system, its beginnings as a combination of pictograms and impressions, the incredible complexity of early Mesopotamian mathematics, writing’s shift from drawing to symbol to sound and ever so much more. The discussion lasted an hour and a half and I was riveted the entire time.

The webinar took place on August 11th, and I have been waiting impatiently ever since for the Getty to upload it to their YouTube channel as they did for the other videos in the series soon after the live debut. Finally two weeks ago I emailed the Getty’s Public Programs coordinator asking forlornly whether something had gone awry with the one video I was keenest to share. Something had — they didn’t get into specifics, just that they had experienced difficulties with the upload — but they were optimistic it would be up within a couple of weeks.

The couple of weeks have elapsed and the video is at long last available. Set aside a block of time and bask in the illumination:

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