Proto-Elamite Sign Frequencies: Notes

1. The creation of the proto-Elamite writing system followed rapidly upon that of the proto-cuneiform writing system of neighboring Southern Mesopotamia. Proto-Elamite exhibits a few ideographic loans from proto-cuneiform and a nearly complete adoption of its metrological systems and numerical signs. Proto-Elamite was used over a wide geographical area comparable to the extent of modern day Iran, stretching from Susa in the west – in close proximity to Mesopotamia – to Shahr-i Sokhta in the east – closer to the Indus valley than to Susa.

2. P. Meriggi, La scrittura proto-elamica. Parte IIa: Catalogo dei segni. (Roma: Accademia nazionale dei Lincei, 1974). The problems faced in using this sign list have been commented upon in recent publications [P. Damerow and R. Englund; The Proto-Elamite Texts from Tepe Yahya, 1989. And again R. Englund, The State of Decipherment of Proto-Elamite, forthcoming (Preprint no. 183 at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science web-server:]

3. Compare this to the 6,000 proto-cuneiform texts with ca. 50,000 occurrences of non-numerical signs.

4. Although generated electronically this sign list follows that of P. Meriggi, see footnote no. 2.

5. Proto-cuneiform, on the other hand has yielded evidence for an evolution in the repertoire of signs, see R. K. Englund, “Texts From The Late Uruk Period,” in P. Attinger et al., eds., Mesopotamien, Späturuk-Zeit und Frühdynastische Zeit (= OBO 160/1: Freiburg 1998), p. 67.

6. The Chinese oracle bones from Anyang are traditionally dated to the Shang period ca. 1200 to 1050 BC. However, precursors predate these inscriptions by several centuries. I do not suggest any relationship between the two except for a purely graphic similarity.

7. P. Damerow, “The Origins of Writing as a Problem of Historical Epistemology” (1999), p.11 - 13. [Preprint no. 114 at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science web-server:]. See also R. Englund, 1998, p. 68 fn. 131, for a comparable survey, and see p. 70-71 for a list of the most frequent proto-cuneiform signs.

8. P. Damerow, 1999, p.11-12.

9. No attempts have been made to investigate a possible regional or institutional variation in the sign repertoire

10. M36 is highlighted to compare its frequency when computing each variant alone as a unique sign and when counting all variants together.

11. In P. Meriggi’s sign list of ca. 400 entries, the signs are grouped together based on graphic similarity. The same was the case with the first sign list of the archaic texts from Uruk. A. Falkenstein’s sign list of the archaic signs, ATU 1, included ca. 890 ideographic signs. The sign list of H. Nissen and W. Green, ATU 2, brought this number down to ca. 770 ideograms. These numbers were achieved based in many instances only on graphic similarities of the signs (R. Englund, 1998, p. 66-67). The sign list of the archaic signs was later expanded to cover all variants and the number reached 1,900. Note that this agrees well with our result for the proto- Elamite sign list. The archaic sign list may be reduced to less than 900 entries by removing sign-combinations and derivations (Englund, 1998, p. 68), and may be reduced even further with continuing contextual analy-sis. We hope to achieve the same reduction in numbers of signs in the proto-Elamite sign repertoire once the semantic grouping and exclusion of variants proceedes. The proto-Elamite sign list of J. de Morgan published with V. Scheil’s MDP 6, pp. 85-114, contains 989 signs (pp. 83-85 is a sign list of 62 linear Elamite signs). A sign list with 1,582 entries was prepared for Scheil’s MDP 17 by Mlle. M.-M. de Mecquenem (pp. 31-66). MDP 26 has no sign list. The sign list in MDP 31 (by MM. R. De Mecquenem) pp. 44-146 contains 5,529 signs (pp. 147-150 is a sign concordance between proto-Elamite and cuneiform signs!).

12. See table 3 for images of the signs discussed here.

13. A common header in the proto-Elamite corpus, M157 has been interpreted by the editors of MDP as either a granary (De Mecquenem in MDP 31), or as a proto-Elamite version of the Mesopotamian sign DUB (tablet) (V. Scheil MDP 6 and following). In his “Essai de déchiffrement de textes en écriture proto-Élamite” (MDP 6 pp. 119ff.), V. Scheil translated the proto-Elamite texts according to a system of transliteration values adopted from cuneiform. In his notes to MDP 17, 1 in MDP 17 p. 1 V. Scheil wrote: “Le premier signe de la tablette est préliminaire et indique un compte. Comme en babylonien (?), il figurerait la tablette elle-même. Deux autre signes (dont le premier est composé) seraient les noms de personnes.” The question mark is Sheil’s own. The first sign in this text is M157.

14. Although M346 is graphically closest to the proto-cuneiform sign MAŠ, it seems to have had the same meaning as the proto-cuneiform sign UDUa.

15. Leaving aside M1 (one horizontal stroke) and M9 (two horizontal strokes), which are both assumed to be signs pertaining to the structure of the document rather than to the semantics.

16. M32, M36, M66, M218, M288, M297, and M305.

17. M54, M371, M387, and M388.

Version: April 29, 2002