The LA Times has a nice story by Louise Roug about the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (a joint project of UCLA and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science), connecting it with the recent destruction in Iraq:
In a windowless office at UCLA’s Kinsey Hall, professor Robert Englund is translating clay markings into bytes, turning one of the oldest forms of communication into one of the newest.
Englund and a few graduate students in the Department of Assyriology have undertaken an ambitious task: archiving the contents of cuneiform tablets scattered throughout the world. With the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, they are trying to create a centralized inventory of cuneiform for scholars, and — in the wake of the looting in Iraq — a tool for investigators….
Not surprisingly, one of the most important and extensive collections of cuneiform has long been in the possession of the National Museum of Iraq. Englund, a professor of Near Eastern language and culture who studied the collection on several visits before the Gulf War, estimates that it then contained more than 100,000 tablets and text fragments. (By comparison, the British Museum’s cuneiform holdings, the largest single collection in the world, has 150,000 pieces.)
No one knows the fate of the Iraq museum’s collection at this time. But Englund’s database already includes images and texts of 3,300 tablets from the Baghdad museum, and he recently began to complete the cataloging work on another 3,500. Even though it’s just a fraction of the total, it’s a start in establishing what was in the museum. It may also be the only surviving record of those particular tablets….
The recent looting “has graphically shown the need to make images of these tablets,” says Stephen Tinney, director of the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project, who calls the digital library “arguably the most important project in our field.” Digital initiatives should be used “aggressively to buffer ourselves against natural or man-made catastrophes,” he says. “What happened in the Iraq museum is really an object lesson in why it is important.”
Thanks for the link, Gary!