Who translated cuneiform?

“You have to go back 4,000 years, colleagues said, to find someone as fluent in Sumerian as Miguel Civil. A Catalonian-born professor with a purported photographic memory, he spent decades studying ancient cuneiform tablets, examining the last wedge-shaped traces of what is probably the world’s oldest written language.” Read more here.

“A lexical list from the Early Dynastic period, item A3670 in the Oriental Institute’s collection. Dr. Civil was an expert on such lists, which featured terms in both Sumerian and Akkadian.”(Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago)

24 thoughts on “Who translated cuneiform?

  1. Madeline Hite

    It’s incredibly saddening to see someone as brilliant as Dr. Miguel Civil pass away. It’s hard to believe that the writings of an entire culture were rediscovered thanks to this one man. Thanks to his work, the words of a civilization have been able to come alive once again. These include hymns, receipts, divorce records, the first known farmer’s Almanac (which is majorly important) and a touching poem expressing a homesick man’s love for his mother. While most that look at these ancient tablets would probably only see marks that resemble a modern abstract work, Dr. Civil was able to give those who lived in a great empire their voices back. In my opinion, the fact that someone is capable of deciphering only one word from this language is incredible, and Dr. Civil’s passing is a great loss and his achievements in life were astounding.

  2. Edward Donnellan

    This article was very interesting and quite informing. I was unaware of Dr.Civil’s passing and was surprised his death did not generate more media attention. Dr. Civil was a brilliant scholar who contributed so much to his discipline and helped revitalize ancient writings from some of the oldest civilizations in the world.

  3. Riley Marcus

    Although Dr. Civil may no longer be alive, his work and advancements in the studies of a dying language will not be forgotten. His decision to dedicate his life to studying Cuneiform has resulted in a body of work that can be looked back on by scholars and historians for many years to come. Not only did he follow his passion, but he may very well have preserved much of a civilization as well.

    1. katlynwolfe

      I find it very fascinating that he dedicated his life to studying cuneiform. I am interested in law or the criminal justice industry and this in a way relates to that. It is a complete mystery or case that needs to be solved. Dr.Civil made a huge dent in the case. It is very interesting to study a language or form of communication that we don’t know too much about.

  4. Antonio DeGeorge

    Despite Dr. Civil passing away, his achievements will not. His translation of cuneiform is undoubtedly a major historical and archeological achievement in the modern era, and his work will be able to hel future studies into the history of Sumerian culture and their language. Without him, we may still be stuck trying to figure out their written language. I have never heard of Dr. Civil before this and was surprised to hear that he passed away. I’m sure that even though he is gone his achievements will not be soon forgotten.

  5. Shelby

    The ability and patience it takes to translate something as complex as cuneiform is truly admirable, and undoubtedly very useful to those who will continue studying the Sumerian culture. I had never heard that someone had translated cuneiform, and I assumed it was studied then set aside in favor of other aspects of ancient cultures. Dr. Civil contributed so much through this achievement, and this article showed me how dedicated individuals can be to discovering bits of the past.

  6. Meredith Pons

    Though Dr. Civils sapping will be mourned, his achievements will always shine through. His great understanding of cuneiform is amazing and will be useful to those studying the Sumerian language and culture. His translation of the text is a huge achievement for historians and archeology.

  7. Garrett Zendek

    It is amazing that someone can be fluent in the first written language. While Dr. Civil’s death is saddening, his contribution to Sumerology will never be forgotten. The fact that he examined and studied almost every single tablet discovered from Sumer is astonishing. I thought it was also interesting how he started off unloading trucks and painting houses prior to his fame from his knowledge of Sumerian script.

  8. Zachary Kennedy

    it’s impressive how much someone can learn about a language that hasn’t been read for thousands of years. I was surprised that dr. Civil’s passing was not covered widely by the mainstream media, being such an influential person in the field.

  9. Mark Madison

    I think this is very commendable and honorable of what Miguel Civil did. To invest so much time and thought into figuring out a cuneiform knowing the difficulty level it comes with shows a true testament to his character and what legacy he probably wanted to leave for others. His leadership and innovative mind is something I admire greatly. Its interesting article to read. I wonder what the translations of most of his ancient cuneiform tablet findings said.

  10. Samantha

    The work that Dr. Civil created was very impressive considering he was one of few people that was able to read the Sumerian language. He was able to bring light to something that has been in the dark for so long. Dr. Civils will surely be missed in the cuneiform community.

  11. Sam Freeborne

    This whole article is pretty amazing and astonishing. The fact that someone was able to translate a thousand year old language that he doesn’t even speak is pretty amazing. Dr. Civil’s death is no doubt disappointing his findings and efforts towards Sumerology will never be forgotten. A mind like his only comes around once in a generation, and he certainly put it too good use. It’s amazing to think of all the work he put into cuneiform over his life.

  12. Caroline Pagano

    Due to the fact that Dr. Civil is no longer with us, his work of studying ancient cuneiform tablets, the worlds oldest written language will never be forgotten. The result of his dedicated work developed culture connections that went beyond what the text said. I did not know who Dr. Civil was before reading this article but his work and achievements have had a great influence on our culture.

  13. Jack Moore

    After conducting more research, Dr. Civil actively participated in excavations at the ancient city of Nippur and assembled texts that resembled literary jigsaw puzzles, piecing together hundreds of clay fragments stored at institutions around the world. How did this all come about? To my surprise, the scholar originally unloaded trucks, painted houses, manned an elevator and hired extras at a film studio before taking a class with Jean Nougayrol. Nougayrol, a French cuneiformistm, inspired him to study for a doctorate at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where he mulled a career as a schoolteacher while deepening his knowledge of Sumerian script. I know my response breaks away from the traditional responses shown above, but this iconic researcher has pushed me to discover more of his original yearnings towards cuneiform. All in all, he is one of the most influential people we have discussed.

  14. Kayla Cunningham

    Before reading this article, I didn’t know how linguistically difficult the Sumerian language was to understand or translate. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have thought that stand-alone languages were possible. Even if they were, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to gain so deep an understanding of them thousands of years after their ‘death’.
    Certainly, Miguel Civil was an exceptionally talented scholar. It seems he almost single-handedly advanced research in the field of Sumerian scholarship. What a terrible loss it is to the community to lose ” …the most knowledgeable authority of Sumerian since 2000 B.C.”

  15. Maddie Almand

    This article was truly amazing. Prior to reading it, I had no idea just how difficult it was to learn and translate the Sumerian language. I hadn’t heard anything about Dr. Civil’s passing prior to this article, and while he will be missed his contribution to the field will not be forgotten. Dr. Civil was a gifted academic who’s contributions to his field helped to preserve much of the Sumerian civilization.

  16. Ada Laurer

    After reading this article, I was very surprised to learn that someone who did such important work had passed and that it was not featured in the news. Although it is very tragic that such an important person has passed, the hard work and effort Dr. Civil put into translating Sumerian language will continue to have great importance until the end of time. His work provided a huge insight into the past.

  17. Kym Laver

    The fact that Dr.Civil is not more widely known for his accomplishments is unfortunate. To be able to decipher a language used 4,000 years ago that is so different from any other language to exist is a phenomenal achievement, one that would be thought to be impossible if it had not already been accomplished. The insights Dr. Civil’s contributions must have attained about Sumerian culture are surely priceless. Not to mention just how amazing it is that we are able to see into the minds of people who lived 4,000 years before us. It is a shame that this incredible deed has not received more attention.

  18. Cassidy Rothenberger

    The capabilities possessed by Dr. Civil to be able to translate a lost 4,000-year-old language illustrates the extent of knowledge the man provided as well as the negative impact his passing will have on the community. However, a hopeful positive of his passing will be in people’s and historians continued focus on Sumerian culture, the work Dr. Civil leaves behind, and further research into the past through art and literature; regardless of the seeming impossibility of such work – as Dr. Civil illustrated that even the impossible can be made possible.

  19. John Tyler Funkhouser

    “The recovery of the past represents a sheer enrichment of human thought.”

    This is a quote I really, really like, because it cuts to the point why most people study history, the personal pleasure we take in learning about something we care about. Miguel Civil devoted his life to this one aspect of history he enjoyed learning about. He was so interested in the Sumerians that he took the time and effort to translate their language. Translating Spanish back to English is hard enough for me, I could’n’t imagine trying to translate a language that didn’t even have any recognizable letters.

  20. J. Helton

    In high school, I wrote a whole project in cuneiform. I actually used to have it memorized and I could read the cuneiform (if words were written in English). It is so interesting how languages and letters are made. It truly is incredible. It is very saddening to hear about the passing of Dr. Civil. I hope that more people will learn of his accomplishments, and I also hope more people learn about cuneiform because it really is fascinating.

  21. Elizabeth Rybarczyk

    It’s incredibly inspiring that a man as brilliant as Dr. Civil started off painting houses! It really shows that no matter where you are in life, it’s possible to achieve more.

  22. Andrew Martine

    Dr. Civil’s work will certainly not be forgotten as he has contributed so much to finding out about ancient worlds. I did not know who he was before this article but his work is truly amazing.


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