Akkadian is the name for a Semitic language that
was used in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq)
throughout most of its history. The main dialects
include Babylonian (used in the South) and Assyrian
(used in the North, around modern-day Mosul).
Akkadian is closely related to languages such as
Hebrew and Arabic.
The word cuneiform, derived from the Latin
cuneus "nail," literally means "nailshaped
(writing)." Each character is formed by a number of
strokes, each of which resembles the wedge-shaped
form of a nail. The signs were made with a pointed
reed stylus in soft clay that was molded into a
tablet-shaped form. The system was used in
Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in a period of over
three thousand years (3,200 BC Ð 100 AD) for a
variety of languages, most importantly Sumerian and
Akkadian. Each of the approximately 700 cuneiform
signs may represent one or more words and/or one or
A prism is a clay object with
four, six or (occasionally) eight sides, each
inscribed in one or more columns. Prisms usually
contain one entire lexical or literary composition.
Their use in the Old Babylonian school system is
still somewhat unclear, but it is likely that they
were written by school boys and dedicated to Nisaba,
the goddess of writing. All lexical compilations end
with a formulaic praise to Nisaba and some prisms
(not those from Nippur) add a short inscription in
which the text is dedicated to several deities,
usually including Nisaba and her consort Haia.
Sumerian is an ancient language that was spoken in
the deep South of present-day Iraq in third
millennium BC. Spoken Sumerian died out at the end of
that millennium but the language was still used for
religious, literary, and scholarly purposes up to the
first century AD. Sumerian is not related to any
A type I tablet is
multicolumn tablet (4 to six columns on each side)
which usually contains a complete lexical compilation
or at least a very large section of such a
compilation. They were written by scribal pupils, and
perhaps dedicated to Nisaba, the goddess of
Tablet: Teacher-Student Exercise.
The most distinctive
characteristic of Type II tablets is that they
contain two different (often unrelated) exercises; a
short one on the obverse and a much longer one on the
reverse. The obverse exercise is the new assignment.
The left column has a model text in the teacher's
hand, to be repeated by the pupil in one or more
columns on the right of the tablet. The reverse was
used by the pupil for a long exercise in three to six
columns, repeating subject matter that he already
knew by heart. After the exercise was done type II
tablets were meant to be recycled by throwing them
into a basin of water that belonged to the standard
equipment of a Babylonian school. Therefore, the
presence of large numbers of these tablets in Nippur
(more than 2,000) is somewhat puzzling. It has been
suggested that this is due to a sudden destruction or
desertion of the site, but this remains to be
Type III Tablet:
Type III tablets are
single-column exercises that contain an extract from
one lexical text, continuing from obverse to reverse.
The exercise is of approximately the same length as
the obverse of a Type II tablet.
In fact, Type III tablets may have been copied from
the teachers examples on broken or old (and dry) Type
II tablets. Single-column extracts are relatively
rare in Old Babylonian Nippur.
Type IV Tablet:
Type IV tablets or
lentils are round and made to fit the hand. In
Sumerian they are called im šu or "hand
tablet." They usually contain two or three lines in a
teacher's hand which are copied by a pupil beneath.
It seems that Type IV tablets were more regularly
kept (rather than recylced), perhaps as evidence of
the student's progress.