University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Linking the Data of Ancient Sumer
Terhi Nurmikko

Last modified: 2012-03-15


This work-in-progress examines the potential of Open Linked Data applications for Assyriology from the multidisciplinary perspective of Web Science.
The study focuses on cuneiform material from the ancient Near East, limited to tablets from the Ur III period (c. 2100 BC) as published by the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI). The corpus consists of the metadata, transliterations and high-resolution digital images of the original tablets, which were written in antiquity by pressing a reed stylus into wet clay. During the four millennia of the history of script, individual signs underwent typographical changes and semantic shifts as well as being used for writing a number of different, even unrelated, languages. Semantic representations of the polyvalent values of each individual sign are as challenging as the accurate visual representations of this 3D script.
The CDLI object records several possible anchoring points for a web of Linked Data. Its database is already an amalgamation of the collections of a number of museums and higher education institutions, and semantic enriching is a logical continuation of existing processes to interconnect and disseminate this data. It will enable a more diverse research base within Assyriology, beyond the traditional approaches of translation and comparative analysis of texts linked by genre, language or provenance. URIs will be assigned to occurring entities within the content of the text (locations, individuals, year names) and the object’s metadata (housing institution, provenance, date, socio-political period), aiding cross-referencing and forming a clearer image of each object, location and personal biography. Publishing the CDLI data in a machine-readable format (non-proprietary formats and as linked RDF) will allow for its use in innovative ways, and linked to projects reliant on separate and heterogeneous data streams.
Digital Heritage is a multidisciplinary domain that lends itself well to the budding discipline of Web Science. Within this Web Science framework, the aim has been to examine the potential of human factors and technological possibilities in equal measures. The parameters of the discussion are set at determining whether technological advances will be the primary driving force in the future of Assyriology, or whether the social dynamics of the discipline itself determine which aspects of potential technical advancement are adopted and utilised. As part of this examination, the potential of Citizen Science as a tool for generating Linked Data and opening up a perceived niche-community of scholarship to a wider audience is discussed. Whether a more varied approach and diversity of perspective as brought on by non-specialist to the field are a major factor in the future of Assyriology remains one of the unanswered questions of this on-going project.


cuneiform; Mesopotamia; Linked Data