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Machine Translation and Automated Analysis of Cuneiform Languages

MTAAC is an international project involving teams of specialists in Assyriology and Computational Linguistics from Canada, Germany, and the USA. The project is funded through the T-AP Digging Into Data Challenge by the DFG (Germany), NEH (USA), and SSHRC (Canada) for two years (2017–2019).

  • Heather D. Baker (PI), University of Toronto, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
  • Christian Chiarchos (Co-PI), University of Frankfurt, Institut für Informatik, Angewandte Computerlinguistik Lab
  • Robert K. Englund (Co-PI), University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative


Ancient Mesopotamia, birthplace of writing, has produced vast numbers of cuneiform tablets that only a handful of highly specialized scholars are able to read. The task of studying them is so labor intensive that the vast majority have not yet been translated, with the result that their contents are not accessible either to historians in other fields or to the wider public. This project will develop and apply new computerised methods to translate and analyse the contents of some 67,000 highly standardised administrative documents from southern Mesopotamia from the 21st century BC. By automating these basic but labor-intensive processes, we will free up scholars’ time. The tools that we will develop, combining machine learning, statistical and neural machine translation technologies, may then be applied to other ancient languages. Similarly, the translations themselves, and the historical, social and economic data extracted from them, will be made publicly available on the web.

Completed (March 2009–February 2015)

Royal Institutional Households in First Millennium BC Mesopotamia

  • Heather D. Baker (PI), Institut für Orientalistik, University of Vienna, Austria

Funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) as part of the interdisciplinary National Research Network ‘Imperium and Officium: Comparative Studies in Ancient Bureaucracy and Officialdom’.