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This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.

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Transliteration and Translation of Primary Sources

Collection Date: March 9, 2009
Scholar #1 Info: (if more than one scholar's process is described, copy this set for each scholar)

  • Name: Laurie Pearce
  • Email:
  • Title: Lecturer, Department of Near Eastern Studies
  • Institution/Organization: UC Berkeley
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Akkadian, Assyriology, Cuneiform

Collector Info (can be the same as "Scholar" above):

  • Name: Rich Meyer
  • Email:
  • Title: Project Bamboo Program Manager
  • Institution/Organization: University of California, Berkeley
  • Name: Connor Riley
  • Email:
  • Title: Graduate Student Researcher, School of Information
  • Institution/Organization: University of California, Berkeley

Notes on Methodology:

The collectors recorded this interview; delineated various workflows discussed in the interview and wrote them using quotes from the interview. These were then reviewed and edited by the interviewee before being posted.


The scope section is provided by the collector, with input from the scholar(s), and attempts to estimate the scope of the group that performs the processes described: How broadly do the practices described in this narrative apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?

  1. In the opinion of the scholar, who participates in the process the story describes?
    (e.g. "just this scholar", "many people in the scholar's field of inquiry", "all academics", etc.)
  2. What is this process intended to accomplish for the scholar?
  3. Who is the intended audience of the processes described?
  4. Is this the only process the scholar uses to accomplish his/her goals?
  5. What "shared services" would help transform the story into something of more benefit for the scholar or his/her audience?  What process or processes in the story could be automated?


Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories.

1. Was this story collected for a particular Bamboo working group?  If so, please include, as keywords, the appropriate group(s).

  • Education
  • Institutional Support
  • Scholarly Networking
  • Shared Services
  • Scholarly Narratives
  • Tools and Content Partners

2. Suggested keywords: Does this narrative contain elements that could be mapped to these keywords?  If so, please indicate which ones and briefly describe the mapping.  Add any additional keywords in #3. (These are global keywords from this page keywords)

3. Please list additional keywords here:


I study ancient languages that are written on clay tablets.  Given access to a clay document or an autographed copy of a clay document, I will first transliterate the text into Roman characters (capturing the phonetics of the original language), and then translate it into English.  Unfortunately, publications are not standardized; they typically include autograph (hand) copies, and may or may not provide transliterations or translations, yet some may include such supplemental material as a lists of the names of people or terms referenced in the clay documents. 
Transliteration is currently done using sign lists, usually transliterating each character, representing one or more syllables, by hand. When necessary, I manually look through paper version of a sign list as I transliterate the characters.  Although having the ability to search sign lists digitally may help in some cases, it is usually faster for me to do it manually as I am very familiar with the language. In transliteration, one must take into account the year that the document was made because signs change over time; the style or handwriting of the document's scribe must also be taken into account. 
To translate the document, I will pull out a combination of syllables to form words, marking down multiple possibilities. As I translate the document, I will consult a physical dictionary or, online sources like the CDL Sumerian dictionary.


Digital character recognition may help save time in performing transliterations; using digitized autographed copies or scanned clay documents from sources like the CDLI, such character recognition technologies could help to transcribe document into Cuneiform Unicode and then into Roman characters. Even just as a first pass at a transliteration, this kind of technology has the potential to save scholars a lot of time.  
A digital tool to help scholars annotate a work they are translating may help as well. If such a tool could help mark ambiguities in a transliteration, translation or eliminate word possibilities, it would save time narrowing down possible word or character meanings.

Other Comments:

The information below was comprised when transcribing the interview, to make sure pieces were not missing.  If it is unhelpful, please disregard.


Obtain autographed copy of clay document 
Use sign list to identify each character 
Write character in Roman alphabet 
    In case of ambiguity, mark down possible characters 
Scan transliterated text for word possibilities 
Annotate possible word breaks, words, and ambiguities 
Refine translation, narrowing down ambiguities until document is sufficiently translated 

Ingredients: Tools and Content

Clay tablets
Autograph(ed) copy = a handwritten copy (drawing) of an original document in the script in which it was written
Pictures or scans of clay documents
Sign lists
CDLI for digitized scans of autographed copies or clay documents
CDL Sumerian dictionary
Physical dictionaries: Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (volumes in print available for download at: and Akkadisches Handwörterbuch
Cuneiform Unicode



Example Link