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Novel technique to study early writing systems

Research Achievements

Novel technique to study early writing systems

IGERT trainee Christina Skelton has been using a novel technique to study the origin and progression of early writing systems that arose in southern Mesopotamia around 3400 BCE. Using excavated written tablets from the region, she has begun to quantify the evolution of sign-form variations using phylogenetic systematics, a method first developed in the biological sciences for reconstructing "family trees" of related organisms. Skelton adapted phylogenetic methods to use on writing systems, using Linear B, a pre-alphabetic Greek writing system as a test case. Given a set of related entities, called "taxa," and a set of similarities and differences between them, called "phylogenetic characters," the phylogenetic analysis creates a tree showing how that set of entities evolved over time. Skelton and colleagues have recently begun to apply this technique the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, a digital library of cuneiform tablets, including scanned images and transcriptions.