For Immediate Release

Two Lectures in October on Visible Language

(Cambridge, September 8, 2010) The origins and development of writing in ancient China and the Near East are the focus of the two October lectures in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology's Visible Language series.

On Wednesday, October 6, "Diviners and Scribes: the Origins and Development of Writing in China" will explore how China became one of the few regions in the world where the literacy developed independently. The last hundred years of discovery, decipherment, and archaeological discovery of texts now draw a rich and detailed picture of the early development of writing.

Toward the end of the second millennium BC in China, the Shang royal family was investing immense resources in divination. Multiple teams of specialist diviners were employed full-time at the Shang kings' capital near Anyang to determine the scheduling and content of sacrifices to their ancestors. These complex procedures provide the context for understanding an emerging system of writing and how it spread. Dr. Adam Smith, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University, is the speaker.

On Wednesday, October 13, "The Origins and Development of the Cuneiform Script" will explore the earliest known writing system in the world. The cuneiform script was used in the ancient Near East for over 3,000 years. It originally developed as a means of accounting and was associated first with the city of Uruk, in what is now southern Iraq. Cuneiform was ultimately adopted for languages as diverse as Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite. This lecture offers an introduction to the cuneiform script, with particular attention to its origins, construction, alignment, and dispersion. Dr. Benjamin John Studevent-Hickman is the speaker. He is Lecturer on Assyriology, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.

Both lectures are free and take place at 5:30 PM in the Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, MA, with a public reception to follow at the Peabody Museum.

About the Peabody Museum
The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.

Hours and location: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to:

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Faith Sutter
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Peabody Museum
Tel: 617-495-3397 

A merchant’s receipt for 1500 liters of grain from the Ur III period (2112–2004 BC), written in cuneiform script. PM 66-27-60/12127.1.

High resolution images available on request. 

Wednesday, October 6: "Diviners and Scribes: the Origins and Development of Writing in China"

Wednesday, October 13: "The Origins and Development of the Cuneiform Script"

Both lectures: 5:30 PM Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, MA, followed by a public reception at the Peabody Museum.

Public information: 617-496-1027