Back in 2007 I made a print (Locusts In Babylon) about Iraq in which I alluded to the ancient Babylonian civilization that reigned in Mesopotamia 500 or so years before the birth of Christ. I used Cuneiform writing in the bottom portion of that print:
Today I found a web site that offers audio clips of scholars actually speaking some of the Babylonian and Assyrian texts from clay tablets that have survived over these many years. Babylonian and Assyrian belong to the Semitic family of languages, and are generally thought of as two dialects of a single language ('Akkadian') rather than as two separate languages. Check out some of the sound files here.
Language is an amazing thing. It carries so much of a culture and a people. Hearing an extinct language like this spoken aloud is like seeing light from a star that exploded a gajillion years ago. It's magical.
Speaking of extinct languages, I heard yesterday that linguist Jessie Little Doe Baird of Mashpee, MA, founder of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project, received a MacArthur Genius Grant to continue her work. Here is my previous post about Baird and her project and John Eliot's Bible.