M.Phil. in Cuneiform Studies
Sumerian cuneiform tablet. Southern Iraq c. 2300 BC. Ashmolean Museum. Photo: Ashmolean Museum.
The M.Phil. in Cuneiform Studies is a two-year taught graduate degree that offers a satisfying advanced course of study in the languages, cultures, and history of ancient Mesopotamia and neighbouring areas. While the M.Phil. functions as a course in its own right, it is also designed to take students to the stage where they can embark on doctoral research in cuneiform studies, either Akkadian and/or Sumerian.
The range of options available makes the course suitable both for graduates who have already studied cuneiform and for those with no previous experience in the field. Those with a cuneiform background can build on their previous studies and gain specialized expertise. Graduates in other disciplines can convert to Cuneiform Studies through a course that offers a progression from beginning language to individual research. All students have the opportunity to develop a research area of their choice and elements of the course are tailored to their interests.
The study of Akkadian and Sumerian, the two principal ancient languages of Mesopotamia, lies at the heart of the course. The principal focus throughout is on detailed familiarity with the primary sources, studied in the original languages and scripts. The course is designed to equip all students with a sound knowledge of Akkadian and Sumerian grammar, vocabulary, and cuneiform script, as well as developing their ability to tackle published but unedited cuneiform texts.
Sphinx. Tell Halaf, Syria 9th century BC. National Museum of Aleppo, reconstruction. Photo: Philip Binns.
Familiarity with the secondary literature and study aids such as dictionaries and sign lists, as well as historiographical and literary-critical approaches, are integral to the course. In addition to this textual focus, the cultures, history, and archaeology of Mesopotamia and neighbouring areas are fundamental course components. Students have the opportunity to develop their skills working with ancient Near Eastern artefacts, including cuneiform tablets, in the Ashmolean Museum.
The cuneiform world is also studied in a wider context. Options include the Egyptian, Biblical, and Classical worlds, as well as the later Near East. The M.Phil. thesis gives students the opportunity to identify and design a cuneiform-related research project and to develop advanced research skills.