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What is Linear-Elamite?

Linear-Elamite is the conventional name of a writing system attested in a handful of inscriptions from Susa of uncertain date. The excavated Susa texts can be divided into two groups of texts: display texts and non-display texts. Some recently published linear-Elamite texts from illegal excavations are found on metal objects. These are presumably all modern fakes. Although a few linear-Elamite signs are similar to proto-Elamite signs, neither their function or their distribution can be shown to be similar. It is therefore idle speculation to claim any relationship between the two writing systems.

History of Decipherment

Linear-Elamite is undeciphered. It is generally believed that linear-Elamite is a syllabic script, although this has never been proven. Traditionally, syllabic writing systems have less than 100 basic signs, and more than 50. As long as only the 18 inscriptions, found during the French excavations of Susa, were known it was possible to sustain the claim that linear-Elamite was indeed a syllabic writing system based on a simple count of the signs. However, with every new publication this becomes harder to prove, since new signs are introduced with each new inscription. There exists currently no reliable sign-list for linear-Elamite. Photographic documentation is however available for a majority of the objects.

The Corpus

The linear-Elamite corpus can be divided into three groups. A first group consists of inscriptions relating to monumental architecture presumably constructed during the reign of Puzur-Inshushinak. A second group consists of smallish clay objects such as cones and tablets. A third group consists of metal vases.

Traditionally the inscriptions have been named according to the letters in the Latin alphabet. Click here for a list of all linear-Elamite texts in the CDLI catalogue.

Text A is inscribed on a piece of monumental sculpture, found at Susa.

Text B is also inscribed on a piece of monumental sculpture, found at Susa. Next to text B there is an Akkadian inscription. Text is written from right to left, the first line of text is closest to the edge of the object. Text B which has a partially identical inscription is written left to right, with the last line closest to the border of the object. Text B employs the vertical dividing line in line 2 corresponding to a line-break in text A. Text B consequently replaces sign xx with sign xx (sign-names to be determined).

According to W. Heinz the inscription on C and E is identical Link click here for the composite text. However, certain signs in text E are either inverted (signs xx and xx), or turned 180 degrees (signs xx and xx) (sign-names to be determined).

Text C is inscribed on a statuette bearing an Akkadian cuneiform inscription as well. Text E is inscribed on a stone-slab.

Text D is also inscribed on a piece of monumental sculpture, found at Susa. Whereas both Hinz and Merrigi suggested to read the line closest to the edge of the monument as the first line they did not agree on the direction of writing. Hinz suggested to read the text from left to right, whereas Meriggi was unsure but seemed to favor right to left. I propose to read the monument starting with the line closest to the center of the object, and to read from right to left.

Texts F, G, and H are apparently parts of the same text. F, G, and H are inscribed on stone blocks, that formed part of a monumental staircase at Susa. Mecquenem's F2, G2, and H2 are not actual inscriptions but rather casts/imprints made from F, G, and H, accidentally published as "new" texts. Andre and Salvini (1989) published new drawings of the texts, and proposed a reconstruction of their placement in the monument. Hinz published a composite text.

Text I is inscribed on a statue.

Text J and K are clay cones.




Text O is unique as it is inscribed on a clay tablet. A majority of the signs found in text O are singletons, that is they are not attested in any other inscription. This has led some to believe that O represents an early stage of linear-Elamite.

Text P is a very short inscription …

Text Q is inscribed on a silver vase found at Persepolis, according to W. Hinz 1969.


Text S is presumably not a linear-Elamite inscription. It is found on the edge of aclay vessel from Shahdad.




The provenience of text W is unknown, it is likely to be a modern forgery.

Texts X, Y, and Z are most likely modern forgeries.

Structure of the Texts

Linear Elamite can be written from both right to left or from left to right. The text may start at the top or the bottom.

Sign List

Other early Iranian writing systems

In 2005-7 reports were been published on-line claiming that samples of writing have been found at the site of Jiroft in South-Eastern Iran. Some images have been released since.

The signs on the Jiroft objects have a repetition pattern which is impossible for a writing system. Further, the limitted number of signs (basic geometric shapes: squares, cirlcles, triangles, and lines) are never drawn in the same way, suggesting that no writing system was behind the creation of these objects.

Some of the Jiroft objects apparently have one string of what apears to be linear-Elamite signs. This remains unexplained.

Since the texts apparently were found without good context their value for the understanding of early writing is limitted.

See also A. Lawler, "ARCHAEOLOGY: Ancient Writing or Modern Fakery?", Science 3 August 2007, Vol. 317. no. 5838, pp. 588 - 589 ($ access).

  • Béatrice André and Mirjo Salvini, "Réflexions sur Puzur-Inšušinak," in: Iranica Antiqua vol. XXIV, 1989, 53 - 72.
  • Piero Meriggi, La scritura proto-elamica. Parte Ia: La scritura e il contenuto dei testi (Rome, 1971).
  • Piero Meriggi, La scritura proto-elamica. Parte IIa: Catalogo dei segni (Rome, 1974).
  • Piero Meriggi, La scritura proto-elamica. Parte IIIa: Testi (Rome, 1974).
  • Walter Hinz, Altiranische Funde und Forschungen (Berlin 1969).
linear-elamite.txt · Last modified: 2008/08/25 20:41 by dahl
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