Proto-Elamite is the last un-deciphered writing system from the Ancient Near East with a substantial number of sources (more than 1600 published texts). It was used for a relatively short period around 3000 BC across what is today Iran. Proto-Elamite is a derived writing system originating from the Uruk invention of writing in southern Mesopotamia during the middle of the 4th millennium BC. Scribes in Susa in southwestern Iran took over a majority of the numerical signs as well as many of the numerical systems from the older proto-cuneiform system.

What is proto-Elamite?

Writing phases

Basic Semantic Classification of Signary

Basic structure of documents

Proto-Elamite metrological systems

History of decipherment


Tools for the Study of Proto-Elamite

Images of the proto-Elamite tablets are available on CDLI (search for proto-Elamite under 'period' or use this link). For a majority of the tablets the only available images are hand copies, draw 80-100 years ago, but for a growing number of texts kept in the Louvre Museum high quality images are available.

Transliterations can be downloaded from the same website, but are also available here. The signs are numbered according to the working sign list of J Dahl (available here). Additional information on seals and text structure is being added.

Please send comments to here

The Corpus

There are more than 1600 texts and fragments in museums around the world. The majority of the texts are in the Louvre Museum, Paris, and the National Iranian Museum, Teheran.

MDP 6, 212 Click here to go to the CDLI page for this tablet.

The majority of the Louvre tablets were published shortly after their discovery, only 150 - 200 tablets and fragments remain unpublished there. The first two proto-Elamite tablets were published in 1900, by Vincent Scheil (as MDP 2, 130 and 131), they were later republished as MDP 6, 399 and 4996, in 1905. The majority of the tablets in the National Iranian Museum were published in MDP 26.

List of publications of proto-Elamite tablets:

198 tablets published in MDP 6.

490 tablets published in MDP 17.

485 tablets published in MDP 26.

170 tablets published in MDP 26S.

50 tablets published in MDP 31.

15 tablets published in RA 50.

The published copies are not always very reliable. Generally speaking MDP 17 and MDP 26S ranks among the better of the early publications. The early publications were all accompanied by sign-lists. As expected the number of signs grew with each text publication, and the sign-lists in the MDP volumes testify to this. However, recent collations and grapho-tactical analysis has brought the number of proto-Elamite signs down to about 1200.

Work is currently under way to publish the remaining proto-Elamite tablets in the Louvre, as well as to re-publish the previously published texts.

In the course of this work all of the Louvre proto-Elamite tablets have been collated and transliterated by J. Dahl. These transliterations are available at the CDLI.

Click here for a list of all proto-Elamite texts in the CDLI catalogue

A revised version of Meriggi's sign-list was used to complete these transliterations.

The Sign List

  • P. Meriggi, La scrittura proto-elamica. Parte IIa: Catalogo dei segni (Rome 1974)
  • Download a copy of J. Dahl's working sign list (30 MB, zip archive]
  • Download a copy of J. Dahl's working sign files, in Adobe EPS format (128 MB, zip archive]


This bibliography is maintained by Kathryn Kelley, graduate student at the University of Oxford. Please send additions directly to

Abdi, Kamyar

2003. "From Écriture to Civilization. Changing Paradigms of Proto-Elamite Archaeology". in Yeki bud, yeki nabud. Essays on the Archaeology of Iran in Honor of William S. Sumner. Edited by Naomi F. Miller and Kamyar Abdi. Monograph 48 Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles. 140-151.

Adams, R.M.

1962. "Agriculture and Urban Life in Early Southwestern Iran". Science Volume 136, Number 3511.

Alden, J.R.

1982. “Trade and Politics in Proto-Elamite Iran,” in: Current Anthropology Vol. 23, No.6,December 1982, 613 – 640.

1987. "The Susa III Period" in F. Hole, ed.,The Archaeology of Western Iran: Settlement and Society from Prehistory to the Islamic Conquest. 157-169.

Alimirzoev, A.N. and Yu. B. Yusifov.

1993. "On the decipherment of numerical signs of the Proto-Elamite script". Vestnik drevnej istorii. 3-20.

Amiet, Pierre.

1972. Glyptique susienne, Volume 1 – 2 (= Mémoires de la Délégation Archaéologique en Iran 43; Paris.

Amiet, Pierre, Maurizio Tosi, and Piero Meriggi.

1978. "Phase 10 at Shahr-i Sokhta: Excavations in Square XDV and the Late 4th Millennium B.C. Assemblage of Sīstān." East and West 28 (1/4) (December 1), 9-31.

Brentjes, Burchard and Maurizio Tosi

1983. "On Proto-Elamite Iran." Current Anthropology. Vol. 24, No. 2. (April) 240-241.

Le Breton, Louis.

1957. "Early Period at Susa, Mesopotamian Relations." Iraq 19 (2).

Le Brun, A.

1978. "La glyptique du niveau 17B de l’acropole (campagne de 1972). " Cahiers de la D.A.F.I. (CahDAFI) Paris.

1971. “Recherches stratigraphiques a l’acropole de Suse, 1969-1971,” in Cahiers de la Délégation archaéologique Française en Iran 1 (= CahDAFI 1; Paris) 163 – 216.

Le Brun, A. and François Vallat.

1978. "L'origine de l'écriture à Suse". Cahiers de la Délégation Archéologique Française en Iran 8: 11-52.

Bulgarelli, Grazia Maria.

1979. "The Lithic Industry of Tepe Hissar at the Light of Recent Excavation." South Asian Archaeology (1977): 39-54.

Caldwell, J.R.

1968. "Tell-i Ghazir." Reallexikon der Assyriologie 3 (5): 348–355.

Carter, E., and M.W. Stolper.

1984. Elam: surveys of political history and archaeology. Vol. 25. Univ of California Press.

Charvat, Petr, Ilene M. Nicholas and William M. Sumner.

1983. "More on Proto-Elamite Iran." Current Anthropology, Vol. 24, No. 4: 530-533.

Corsini, Marco.

1986. Geroglifico del disco di Festo, Lineare A, geroglifico B, proto-elamico. Tre decifrazioni. Roma: Istituto Bibliografico Napoleone S.r.l.

Cuyler Young, T.

1972. "Recent Excavations at Godin Tepe." Memorial Volume of the Vth International Congress on Iranian Art and Archaeology, Tehran April 1968 1: 204-210.

Dahl, Jacob L.

2002. "proto-Elamite Sign Frequencies," in Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin (CDLB) 2002:1. Download a PDF copy

2005."Complex Graphemes in Proto-Elamite," in Cuneiform Digital Library Journal(CDLJ) 2005:3. Download a PDF copy

2005. "Animal Husbandry in Susa during the Proto-Elamite Period" SMEA 47 (2005) 81-134 (PDF copy [7.7 MB])

2009. "Early Writing in Iran, a Reappraisal." Iran 47. University Press, Cambridge: 23-31.

2013. "Early Writing in Iran". in D.T. Potts (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran. OUP: 233-262.

Dahl, J., M. Hessari and R. Yousefi

(2013) "The proto-Elamite tablets from Tepe Sofalin". Iranian Journal of Archaeological Studies 2/1 (2013), 57-73.

Damerow, P.

1988. Zur protoelamischen Schriftentwicklung presented at the 4. Workshop über begriffsentwicklung in der Babylonischen Mathematik, Berlin, Max Planck Institut für Bildungsforschung.

2006. “The Origins of Writing as a Problem of Historical Epistemology,” in Cuneiform Digital Library Journal (CDLJ) 2006:1. Download a PDF copy

Damerow, Peter, and Robert K. Englund.

1989. The Proto-Elamite Texts from Tepe Yahya (= The American School of Prehistoric Research Bulletin 39; Cambridge, MA.

Delugaz, P., and Helene Kantor.

1996. Choga Mish. Volume I, The First Five Seasons of Excavations 1961-1971. Part 1: Text; Part 2: Plates, Abbas Alizadeh, ed. = OIP 101; Chicago, Illinois.

Desset, F.

2012. Premières écritures iraniennes.les systèmes proto-élamite et élamite linéaire Università degli studi di Napoli "L'Orientale." Dipartimento Asia Africa e Mediterraneo

Dittmann, R.

1986. "Susa in the Proto-Elamite Period and Annotations on the Painted Pottery of Proto- Elamite Khuzestan." Gamdat Nasr: Period or Regional Style: 171–198.

Dollfus, G.

1983. Tepe Djowi. Vol. 13. Cahiers de la Délégation archéologique française en Iran: Association Paléorient.

Dyson, Robert H.

1968. “Early Work on the Acropolis at Susa. The Beginning of Prehistory in Iraq and Iran,” Expedition 10/4: 21-34.

Englund, R.K.

1996. "The Proto-Elamite Script," in: Peter Daniels and William Bright, eds. The World's Writing Systems (1996). New York/Oxford, pp. 160-164. Download a PDF copy.

1998. "Elam iii. Proto-Elamite," in Encyclopaedia Iranica VIII/3 (1998). Costa Mesa, CA, pp. 325-330. Download a PDF copy.

2004."The State of Decipherment of Proto-Elamite," in: Stephen Houston, ed. The First Writing:Script Invention as 
History and Process (2004). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 100-149. Download aPDF copy.

Farmer, Steve, Richard Sproat, and Michael Witzel.

2004. “The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization,” in Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies (EJVS) Vol. 11, Issue 2, 19-57(2004). Download a PDF copy.

Friberg, J.

1978. The Third Millennium Roots of Babylonian Mathematics I-II (Göteborg, 1978-79).

Hakemi, A.

1972. Catalogue de L'Exposition: Lut. Xabis-(Shahdad). Festival de le culture et des arts.

Harper, P.O., J. Aruz, F. Tallon, Holly Pittman, Pierre Amiet, and Matthew Stolper.

1992. "The Proto-Elamite Period". In: The Royal City of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre, 69-80. Metropolitan museum of art.

Helwing, B.

2005. "Long-Distance Relations of the Iranian Highland Sites durinf the Late Chalcolithic Period: New Evidence from the Joint Iranian-German Excavations at Arisman, Prov. Isfahan, Iran." Eds. Ute Franke-Vogt and Hans-Joachim Weisshaar. South Asian Archaeology 2003.

Hessari, M. and R. Yousefi Zoshk.

2013. "New evidences on emergence of complex societies in the Central Iranian plateau" in Susa and Elam. Archaeological, Philological, Historical and Geographical Perspectives.Proceedings of the International Congress, held at Ghent University, December 14-17 2009. Katrien De Graf and Jan Tavernier (Editors). pp. 27-42.

Hurst, Barbara, and Barbara Lawn.

1984. "University of Pennsylvania Radiocarbon Dates XXII." Radiocarbon 26 (2): 212-240.

Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C.

1973. "Urban Interaction on the Iranian Plateau: Excavations at Tepe Yahya 1967-1973." read 14 November 1973, Albert Reckitt Archaeological Lecture,British Academy.

1978. "The Proto-Elamites on the Iranian Plateau". Antiquity vol 52. 114-120.

Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. and M. Tosi

1989 "The Proto-Elamite Community at Tepe Yahya. Tools of Administration and Social Order" Ed. K. Frifelt and P.South Asian Archaeology 1985: 104-114. Sorenson Curzon Press.

Langdon, S.

1928.The Herbert Weld Collection in the Ashmolean Museum. Pictographic Inscriptions from Jemdet Nasr, Excavated by the Oxford and Field Museum Expedition. OECT VII.


1921. Empreintes de cachets élamites (=Mémoires de la Mission Archaéologique de Perse 16 (MDP 16); Paris.)

Meriggi, P.

1969. “Altsumerische und Proto-Elamische Bilderschrift,” in: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 119/1 (1969): 156 – 163.

1971. La scritura proto-elamica. Parte Ia: La scritura e il contenuto dei testi Rome.

1974. La scritura proto-elamica. Parte IIa: Catalogo dei segni Rome.

1974. La scritura proto-elamica. Parte IIIa: Testi Rome.

De Mecquenem, R.

1949. Épigraphie proto-élamite (= Mémoires de la Mission Archaéologique en Iran 31 (MDP 31); Paris.)

De Morgan, J.

1900. Recherches archéologie (= Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 1 (MDP 1); Paris.)

1905. Recherches archéologie (= Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 7 (MDP 7); Paris.)

Mutin, B. and C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky

2014. The Proto-Elamite Settlement and Its Neighbors: Tepe Yahya Period IVC. American School of Prehistoric Research Monograph Series.

Nicholas, I.M.

1981. "Investigating an ancient suburb." Expedition 23 (3): 39–47.

1987. "The function of bevelled-rim bowls: a case study at the TUV Mound, Tal-e Malyan,Iran." Paléorient 13 (2): 61–72.

1990. The Proto-Elamite Settlement at TUV. Malyan Excavations Reports 1. University Museum Monograph 69 : Philadelphia.

Porada, E.

1969. "Iranian Art and Archaeology. A Report of the Fifth International Congress, 1968." Archaeology 22: 54-65.

Potts, D.T.

1999. The Archaeology of Elam Cambridge, UK.

Scheil, V.

1905. Documents archaïques en écriture proto-élamite (= Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 6, pp 57-128 (MDP 6); Paris.)

1923. Textes de comptabilité proto-élamites (= Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 17 (MDP 17); Paris.)

1935. Texte de comptabilité (= Mémoires de la Mission Archaéologique en Perse 26 (MDP 26 and MDP 26S); Paris.)

Stefanini, R.

1974. Review: La scrittura proto-elamica, Parte 1a: la scrittura e il contenuto dei testi by Piero Meriggi. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 26, no. 2: 122-129.

Steve, M-J, and H. Gasche.

1971. L’Acropolis de suse. Nouvelles fouilles (= Mémoires de la Délégation Archaéologique en Iran 44 (MDP 44); Paris.)

Stolper, M.

1992. “Account Tablet,” in: Harper, P. et. al. eds., The Royal City of Susa, Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre New-York.

(1976) "Preliminary Report on Texts from Tal-e Malyan. 1971-1974". in Proceedings of the IVth annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran. 3-8th November 1975. Firouz Bagherzadeh (Ed.). Iran Centre for Archaeological Research. pp.89-97. photos pp. 108-109.

1978. "Inscribed Fragments from Khuzestan." Cahiers de la Délégation archaéologique Française en Iran/ Kadmos Zeitschrift für vor-und frühgriechische Epigraphik 8: 89.

1985. “Proto-Elamite texts from Tall-I Malyan,” in: KADMOS XXIV Berlin / New-York.

Sumner, W.

1974. “Excavations at Tall-i Malyan, 1971-72.” Iran 12 (January 1): 155-180.doi:10.2307/4300508.

1976. “Excavations at Tall-i Malyan (Anshan) 1974.” Iran 14: 103–115.

1985. "The Proto-Elamite City Wall at Tal-i Malyan." Iran, 23: 153-161.

1986. "Proto-Elamite Civilization in Fars" in U. Finkbeiner and W. Röllig, Eds. Gamdat Nasr: Period or Regional Style, Wiesbaden: 199-211.

2003. Early Urban Life in the Land of Anshan. Excavations at Tal-e Malyan in the highlands of Iran. University Museum Monograph 117. Philadelphia.

Tucci, G.

1977. La città bruciata del deserto salato / testi di Basaglia .. Ist. Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente.

Vallat, F.

1971. “Les documents epigraphiques de l’acropole (1969-1971),” in: Cahiers de la Délégation archaéologique Française en Iran I (CahDAFI 1; Paris).

1973. “Les Tablettes Proto-Elamites de l’Acropole (Campagne 1972).” Cahiers de la delegation archeologique francaise en Iran III: 93-105.

1978. “Le matériel épigraphique des couches 18 à 14 de l’Acropole.” Paleorient Paris 4 (1): 193-195.

1986. "The Most Ancient Scripts of Iran: The Current Situation." World Archaeology, Early Writing Systems(Feb), Vol. 17, No. 3: 335-347.

Walker, C.B.F.

1980. "Elamite Inscriptions in the British Museum" Iran, Vol. 18. British Institute of Persian Studies: 75-81.

Weiss, H.

1993. Review: "The Proto-Elamite Texts from Tepe-Yahya by Peter Damerow; Robert K. Englund." American Antiquity Vol. 58, No. 4: 796.

Weiss, Harvey, and T. Cuyler Young.

1975. “The Merchants of Susa Godin V and Plateau-Lowland Relations in the Late Fourth Millennium B.C.” Iran 13 (January 1): 1-17. doi:10.2307/4300522.

Whitcomb, D.

1966.The Proto-Elamite Period at Tall-i Ghazir, Iran. B.A., Emory University.

Wright, HT.

1987. “The Susiana Hinterland during the era of primary state formation.” in F. Hole, ed., The Archaeology of Western Iran: Settlement and Society from Prehistory to the Islamic Conquest, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC: 141–155.

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