Author Topic: On the Passing of a great Assyriologist: Professor Wilfred Lambert  (Read 1703 times)

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Offline ASHOOR

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Professor Wilfred Lambert, the Assyriologist who has died aged 85, was a scholar of ancient Mesopotamia and the world’s leading expert on cuneiform, an ancient form of writing which began as a system of pictographs and, over three millennia, developed into a more simplified and abstract script.

Lambert was often called in to advise museums on their collections of Mesopotamian artefacts, and his skills both in deciphering texts and spotting “joins” (identifying pieces that belonged together) was unrivalled. In recent years he worked with the British Museum on its Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals Project and, last year, helped the Museum to shed light on the origins of the famous Cyrus Cylinder, which is often described (though controversially) as containing the world’s first Declaration of Human Rights.

The inscribed clay cylinder, now broken into several fragments, was discovered in an 1879 excavation at Babylon (modern Iraq). On it is written a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great after his conquest of the city in 539BC. The cylinder has acquired its status because it authorises the return of deported peoples to their homelands and implies that there will be freedom of religious expression throughout the Persian Empire. This is consistent with the Biblical tradition which portrays Cyrus as an enlightened ruler.

In 2009 Lambert examined two clay fragments of cuneiform tablet originally from a site at Dailem, near Babylon, which had been in the museum’s collection since 1881. Working with Irving Finkel, from the museum’s Middle East department, Lambert established that the pieces came from a tablet that had been inscribed with exactly the same text as the Cyrus Cylinder.


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