Cuneiform Alphabet


'A B G Kh D H W Z H. T. Y K Sh L

M Dh N Z. S ` P S. Q R Th

Gh T 'i 'u `S

A clay tablet from Ugarit in the Late Bronze Age, showing the cuneiform alphabet

I have a facsimile of this document, which I purchased at the museum in Damascus, when entry into Syria was possible.

The table below attempts to show that the cuneiform alphabet, consisting of signs made up of wedge-shaped ('cuneiform') pieces, was based on the pictographs of the proto-alphabet.

Icons of the typewriter are employed to represent (approximately) the wedge-characters and the original pictographs. For better results refer to the clay tablet above, and the alphabet table

>> 'a 'a A (horizontal) 'alp: ox (the wedge on the left = the horns, the other = the head)

VV b B [_] |_| |7| [\| bayt: house (apparently a simple square icon)


v g G < ^ << gaml: boomerang (originally two wedges, then a thick wedge)

V h H(Kh) ooo< (vertical) hayt. : looped thread



vvv d D |D |# dalt: door (post at the bottom, two panels)


>- h H >Eo (vertical)E hll: jubilation (person with arms raised at right angles)



>>> w W p waw: hook, nail


V z Z X |><| ziqq: manacle


V h. H.(Het) H) H] court (right wedge = round courtyard)



>V< t. T.(Tet) +o (+) t.ab: good (right wedge = circle, other two = cross)

>- k K K ("') kapp: palm


)V( sh Sh \O/ shimsh: sun (with two protective serpents)

o s S(sh+th) O shimsh: sun (but without serpent)

vvV l L l 9 lamd: crook (right wedge = the bent part of the staff?)


>Y m M M ^^^ mu/mayim: water (2 wedges = 1 wave of water)

)/ d D (Dh) = dayp: eyebrow (eye with eyebrow)

>>>- n N J S __o nah.ash: snake (head, body, and tail)

>=( z. Z. --|) shade (sunshade,3 wedges = umbrella)

VV s S (Samek) >=> samk: fish


(> ` `O `ayn: eye (single wide wedge for circle)

>-- p P () (vertical) pu: mouth (upper and lower lip)


VV s. S. (Ssdey ç) & s.irar: tied bag

>V- q Q -o- -o< qaw: line (cord on stick)

>> r R P R ra'ish: head


>v- t T (Th) 3 W tad: breast (with nipple?)

>X- gh G'(ghayin) [%] g´anab: grape (vine on stand)

>- t T + x taw: signature mark

^V^ `s S2 T -|-|-| (vertical) samk: support (spine)



>- 'i




vvv 'u


Obviously I can only give approximations of each sign through this medium.

You need to have other sources to see the real forms of the letters in each system.

The true shapes of the cuneiform characters can be seen in the drawing above.

Drawings of the pictographic signs are found in my publications on West Semitic scripts.

Refer to the comparative table appended below.

While preparing the table I was looking at Dietrich and Loretz, Die Keilalphabete (1988) 102

(table of alphabets) and 103-123, where they try to reconstruct the original pictograph in each

case. But they use Albright's faulty table of values for proto-alphabetic signs.

A.G. Lundin started publishing his ideas on this in 1982 (for ex. AuOr 5, 1987, 91-99: Ugaritic Writing

and the Origin of the Semitic Consonantal Alphabet).

One principle I have picked up from Lundin is: in the signs that are

representing a pictograph with a circle or curve, the 'Winkelhaken' is used.

And yet Wayne Pitard denies the existence of such a figure.

But here are the relevant letters (all are 'discoveries' of mine):

`(`ayin) eye (but notice that the tablet shown above has a simple vertical wedge)

Dh eye and eyebrow

H. house with semicircular courtyard

T. cross with circle attached (Egyptian sign for 'good')

Z. similar (sun-shade)

Q circle on stem (cord on stick)

Sh sun with (or without) two serpents

Th breast

Six of these pictographs were not recognized until my 'soil-sifting' article on the proto-alphabet

(it came too late to be called 'ground-breaking' in this field!) in Abr-Nahrain (1988, 30-67),

with refinements in 1990 and 1991.

In 2014, a new study of the cuneiform alphabet appeared: John L. Ellison, The Ugaritic Alphabetic Script,

in An Eye for Form (Festschrift for Frank Moore Cross), 56-71.

COLLESS, Brian E., "Recent Discoveries Illuminating the Origin of the Alphabet", Abr-Nahrain 26 (1988), pp. 30-67.

A preliminary attempt to construct a table of signs and values for the proto-alphabet,

and to make sense of some of the inscriptions from Sinai and Canaan.

COLLESS, B.E., "The Proto-alphabetic Inscriptions of Sinai", Abr-Nahrain 28 (1990), pp. 1-52.

An interpretation of 44 inscriptions from the turquoise-mining region of Sinai. (On Peeters website)

COLLESS, B.E., "The Proto-alphabetic Inscriptions of Canaan", Abr-Nahrain 29 (1991), pp. 18-66.

An interpretation of 30 brief inscriptions from Late-Bronze-Age Palestine. (On Peeters website)

My latest presentation of my identifications for all the letters of the proto-alphabet:

Alphabet and Hieroglyphs

Click on this image to see it in expanded form

The cuneiform alphabet signs are in the Canaan column

Brian Colless (2008) (Jan 2014) (September 2015) (January 2019)