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Below is a problem from NACLO 2022 Open Round titled "Set in Stone". The language is Old Persian cuneiform. Cuneiform script words

Latin alphabet for Cuneiform language

The goal is to match the translations. The problem also states

Note that one word can be written in two different ways in cuneiform!

The solution is above The Solution

But I am very confused as to solve this problem, especially given the quote from the question. I was able to reason that since the problem says this language was written on clay tablets and came from Sumerian Empire, and since the Sumerian Empire was in Mesopotamia which is surrounded by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the clay tablets were likely wet during the writing. Thus, this language's directionality is probably left-to-right, because otherwise the writing would be smudged like when writing right-to-left with a pen. I was later able to verify this on the internet. But I couldn't match any of the translations.

Could someone please explain how to solve this? Thank you very much!

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    Old Persian cuneiform was inspired by Mesopotamian cuneiform, but it wasn't written on clay tablets: the Persians just saw "oh, huh, 'writing' means making little wedges" and made their own writing system out of little wedges even though they didn't have the medium that required it. This doesn't actually affect the problem, I just think it's interesting.
    – Draconis
    Oct 21, 2022 at 18:31

1 Answer 1

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First, note that there's one word that's a subset of another word: baga is part of Bagadāta. So start by looking for one word that's entirely contained within another. This points to 21 and 13; since 21 is the leftmost part of 13, and baga is the first part of Bagadāta, that indicates the language is written from left to right.

We don't see the baga glyph anywhere else, so that's probably a logogram. But dāta is made up of three glyphs, and we see those first two glyphs in 6 and 12 as well. There are two other words that start with (Dārayauš and dāruv), so those two glyphs somehow mean .

Furthermore, Dārayauš and dāruv both have an r after the initial , but they don't have the same glyph there in cuneiform. So this is probably a syllabic writing system: is written as da-a, and the next glyph in those two words would be ra and ru. Indeed, we see one of those glyphs at the start of a different word (19), which could be radīy; there's no word in the list that starts with ru.

Now we have five words identified and know how the system generally works. From here you should be able to figure out the rest (for example, da on its own should appear in daiva and āyadana). As a hint, it's not quite a syllabary, but it's pretty close to one. Good luck!

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  • Note: The first step in this analysis only works under the assumption that the script is unicameral. If it were bicameral, we would expect baga and Bagadāta to begin with different wedges. Oct 21, 2022 at 19:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet True! Or if it had determinatives, or if it used a logogram for baga on its own but not as part of Bagadāta. If we couldn't find one word that was a subsequence of another in the first step, we'd have to try a different tack.
    – Draconis
    Oct 21, 2022 at 20:04

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