I am struggling to find any source image (photo or line art) for the cuneiform letter pan/ban 𒉼. From my understanding, the meaning is 'bow' and usually was used in conjunction with 'tree' 𒄑 to denote the weapon (in contrast to an arch, I guess?).

I am new to this whole thing (thanks to Irving Finkel :-) ) and was able to find tablets for the more modern form (𒄑𒌁) with the help of Oracc, but could not find a single source image for the Old Babylonian form. At the moment, I am mostly interested in Old Babylonian (gotta start somewhere :-) ), although I am aware that the development of the signs over the centuries gives important insight so other periods will follow.

I suspect strongly my approach is somehow wrong, so I am not just looking for a reference to a source image (although that would be awesome) but also to understand how to find these in the future with more success and maybe some pointers to resource sites.

As Ilmari Karonen points out, there is also CDLI with and advanced search option and (some) references to pictures and line art.

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    You're looking specifically for Old Babylonian? You should specify that more clearly in the question, because the method will change depending on the style you're looking for.
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 16:41
  • @Draconis Thanks! Hope it's clear(er) now :-) Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 18:59

2 Answers 2


The first step is finding a good sign list for the period you're interested in. This is where you'll find accurate drawings of the sign for different periods. My specialty is Hittite, so the one I have most easily to hand is Rüster and Neu's Hethitisches Zeichenlexikon ("Hittite Sign Dictionary"). Looking in the index, PAN is sign 118.

Then, look up that sign by number in the dictionary. Here's what Rüster and Neu have to say about number 118:

excerpt from the HZL

The top left shows Old, Middle, and Neo-Hittite forms; below these are the main variations found on the tablets. The top right says this sign is only used as a sumerogram PAN. Finally, the bottom lists the meanings of this sign: gPAN "bow", LÚ gPAN "archer", MUNUS gPAN "female archer".

If you're looking for Old Babylonian forms (since you mention OB in the question), you'll instead want Labat's Manuel d'Epigraphie Akkadienne ("Handbook of Akkadian Epigraphy"). Looking in the index, PAN is number 439 in his system. So we just have to find sign number 439:

excerpt from Labat

Labat's columns on the left side are Old Sumerian, Classical Sumerian, Old Assyrian (top)/Babylonian (bottom), Middle Assyrian/Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian/Babylonian. So unfortunately, it seems this sign is not attested in Old Babylonian! If it were, we'd see it drawn in the bottom middle box.

The right columns are the "citation form" (Neo-Assyrian), names for the sign, the time periods when each name was used (written with special glyphs that I've never gotten the hang of), and the meanings it had as a logogram (if any). It says here it can be used to mean "bow" or "archer", but also "the Bow" (a constellation, MULBAN) and "hunter" (LÚ gBAN.TAG.GA).

  • Wow! Thanks so much, really appreciate the explanation. What a wonderful community 🤗 Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 18:53

As an addendum to Draconis' excellent answer, one source worth trying if you're looking for attestations of a sign in a certain period would be CDLI, whose advanced search form allows searching by both sign and by period and/or time range.

For example, searching for the sign "PAN" (and any alternative readings it may have) in the "Old Babylonian" period currently turns up 52 results. A lot of them either have no photos or line art, or are composite texts whose "line art" is useless here (since it's just the text rendered in a modern cuneiform font), but filtering those out still leaves 28 results.

The first result I got is TCL 07, 011 (P386004), described as a "Letter tablet excavated in Larsa (mod. Tell as-Senkereh), dated to the Old Babylonian (ca. 1900-1600 BC) period and now kept in Louvre Museum, Paris, France", which has the sign PAN (read here as BAN) at the end of the third line ("ša-ad-da-aq-di-im RÁ.GABA.MEŠ LÚ.BAN"), as seen here in the "line art" tracing:

The first four lines of an Old Babylonian letter written in cuneiform, drawn as "line art" based on the original text written in clay, with the characters "RA2 GABA MEŠ LU2 BAN" highlighted in different colors at the end of line 3

The photo is a lot harder to read (as usual; reading cuneiform from photos is rarely easy), but it's just possible to pick out the PAN/BAN sign at the edge of the tablet based on the surrounding signs:

A cropped photo of the actual cuneiform clay tablet which the "line art" tracing above is based on, with the sign BAN marked with a red circle

So there, that's one example of the sign PAN in (cursive) Old Babylonian cuneiform.

Tangent: Based on a quick look through some of the other results from the CDLI search, the cursive sign form above seems perhaps a bit more simplified than usual (although I'd say it's almost certainly still a valid variant form, as opposed to a scribal error or a misreading).

Admittedly there don't seem to be too many clear examples of Old Babylonian PAN on CDLI in the first place; in most cases the PAN sign seems to be either damaged, right at the edge of a missing or damaged area, an uncertain (and possibly mistaken) reading, or just a mess of wedges that I have no idea how anyone could read. Still, if I squint at the most readable results just right, I can kind of see a semi-consistent sign form emerge. The general shape seems to consist of (from left to right):

  1. a (more or less) horizontal wedge near the midline of the sign,
  2. some (most often two, but sometimes just one or more than two) diagonal wedges (and/or Winkelhakens) in the middle, and
  3. another horizontal wedge at roughly the same height as the first.

There seems to be quite a bit of variation in the middle portion. In the example above, the middle part is simplified to just one diagonal wedge (and the two horizontal wedges are offset a bit, possibly because the sign was written right at the edge of the tablet). More often there seem to be two diagonal wedges, either both slanted down (as in the later forms of the sign shown by Labat, as quoted in Draconis' answer) or the first one slanted up and the second down. Sometimes the orientation of the first diagonal wedge can be ambiguous, making it look like a Winkelhaken. Occasionally there even seem to be some extra wedges crammed in there (or at least whoever traced the tablet into line art seems to have thought there were).

(The ambiguity between upward and downward diagonals and Winkelhakens is common in cuneiform writing: they're all part of a continuum of wedge shapes that can be formed with very similar stylus presses, the only difference being the tilt of the stylus around its long axis. Thus, especially when writing quickly in soft clay, it's easy for these wedges to blur together. This is sometimes even reflected in the evolution of sign forms, as seen e.g. in the variants and evolution of ḪI / ŠÁR and other signs containing the "diagonal square" motif, which all but universally turns into four downward diagonals in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform.)

One particularly nice example (courtesy of the comments below) is BIN 09, 124 (P236134), an Early Old Babylonian era administrative tablet written in Sumerian, dating from the reign of Išbi-Erra, which features both a fairly clean handwritten PAN and a cylinder seal impression containing a PAN written in a "monumental" (cleaner, more deliberate and usually archaic) style.

I've circled the handwritten sign in red and some of the seal impressions in green in the photo below (cropped and rearranged from the photo on CDLI, courtesy of the Yale Babylonian Collection):

A composite photograph of the Early Old Babylonian era administrative clay tablet (museum number NBC 7153) written in Sumerian cuneiform. The tablet contains handwritten cuneiform text with overlapping cylinder seal impressions. The picture shows the table photographed from all sides. On the obverse side the handwritten cuneiform sign PAN in circled in red. On the reverse side and on one of the edges seal impressions of the sign PAN are circled in green.

There are a few more seal impressions of the PAN sign on the tablet besides the ones I circled, including one just below and to the left of the handwritten PAN (partly covered by the red circle). The full seal impression is a bit hard to reconstruct since (as usual) the seal has been rolled over the handwritten text, but fortunately both the seal and the handwriting have already been traced separately.

Alas, CDLI does not currently seem to have line art of the seal, but both can be found in the book Babylonian Inscriptions in the Collection of James B. Nies, Yale University, vol. IX: Sumerian Economic Texts from the First Dynasty of Isin (a.k.a. "BIN 9" in common shorthand), which is conveniently available as a PDF from the Yale University web site. Here's the tracing of both the handwriting (obverse only, from plate XX, tablet 124) and the seal (from plate XCIII, seal I), with the sign PAN circled in both:

A "line art" tracing of the handwritten text on the obverse side of the cuneiform tablet above, with the sign PAN circled in green. A "line art" tracing / reconstruction of the cylinder seal impressed on the cuneiform tablet above, with the sign PAN circled in green.

The version of the PAN sign on the seal is basically the "W or M-shaped" Sumerian form, which isn't too surprising; the carved signs on seals, wall inscriptions, etc. tend to be "fancier" and retain archaic sign forms long after the signs became simplified in handwriting.

The handwritten form, meanwhile, is a nice example of the "typical Old Babylonian" form of PAN that I described above: a horizontal (or in this case somewhat upward-slanting) wedge, two stacked diagonal wedges (of which the upper one is somewhat ambiguous in direction) and a final horizontal wedge again.

(Note that the line art seems to show the upper diagonal wedge as somewhat more ambiguous than it looks to me in the photo; the upward corner of the wedge seems to extend further in the photo than it the drawing, making it look more clearly like an upward diagonal to me than the line art suggests.)

Anyway, the main point of this tangential digression (besides getting the details out of the comments and into the answer) is that when consulting primary sources like the CDLI for sign forms it's important to look at multiple examples to get a good idea of how much variation there was and what the "typical" form of the sign (in a particular period and region) looked like — after all, sloppy handwriting and scribal errors have always been a thing.

Also, while line art is typically cleaner and easier to read than photographs of actual tablet, when researching sign shapes it's good to at least check the line art against the photo (or multiple photos or a 3D scan or, if possible, the actual object). Drawing line art of a cuneiform text always involves some degree of subjective interpretation and educated guesswork, especially when the source artifact is poorly preserved, and it's easy to subtly "tidy up" the signs to better match what you think they should look like, rather than what's actually there in the clay.

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    Ps. I went through some of the other results, and it looks like the cursive sign form in the tablet above might be somewhat simpler than typical. I'll see if I can add some other examples later. (Honestly, though, most of the results feel pretty cursed: most of the time the PAN sign seems to be either damaged, right at the edge of a damaged area, an uncertain and possibly mistaken reading, or just a mess of wedges that I have no idea how anyone could read. Still, if I squint at the most readable results just right, I can kind of see a semi-consistent sign form emerge.) Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 20:50
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    @Xan-KunClark-Davis: That's… a good question. It's a composite, so the lack of pictures and museum numbers isn't surprising, since those would appear on the "witnesses" to it (i.e. the actual artifacts the composite was based on). But the composite you found has no witnesses listed on CDLI. What it does have is a "related publication" record that references RIME 4, so presumably more details could be found therein. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 16:33
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    … I took a peek, and RIME does provide a bit more info than CDLI, noting that "The seal impression is found on NBC 7153, from Isin, and measures 1.4 x 2.7 cm. The reading of the personal name is uncertain" and providing the following bibliography: "1954 Crawford, BIN 9 pl. xciii I (copy)", "1961 Hallo, BiOr 18 p. 5 Išbi-Irra 1: i (study)", "1968 Kärki, SKFZ p. 1 Išbierra 1 (edition)", "1980 Kärki, SAKAZ 1 p. 1 Išbierra 1 (edition)" And indeed, searching CDLI for "NBC 7153" does turn up cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/artifacts/236134. No idea why it's not listed as a witness. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 16:59
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    … In fact, the NBC 7153 tablet looks like a very nice example, since it contains the PAN sign both in handwriting and in "monumental" style as part of a seal impression. Unfortunately the line art on CDLI doesn't seem to include the seal impression (and it's quite hard to read from the photo), but it's on the last page (plate XCIII, drawing I) of BIN 9, which is conveniently online as a PDF. (Alas, the sign on the seal is just the "wavy" Sumerian version.) I'll add it to my answer once I have a bit more time. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 17:15
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    @Xan-KunClark-Davis: The PAN sign is certainly Sumerian in origin, as are (almost) all the signs used in Babylonian, Assyrian and Hittite cuneiform writing. However, the shapes of the sign changed over time (and varied between regions), as seen nicely in the excerpt from Labat in Draconis' answer. I assumed that you were asking what the PAN sign looked like during the Old Babylonian period, which is missing from Labat's book (presumably due to lack of attestations known to Labat back when it was written). Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 14:14

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