Big Day Out, 7th June 2008

 
 

The ZIPANG Big Day Out combined a morning visit to the British Museum with an afternoon workshop at the Poetry Café. The theme of the day was the origin of writing and the cuneiform or ‘wedge-shaped’ script known in Arabic as al-khett al-mismari, meaning ‘naily line’.

We began the morning with a visit to the Assyrian gallery in Room 9 on the ground-floor of the British Museum for the Find-the-Signs tour guided by Fran Hazelton and Zoe Bratis. Looking closely at one of the Assyrian narrative friezes, we followed the story of a great guardian bull quarried in the rocky district named Balatay. We saw the bull dragged by Babylonian prisoners-of-war under the command of Assyrian soldiers to the nature reserve where it was inspected by King Sennacherib. We identified cuneiform signs for Balatay in the inscription on the frieze. The bull was part of a great building project in Nineveh in 700 BCE. At this time Nineveh was the cosmopolitan capital of the Middle East, beside the river Tigris.

Then people climbed the wide, white winding staircase and walked across the glass bridge to the Mesopotamian galleries in Rooms 55 and 56. Here they used their Mesopotamian Heritage Trail quiz-books to find items and answer questions about them.

Click here to see a video of the ZIPANG Big Day Out at the British Museum.

In the afternoon workshop at the Poetry Café, Birkbeck College tutors Dr Mariana Giovino and Frans van Koppen answered questions about Mesopotamian history and literature. Together with their students, Simon Smith and Irmengard Baker, they then helped people to write on wet clay tablets the cuneiform signs for Balatay identified in the inscription seen at the British Museum.

ZIPANG storyteller June Peters told a Sumerian story about the world’s first diplomatic letter and the origin of trade. This story is known as Enmerkar and Aratta after the king of Uruk and his rival, the lord of Aratta.

The day ended with Iraqi folk and classical music played by oud-player Khyam Allami with percussionist Elizabeth Nott.

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