Cuneiform Kits for Kids
Cuneiform is a system of writing developed in ancient Mesopotamia c. 3500-3000 BC. The name comes from the Latin word cuneus for ‘wedge’ owing to the wedge-shaped style of writing. In cuneiform, a reed was pressed into soft clay to produce wedge-like impressions that represent word-signs (pictographs) and, later, phonograms or ‘word-concepts’ (closer to a modern day understanding of a ‘word’). Ancient Assyrians used cuneiform until it was abandoned in favor of the alphabetic script.
Here’s a simple and fun way to teach your kids about what it would’ve been like to write like an Ancient Assyrian. We recently had a several field trip groups stop by AUAF, and came up with this fun take-home activity. Cuneiform Kits are a huge hit with the kids. They’re a great touch to a goodie bag, and a fun way to keep kids busy at the next family gathering.
- Play-Doh (any colors)
- Avery labels
- Cuneiform alphabet key
- Treat bag with twist-tie
- We started by covering the Play-Doh logo with labels we printed that read: “The past is set in stone, but the future is unwritten.” We purchased these Avery labels and printed them ourselves via www.avery.com/print. This step is optional—we just thought it added a nice touch.
- Print cuneiform alphabet keys. You can find different versions online (the symbols evolved over time), but we’ve done a lot of digging and found one that works very well with children. Download it here (PDF). To save paper, you can display the key on a tablet instead.
- Find something to use as a stylus. We ordered these wooden styluses for cheap from Amazon. You can try other items (i.e. Popsicle or lollipop sticks) but they don’t usually work as well.
- Fill a treat bag (we got ours from Walmart) with one of each item: Play-Doh, stylus, and key. We resized the key so that it fit. Use a twist tie to seal.
- Children should spread their Play-Doh out so that it resembles a clay tablet.
- Using the cuneiform key as a guide, they should try to spell out words in ancient cuneiform. The possibilities here are endless. With younger kids, we recommend giving them a list of words to write in cuneiform on their “tablet.” Some ideas: their name, Assyria, their favorite color, their favorite animal.
- Once they’re ready to start a new word, they simply roll up the Play-Doh and restart.
- If you’re working in a group, it’s fun to have the kids write a word for their peers to decipher.
- Once finished, all items should go back in the bag and be stored away for next time.
Check out some photos from St. Mary Assyrian Church of the East School’s recent trip to AUAF. They loved the activity and were excited they got a Cuneiform Kit to take home.