November 11, 2006


Codex game show

From The Times of London: "Museums at night can be spooky places. Did that statue of an Assyrian man-beast stir? Was that a creaking noise coming from the shrivelled mummy in the Egyptian sarcophagus? Hoping to exploit this unsettling atmosphere, Diverse Production has hooked up with the British Museum to produce Codex, an archaeological game show, combining arcane scripts, coded clues and riddles with ancient history-lite." "Like the show, we start in the Arched Room, a huge gallery that houses the museum’s collection of about 130,000 clay tablets of cuneiform writing from Ancient Mesopotamia. The curator, Irving Finkel, explains that most tablets have yet to be translated. They include histories, dictionaries, grammars, financial records and incredibly detailed and accurate astronomical observations that have allowed scholars to date historical events exactly. Irving belongs to a tiny community of international experts who can read cuneiform, though the wicked thought crosses my mind that few would know if he was making it all up. The script, with its tiny wedge-shaped markings, was used to write all-important Middle Eastern languages for thousands of years. Scholars don’t know how far back it stretches, as all the examples dug up so far are in a fully formed version [sic]. Apparently there are mounds of debris all over Iraq still waiting to be excavated, and being ruthlessly pillaged by thieves during the current occupation." "Other tablets reveal that teachers used to keep pupils amused during grammar classes by getting them to conjugate the verb 'to fart'. ... Then it’s on to the winged bulls and violent Assyrian friezes. To be honest, my tour of the museum with Irving seems more fun than the show, but don’t let me put you off. Mesopotamia is followed by episodes on Rome, China, the Anglo-Saxons and Egypt. You can play along at home ..."

I'm curious how this goes... The first, Mesopotamian episode airs tomorrow (Sunday) on the UK's Channel 4 at 6:40 p.m. Can someone from Britain let me know how they liked it?

• P. Hoggart, "It's all Babylonian to me. In the dim recesses of the British Museum Paul Hoggart journeys to Mesopotamia with Tony Robinson’s history quiz," in The Times (UK), November 11, 2006


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