Hittite Empire - Cuneiform and Cylinder Seals

Week 6: We made cylinder seals and tried cuneiform writing.

The Hittites were a people of European descent who built an empire in central Turkey during the same time period as when the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians prospered. The empire and the people mysteriously disappeared until it was rediscovered by archaeologists.

We watched this 60 minute video called the Lords of Hattusa. It was about the discovery of the Hittite empire and their society. Archaeologists found the remains of more than one library in Hattusa. The movie details how they were able to crack the code of the Hittite language in cuneiform script.

Clay tablets containing cuneiform script were found all over ancient Mesopotamia. This early writing was first used for business transactions, but later used in many forms much as we use writing today. Archaeologists have found over 700 symbols in the clay tables which contain personal letters, stories, and business transactions.

The writing apparatus known as a stylus was triangular in shape and made from reeds. I made ours out of crayons using a knife to carve them into triangles. The next day as my son was eating a carrot he asked me why I didn't make the stylus out of a carrot. I think he had a great idea. That would also have worked well.

Although there were many characters we just looked at a few.

Cuneiform is a phonetic alphabet. It was used by people who spoke different languages. This is similar to how English, Spanish, French and German share a similar alphabet. Although we many not understand the meaning of the words in those languages, we can sound them out and pronounce them with some degree of accuracy.

The kids had symbols assigned to each letter of the English language. They used the symbols to make secret messages. The tablet above says I am not a farmer.

This is their alphabet.

Cylinder seals are similar to modern day signatures or stamps. They are carved cylinders that were rolled into the clay tablets to display ownership. Each seal was unique.

We made our own unique cylinder seals using old spice jars, foam and jewels. If I had it to do over again I would probably use corks instead of spice jars, as the cylinder seals that were found were much smaller.

To see our other activities connected with history, please visit our history page.


  1. Great activities we did many similar things... If you would like a book on that period we read the Hitite Warrior http://www.amazon.com/Hittite-Warrior-Living-History-Library/dp/1883937388

    We learned quite a bit about that period we found it in our library but it is also on the Sonlight light book reading list. :)

  2. I think the spice jar seals are cute - I think they would be easier to handle for my kids than smaller seals. We made some using fima clay once but I messed up the baking instructions and they broke, oops.
    Very cool that your son was still thinking about this next day and made the connection. My kids have loved doing hieroglyphics, Greek, Chinese & Japanese but somehow we missed cuneiform - I'll look forward to coming back to it. I like the way you explain how cuneiform was an alphabet used for writing different languages.

  3. This is So fun and wonderful learning! I LOVE rolling the spice containers in dough! Thanks for sharing with us at Share It Saturday!
    Colleen at Sugar Aunts


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