Anne Draffkorn Kilmer with permission of National Museum, Damascus

On this song tablet from Ugarit the text is incised in cuneiform characters from left to right. The lyrics are inscribed on both sides of the tablet above the double line; the musical notations appear only on the obverse below the double line. The four lines of text above the two parallel lines are inscribed in Hurrian, the language of a people who lived in Mesopotamia from the third millennium B.C. or earlier. These four lines are the lyrics of a hymn to the goddess Nikkal, consort of the moon god. Two angle wedges are inscribed at the far left and right between the parallel lines. These signs, known to mean “twice” or “double” in other contexts, have been interpreted to indicate a musical “repeat.”

The six lines of cuneiform signs below the parallel lines provide interval names followed by numbers. This combination represents the musical notations for the song. Akkadian names of intervals have been borrowed and these are rendered in Hurrianized form. On the reverse lower side of the song tablet from Ugarit is the “colophon” or label for the song. The colophon was written in Akkadian, a language familiar to the ancient Hurrian scholars of Ugarit. The colophon identifies the song type and provides the name of the musical scale: “This is a song in niµd qibli, a hymn (?) of the gods,from the collection of Mr. Urhiya; copied by Mr. Ammurapi.” (niµd qibli is the name of the scale or tuning in which the song was played and is the same as our major scale.) What the hymn itself means is not fully known since we have only a limited understanding of Hurrian. Only one phrase of the hymn has been securely translated: “Thou (the goddess), lovest them in (thy) heart.”