FRAL - Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

Texts, Tells and Semantics: Modelling the Historical Geography of Upper Mesopotamia in the 2nd mill. BC by an integrated analysis of cuneiform texts, archaeological data and space using geo-informatics and the semantic web – TEXTELSEM


Texts, tells and semantics: modelling the historical geography of Upper Mesopotamia in the 2nd millennium

An interdisciplinary cooperation for the historical geography of Upper Mesopotamia

The Franco-German cooperation project examined questions related to the historical geography of Upper Mesopotamia and the regions situated in the East of the Tigris during the 2nd millennium BC. The systematic comparison of the structural use of the space during two different historical periods opens up new perspectives for the comprehension of these regions. For the aim of research on historical geography, the Old Babylonian and Middle Assyrian written sources were confronted with each other, and they were also compared to the archaeological documentation concerning the Middle and Late Bronze Age. It seemed important to place research on historical geography on a reliable basis in order to be able to carry out the historical and geographical analysis of textual and archaeological data and to create tools for research. A huge number of Mesopotamian sites remain without any historical identification and as many ancient toponyms can only be approximately placed on a map. Ancient texts mention the names of settlements, rivers and regions. Put in relation with documents' content, they form a sort of of relative coordinate network. On the other hand, the surveyed or excavated sites represent the «absolute« equivalent of this «relative« network. The identification of the strucural realities of the landscape and of the archeaological sites with their ancient name remains a major goal for the research on Ancient Near Eastern historical geography.

The interdisciplinary project was developed in two stages (HIGEOMES and TEXTELSEM). A new method of analysis and data visualization in the field of historical geography was developed and combines the primary research in Near Eastern Archaeology and Assyriology with original research in Information technology. Information about settlement patterns and landscape were generated from archaeological and spatial data. From the texts the dense network of explicit and implicit information on places, landscapes and routes was extracted.
The quantity and complexity of the philological and archaeological data made the use of IT-based forms of knowledge management necessary and meaningful. The integration of different databases by ontological engineering methods using Semantic Web technologies has been realized.

In the context of the interdisciplinary cooperation, the whole documentation and the related bibliography have been gathered in the databases. Ontologies have been developed in order to combine the databases of the different fields and to make them accessible. TEXTELSEM was built on the work produced in the first phase of the project, HIGEOMES, but it also continued the development of methods by extending the research scope. The cooperation between the French and German partners made it possible to combine complementary skills, primary research and new methods of analysis and visualization.

The application (now hosted by the université de Bourgogne) is achevied. It gives access to the geographical indexation of the philological databases of Paris and Berlin. The application is translated and integrated in an OWL-type web-semantic ontology. Access to it is provided by

The GIS application is created by the German cooperation between Munich and Mainz. See

Future prospect:
Preparation of the publication
E. Cancik-Kirschbaum, A. Otto und N. Ziegler (ed.) in cooperation with C. Fink, M. Herles, C. Hess, A.-I. Langlois, J. Lloop, K. Petrow, Matériaux pour l'étude de la toponymie et de la topographie II. La Transtigrine au IIe millénaire av. J.-C / Materialien zu Toponymie und Topographie II. Der Osttigrisraum im 2. Jt. v. Chr. (MTT II), Paris
This publication is in preparation and should come out in fall 2018. Print, online and e-book.)
The website of the project aims to be a virtual working-space
Future texts will be indexed and bibliography actualised. For the Old-Babylonian documentation see (besides the website mentioned above) which will get a new tab ”HIGEOMES” (july 2018).
Le website ArchiMass will be launched in near future (Berlin).

Results of this project are recorded and published in various anthologies and individual studies (see for the complete enumeration
The two textual databases, Archibab (in Paris) and ArchiMass (in Berlin), as well as the archaeological sites database, HIGEOMES (Mainz/Munich), provide open access to the data. A WEBGIS tool and a semantic presentation (TEXTELSEM web application) enable the rapid projection of systematic archaeological and historical information.
For further details regarding the use of these tools, see the introduction of E. Cancik-Kirschbaum, A. Otto, N. Ziegler (éd.), Matériaux pour la toponymie et la topographie de la Haute Mésopotamie I / 1-3 (Paris 2016, abbreviated MTT I/1-3). Links to these computer tools are available on the project website

The project TEXTELSEM is a joint iniative of three disciplines: Ancient Near Eastern Archeology, Assyriology and Computer Science. It aims to (1) develop a platform that integrates spatial data from the archeological, geoarcheological and textual sources of the Ancient Near East and thus (2) to provide new methods and visualization tools for research in historical geography.
The cuneiform sources provide a 'thick net' of information regarding toponyms, landscapes, routes, and thoroughfares, both explicit and implicit. The archeological data yield information on settlement structures, and holloways, physical geography and environmental conditions. In the face of the ever increasing quantity and complexity of these data, the use of IT-based formats for knowledge management are a conditio sine qua non for future research. TEXTELSEM aims at connecting these different types of data through the creation of integrative concepts for the description of semantic data management. The project will develop transdisciplinary shared ontologies so as to umambigously describe the data generated within each of its member disciplines. TEXTELSEM will make use of the prototypes explored within the interdisciplinary project HIGEOMES, while at the same time elaborating and broadening both their field of application and the historical data included within them. From a geo-historical perspective, TEXTELSEM will encompass not only Upper Mesopotamia but also the lands East of the Tigris, a region that has witnessesed settlement cluster of the utmost importance within the history of the Ancient Near East. With the recent intensification of archeological field work in Iraqi Kurdistan, we have a unique opportunity to link actual geoarcheological data with the textual sources and provide new ideas and perspectives on the history of the 2nd millennium BCE. The chronological frame of the project reflects the fact that cuneiform sources from the Old Babylonian and Middle Assyrian Archives provide a detailed and at the same time complementary perspective on Upper Mesopotamia. Our French-German cooperation is characterised by complementary competences in a number of different fields, combining fundamental research in highly specialized areas of historical investigation with inspiring developments in new analytical methods and visualization techniques. The core feature is a coorporate knowledgebase system that integrates the expert data so as to allow not only for querying and disseminating, but also the retrieval of semi-automatically processed knowledge, knowledge that in turn encourages the formulation of new hypotheses. Techniques of knowledge discovery can also help to answer vague questions like "somewhere in Region XY" and are able to process assumed localisation of places based on the available information. The technologies developed in the context of this project (datamodels and visualization concepts) can then be applied to other periods and geographical regions.

Project coordination

Nele ZIEGLER (Proche-Orient, Caucase: langues, archéologie, cultures) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Altorientalistik, FU Berlin Institut für Altorientalistik, FU Berlin
Le2i Laboratoire Electronique Informatique et Image
Collège de France Proche-Orient, Caucase: langues, archéologie, cultures

Help of the ANR 321,048 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2014 - 36 Months

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