Sumerian symbols for animals depict their genitals

The complementary relationship between female and male animal signs in cuneiform suggests that these signs are not arbitrary. The authors of Archaic Bookkeeping did not order the animals the way I have because they appear to be unaware of this complementary relationship at the time the book was written, which they make clear on page 116: “Abstract or arbitrarily shaped signs lacking any comprehensible association to the object depicted, for example, the circle and cross denoting ‘small cattle.’” A circle with a cross inside is a target. According to the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, small cattle would have been a fitting target for early male human desire. According to his data (which was meticulous), 17% of men who grow up on farms admit to having sex with farm animals. (My husband jokes that the other 83% are liars…)

However, on page 89, Archaic Bookkeeping has this graphic:

Perhaps because there are four authors, they didn’t all concur.

Jennifer Ball


  1. JosephK on 02/26/2015 at 11:38 am

    Since when have linguists called pictographs or ideographs arbitrary?

  2. Jennifer Ball on 05/31/2015 at 4:35 pm

    Often. "The signs for sheep and goat have an abstract character," Archaic Bookkeeping, Writing and Techniques of Economic Administration the the Ancient Near East (page 89). Also on page 116: "Abstract or arbitrarily shaped signs lacking any comprehensible association to the object depicted, for example the circle and cross denoting 'small cattle…'"

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