Cuneiform Astronomy: The Planets in Mesopotamian Cuneiform Sources

I get asked all the time, “How do you know Sitchin is wrong about aliens in Sumerian tablets?” Short answer: Because I get my information from the actual ancient scribes. Here’s one example among many that could be offered.  It’ s a free PDF paper (28 pp) on the planets in Mesopotamian sources (i.e., the actual cuneiform astronomical texts — also known as the stuff Zecharia Sitchin hides from his readers).  I thought those of you interested in divine into the actual source material for this sort of thing might like it. If you are committed to the ancient Anunnaki astronaut nonsense already, you might want to avoid that link. Actual sources have a way of demolishing this belief system.

A few things to notice as you read:

1. Take this information back to Zecharia Sitchin’s works and check and see if the way he explains the gods and astronomical bodies align with the source texts (Hint: it doesn’t — but don’t rely on my word).  Then ask yourself why Sitchin didn’t get this right. I’ll leave it to you to speculate on why.

2. Look at page 9 – the list of planets and their deity names. Notice anything? Count them. According to Sumerian sources, the Sumerians did *not* know twelve planets, contra Sitchin. And the chart shows no knowledge of a planet beyond Saturn (they are all visible to the trained naked eye). This is devastating proof that from their own tablets that the Sumerians had no advanced astronomical knowledge from aliens.

26 thoughts on “Cuneiform Astronomy: The Planets in Mesopotamian Cuneiform Sources

  1. Hi, after I’ve read the article I felt that with all respect to you and dr. Mayr, at the point where you explain “Line 3” as “your/his servant”, even when in German it’s written “dein Knecht” wich in most cases more sounds like “your Knight” or better say “your Lord/ruler”. When the Germany was split into many lands, Landsknecht or Knecht was like a king in his own land. So they still use the word for a ruler. Let’s just look at VA243 with an open-mind, let’s clear it of any circumstances, what would we see? A powerful man, a deity, sitting in a chair, speaks to a couple of guys standing in front of him – one better looking guy is leading another by hand, and worse-looking guy is holding a tool in his hand like a slave or a worker. And this man tells them – you, dub-siga (repeated twice, cause spoken to a couple maybe), I’m Ili-illat (doesn’t it sound il Allah to you?) your ruler! From this point of view everything stands on it’s places, one guy from a distant planet holding a guy from the 3rd planet by his hand, isn’t it symbolic enough for Annunaki and humans? And the Great Lord is above both civilizations? Could be Annunaki deity? From this point again, it explains why they didn’t use their “sun” symbol for the star, for the deity it’s just a star in the center of a planet system, nothing so special to use weaving hands, it doesn’t give him worm or good harvest. Or maybe from Annunaki point of view it’s not worthy enough to use a special symbol for it, as it is just one of the stars. This plate could be much more mysterious then it seems.

    • short answer – you need to read some Sumerian mythology; the Anunnaki aren’t going to be confused with this other stuff if you do that (and one rule of thumb — if a tablet doesn’t mention the Anunnaki, we have no right to insert them in that text).

  2. i was reading on the cylinder seal and i agree at looking at sumerian depictions with an open mind and also agree about actually knowing wats being depicted. but isnt the sun along with other suns in the universe scientifically defined as a “star” and would it matter which way the sumerian scribe depicts a star?

    • yes, but we cannot use that scientific definition as though the Sumerians did. They had no modern astronomical knowledge like that — and we know that is the case since their knowledge of astronomy is quite inadequate in many respects (like thinking the stars and planets were deities, knowing no planet beyond Saturn, etc.). See some of my other recent posts on their astronomy.

  3. ok thank you. i have two questions 1. is the entire sumerian lexicon fully translated yet or are there still some gaps in it b/c i myself am interested in the sumerian culture and want to try and study the language myself. and 2. what are your views on humanity, what im trying to say is do you think the human race is the pinnacle of creation?

    • The question is imprecise, but that isn’t your fault since ancient languages aren’t your field. Let me try to answer this and give you the correct picture. (1) All the Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual dictionaries (actual tablets) have been translated for years. It is through these (through Akkadian, which is very well understood) that Sumerian word meanings are understood / deciphered. For vocabulary in Sumerian tablets not in these lists, enough vocab and resulting grammar is known, and enough literature exists in Sumerian that overlaps with Akkadian literature (like epics) that most of the other words are readily discernible. There are still words now and then that scholars argue about or that are not well known. The vast majority of the language is known. (2) In terms of a lexicon, the most comprehensive lexicon is still in process (Univ of Pennsylvania project). Three volumes have been published. The raw materials for the lexicon are published and available free on the web, but that data has to be fashioned into a lexicon (English dictionaries have to be edited and built, too). If you looked at one volume you’d see it’s more than just word lists. It’s word discussions, tablet citations, and secondary literature citations. It takes a while. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary took over 50 years to assemble. Lesser dictionaries (without all the discussion and references) are available, like that by John Halloran.

      On humanity, yes I think we are the pinnacle. I don’t understand the point of the question, though. A fundamentalist and an atheistic proponent of human evolution would both agree with that, but for quite different reasons.

  4. well on humanity how can you be so smart yet so ignorant to believe that humanity is the pinnacle of creation simply for the reason being that we live in a galaxy in which our solar system is the youngest part, and our galaxy is amongst million or billions of other galaxys that couldve formed stars to support planets similar to our own way before our galaxy was formed ….. and if you sit down and really think about it, humanity as a whole and our planet is nothing but a speck of dust in an infinite universe.

  5. but thats exactly the problem you are a smart individual that doesnt think beyond or outside your own train of thought for example during the 1800s if we were to go back and talk to them about flying they would(in my opinion) think of it as an impossible feat to accomplish for humanity like if it takes us just 100 or so years to acheive flight from when we were in the 1800s who are we to say that we are the only intelligent life forms in the galaxy

    and another question why would our primitive ancestors that practically just came out of the stone age build all of these megalithic structures with such precision that its even complicated for our own tools and technology to replicate?

    • You obviously aren’t reading the material I post. It may astonish you (and it does me, since I’m no engineer), but people really did have the tools (and lots of labor) to build these things. I’ve seen a video of one man erecting a 20,000 pound slab of concrete into upright position with only 2x4s and a knowledge of leverage and counterweight ( I don’t believe he is any smarter than the best Egyptian or Incan engineers. In fact, I’m betting they knew a lot more than he does.

  6. yes im not disagreeing with that. but then you have to think about how long it took us to figure out what kind of leverage we needed in order to replicate it im not saying at all that its impossible it is just extremely difficult and to have our ancient ancestors building megaliths with some having precise cuts on some of the hardest rock known to man such as granite and others for no particular reason just baffles me

    • I’m not sure why it matters how long it took if humans thought of it. They had their own reasons. Just because we don’t assign importance to it doesn’t mean they didn’t.

  7. I believe you are missing the point Mr. Heiser, as Alexey points out. Yes, Nibirians and Nibiru aren’t in the text, but that’s not what is being argued for by Sitchin. Like you, I have many problems with Zechariah Sitchin, namely that he is a materialist in the way he reads texts, but the argument here by Sitchin is an INDUCTIVE one, not a textual one, and you fail to address it on those grounds. The whole problem is not going to be a knock down from a single discipline.

    • so, you can give us the pages in Sitchin’s books where he denies or disavows a connection between Nibiru and the Anunnaki? I’d love to see them.

  8. Documents about sumerian and generically mesopotamian astronomy/astrology must be read and understood, not just quoted. The work by Veede & Kasak, which I have been dealing with long time ago and which I have extensively used in writing my first book of sumerian myths translations, is a masperpiece that indirectly gives big support to many of sitchin’s quotes. First of all, the fact that modern identification of planets is fully artibrary and unmotivated. We have, both linguistically and mythologically, various deities that are attributed to the same planet (as in the case of Nergal – Nindara – Gibil with Mars) and sometimes we have the same name used for two planets. It is important to say and always remember that thes identifications are made by OUR SCHOLARS and not by akkadians or sumerians. I.E.: according to accademic scholars Babbar is the name for: Jupiter and Mars. But Babbar is one of the names of Shamash, infact his temple was called Ebabbar (house of the shiny one). So we would have the same name for at least 3 entities… and when it comes to Nibiru? There we can really smile because there are at least 4 attribution to Nibiru according to the scholars, obviously indicating that any of those is for sure.

    Another thing that comes out reading the document is the ambiguous (and undealt with by scholars) meaning and behaviour of the MUL / KAKKAB which indicates every kind of object in the night sky (literally : MI + UL = ornament of the night) which had a proper sign but was sometimes constructed phonetically with MUL2 or with GI6 – or even replaced with a similar-sounding cuneiform sign which had completely different meaning (as MUL4).
    This is the base for Sitchin identification of the meaning of MANY words constructed phonetically and that cannot always be translated via the meanings of every single sign composing them i.e.:

    – MU which must not be looked for as MU but MUD6+U5

    – ANUNNAKI which must not be looked for as +A+NUN+NA+ke[ne] but phonetically AN + NUN + NA + KI . Infact akkadians traslations of sumerian texts always report Anunnaki in lieu de ANUNNA (sumerian word appearing everywhere), even when no genitive is justified in translation)

    this concept was also reported by Hugo Radau, Daniel Foxvog, and other accademically recognized authors.

    • I wonder how the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary project missed this? Sounds like gematria applied to the texts. I’d like the first question explained (I’ll let you do so before looking myself or just asking Steve Tinney of the PSD myself). It would help if you included citations from your sources. And none of this proves (or even suggests) that the Sumerians knew of any planets beyond Saturn.

  9. Hi Michael,
    You’re awesome for responding to most everyone’s questions/comments, especially those written in butchered English :) I enjoy reading your blog as well and I appreciate your effort to set the record straight on this sensationalized issue.

  10. Greetings, I have been in a number of debates as of late concerning the origins of the Sumerian language and I must say I’m confused. Someone informed me that it was Henry Rawlinson who was the first to decipher the cuneiform language first, and he was successful in doing this by way of the similarities in the Niger-congo languages of Africa.

    I have been doing searches all over the net and I find a few references to this, but I would feel more secure getting clarity from a Sumerian expert.

    Question, Did Henry Rawlinson use African languages to decode the Sumerian language?

    And a related question, were the Sumerians of an ancient African group that settled in the area we know today as Sumer? Please help me with this, it’s very confusing to me…thanks.

    • no, and no. While a blog is no place to rehash the decipherment of Sumerian, you can find some good information here (a recent online scholarly Sumerian grammar):

      From page 3 of the above source:

      In the third millennium BCE, Sumerian was surrounded by unrelated languages. In Mesopotamia itself, Sumerian was spoken in the area closest to the Persian Gulf, while the Semitic language Akkadian was at home in the neighbouring area more upstream on the Euphrates and Tigris. Farther away, in northern Syria, we find other Semitic languages, Eblaite and Amorite. Since the Semitic languages belong to the Afro-Asiatic language family, their ultimate origin lies in Africa, but they spread into the Middle East very early. By 2600 BCE, they had expanded so far into Syria and Mesopotamia that Akkadian was already used in parts of southern Mesopotamia, steadily reducing the area where Sumerian was spoken. This process of language
      shift in Mesopotamia did not only lead to the death of the Sumerian language itself, but most probably also obliterated its closest relatives (Michalowski 2000: 180).

      My guess is that, since Semitic languages are part of the Afro-Asiatic umbrella language family, someone may mistake a connection between African languages and Akkadian (Akkadian is Semitic). But Akkadian is not Sumerian. Akkadian is a Semitic language whose people borrowed the Sumerian SCRIPT idea (cuneiform). Sumerian is not Semitic. It’s “unaffiliated.” That said, certain elements of what it does are known to have been done in other languages (e.g., agglutination – That doesn’t mean there is a “familial” relationship between such languages. Example – English and Hebrew both put the definite article in front of a noun; they aren’t related. There are only so many ways languages can accomplish tasks. If Rawlinson knew something of an African dialect, it’s conceivable some analogous nugget may have helped guide his thinking (again, by analogy), but that doesn’t mean there is any relation at all. Two entirely different propositions. I might discern something as I study (“hey, Ugaritic does that the way English does it”) but they are absolutely unrelated.

      Also, the decipherment of the earliest Sumerian material is a matter of mathematics and accounting, not linguistics per se:

  11. i am a person with interest in things and i am wondering if you have written what the tablets are really saying according to your knowledge if so where can i read about it

  12. You have wasted years of study and research to attempt to disprove one scholar who attempted to help others. You see you scholars became scholarly over subjects that should be taken simply. How you have wasted yours and others time is amazing. As such a great scholar that you are, your time and resources should have been spent concluding the bottom line of the one verse from the bible that leads us ALL to this discussion and debate. Genesis 6:4 (I’m sure you have this one committed to memory). It doesn’t matter what WORD is used, what matters is the TRUTH. WHO ARE THESE GIANTS? WHERE DID THEY COME FROM? AND DO THEY STILL EXIST? How did you overlook the entire theory and spend so much time on semantics? This is what the people need your expertise in deciphering.

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