Assyriology explores the languages, cultures, and history of ancient Mesopotamia (modern: Iraq) as well as its neighbouring regions, Anatolia, Syria, and Iran. These first advanced civilizations in human history developed over a vast time period, ranging from the first written documents around 3200 BC to the 2nd century AD.
The two most important Mesopotamian languages are Akkadian (Babylonian-Assyrian), the oldest documented Semitic language, and the linguistic isolate Sumerian. Both languages were written in cuneiform, which for three millennia represented the most important writing system in the ancient Near East and was also adopted for use by other languages, e.g., Hittite, Hurrian, Elamite, Ugaritic, and Old Persian. It is estimated that there are 600,000 cuneiform tablets in existence, of which only a fraction has so far been published and studied – newly found tablets increase this number continually. The corpus of the cuneiform texts is thus, among classical studies, rivalled in volume only by ancient Greek studies. Unlike Greek studies, however, these are all primary sources, i.e., original documents that were written in antiquity and remained buried for a long period. Their content was rediscovered when the cuneiform script was deciphered and new aspects of these ancient texts are rediscovered continuously by modern philologists.