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Detail of a cuneiform tablet, NM44.18

Early Writing

Develop skills of primary source analysis for secondary History studies
Critical analysis of primary source material is a key skill for historians and students of both Ancient and Modern history. This skill is demonstrated through an ability to study the details of an object or text and provide a cohesive and contextual interpretation of the information.

In the videos below, education officer Sareeta Zaid examines three objects with cuneiform inscriptions from the Nicholson Collection, and looks critically at their context, meaning and significance. Cuneiform features small wedge shaped characters and is one of the earliest forms of writing. Each video provides a succinct contextual analysis of the object and highlights its significance.

When you listen to these videos think about the information that has been included in these short commentaries and keep this in mind next time you are asked to write a primary source analysis or gobbet. More information on all these objects can be found on our collection search; Cuneiform Tablet, Cuneiform BrickCuneiform Inscribed Cone.

Cuneiform Tablet

Download transcript (docx, 1MB)

Cuneiform Brick

Download transcript (docx, 1MB)

Cuneiform Inscribed Cone

Download transcript (docx, 1MB)

Access a 3D view of this object on Pedestal.


Essential Skills and Independent Research

When using objects from museum collections as part of your research it is essential to include the reference information just as you would for a written source. You need to cite the name of the object (or title of an art work), the associated date (or date range), where it comes from, as well as the museum identification number (also known as inventory or registration number) and the name of the collection or museum itself.

For a wall painting fragment the necessary components are:

  • Name: Fragment of Pompeian wall painting
  • Date: circa AD 60-80
  • From: Italy
  • Museum number: NM80.49
  • Museum: Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney.

In a picture caption, in-text reference or footnote you can write this information as:

Fragment of Pompeian wall painting, circa AD60-80, Italy. NM80.49, Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney.

To reference the object and its information from our collection search in your reference list or bibliography you can use the same information but make sure to include the dedicated link to the object: Many referencing styles also require you to include the date you accessed the information.

Pick an object from our collection using the collection search and write a source analysis - aim to research and write 300 words on the object.

Remember to consider context, meaning and significance in your response.

Featured image (top of the page):  Cuneiform tablet, Iraq, 1831 - 1811 BC (detail).