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Irving Leonard Finkel: British philologist and Assyriologist

Irving Leonard Finkel is a British philologist and Assyriologist. He is currently the Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum, where he specialises in cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Mesopotamia.

Finkel earned a PhD in Assyriology from the University of Birmingham under the supervision of Wilfred G. Lambert with a dissertation on Babylonian exorcistic spells against demons.


Finkel spent three years as a Research Fellow at the University of Chicago Oriental Institute. In 1976 he returned to the UK, and he was appointed as Assistant Keeper in the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum, where he was (and remains) responsible for curating, reading and translating the museum’s collection of around 130,000 cuneiform tablets.

In 2014, Finkel’s discovery of a cuneiform tablet that contained a Flood narrative similar to that of the story of Noah’s Ark, described in his book The Ark Before Noah, was widely reported in the news media. The ark described in the tablet was circular, essentially a very large coracle or kuphar and made of rope on a wooden frame. The tablet included sufficient details of its dimensions and construction to enable a copy of the ark to be made at about 1/3 scale and successfully floated, as documented in a 2014 TV documentary.

Finkel is an Honorary Member of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity of the University of Birmingham and a Council Member of the Anglo-Israel Archaeology Society.
Board games

Finkel studies the history of board games, and is on the Editorial Board of Board Game Studies. Among his breakthrough works is the determination of the rules of the Royal Game of Ur.
Great Diary Project

Finkel founded the Great Diary Project, a project to preserve the diaries of ordinary people. In association with the Bishopsgate Institute, Finkel has helped to archive over 2,000 personal diaries. In 2014, the V&A Museum of Childhood held an exhibition of the diaries of children written between 1813 and 1996.
Finkel has written a number of works of fiction for children.

Finkel lives in southeast London with his wife Joanna. He has five children.


Finkel, I.L. (2014). The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-1444757057.
Finkel, I. L., ed. (2008). Ancient Board Games in Perspective: Papers from the 1990 British Museum colloquium with additional contributions. London: British Museum.
Finkel, I.L.; Geller, M.J., eds. (2007). The Wellcome Conference on Babylonian Medicine. Styx.
Finkel, I.L. “Report on the Sidon Cuneiform tablet”. Archaeology & History in Lebanon. 24 (Autumn 2006): 114–20.
Finkel, I.L. (2005). “Documents of the Physician and Magician”. In Spar, I.; Lambert, W.G. Cuneiform Inscriptions in the Metropolitan Museum. New York. pp. 155–76.
Finkel, I.L. (2005). “Explanatory Commentary on a List of Materia Medica”. In Spar, I.; Lambert, W.G. Cuneiform Inscriptions in the Metropolitan Museum. New York. pp. 279–83.
Finkel, I.L. (2003). “Pachisi in Arab Garb”. Board Games Studies. 5: 65–78.
Finkel, I.L.; Reade, J.E. (2002). “On some inscribed Babylonian alabastra”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 12 (01): 31–46.

Finkel, Irving (2012). Miss Barbellion’s Garden. Kennedy & Boyd. ISBN 978-1-84921-071-3.
Finkel, Irving (2010). Swizzle de Brax and the Blungaphone. Kennedy & Boyd. ISBN 978-1-84921-082-9.
Finkel, Irving (2008). The Princess Who Wouldn’t Come Home. Kennedy & Boyd. ISBN 978-1-904999-80-5.
Finkel, Irving (2007). The Last Resort Library. Kennedy & Boyd. ISBN 978-1-904999-41-6.

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