Kate Kelley

Research Interests

  • Ancient Near Eastern societies and economies
  • Sumerian, Akkadian, and Elamite languages / (proto-)cuneiform and proto-Elamite writing systems
  • Digital humanities; the preservation and politics of cultural heritage
  • Gender designations and gender roles in early Mesopotamia


Current Projects

Computational Analysis of Proto-Elamite

This is a collaborative project with Professor Anoop Sarkar and his graduate students at Simon Fraser University’s School of Computing Science. Proto-Elamite (c. 3200-2900 BC) is a partially-deciphered script from ancient Iran. With around 1700 surviving clay tablets inscribed in this script, it is the largest undeciphered corpus from the ancient world. The texts are all accounts, listing undeciphered contents along with the mostly-understood numerical signs. Thanks to the efforts of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, the entire proto-Elamite corpus is digitally catalogued along with consistently-coded transliterations, making the data ripe for exploring advances in un-supervised and partially-supervised decipherment algorithms and other data-mining techniques. My doctoral dissertation contributed to understanding proto-Elamite script, and I act as the historical and linguistic specialist in this ongoing project.

The collection of ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

This project is funded by a small grant from the Crowther-Benyon Fund, Cambridge University (2018). I am studying the physical and stylistic features, as well as the inscriptions, of this unique collection, which is largely the result of donations from bead collector Horace Beck.

Past projects

In 2016–2017 I was a Research Associate for the Oxford/Southampton/CNRS Paris collaborative project “Seals and Their Impressions in the Ancient Near East”, obtaining 3D images of thousands of cylinder seals in the National Library of France, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge). I have also been working for the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative since 2012, digitizing cuneiform tablets in museum collections internationally.

Kate earned her BA at UBC in CNERS (2007), and her Masters (2012) and Doctorate of Philosophy (2018) from the Oriental Institute, Oxford University. From 2016-2017 she was Research Associate at Oxford University for the project “Seals and Their Impressions in the Ancient Near East”, and has been a Research Associate at Simon Fraser University’s Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology since 2017.


  • “Digital Imaging of Artefacts: Developments in Methods and Aims”. Edited by K. Kelley and R. K. L. Wood. Oxford: Archaeopress. Forthcoming (In Press)
  • “A structured light approach to imaging ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals: how efficient 3D imaging can facilitate corpus-wide research”, with K. Martinez, D. Young, and J. L. Dahl. In K. Kelley and R. K. L. Wood (eds) Digital Imaging of Artefacts: Developments in Methods and Aims. Oxford: Archaeopress. Forthcoming (In Press)
  • “A note on cataloguing cylinder seals: including weight”, with J. L. Dahl. Cuneiform Digital Library Notes (2018/2)
  • “Proto-Elamite worker categories”, with J. L. Dahl and L. Hawkins. In Garcia-Ventura (ed), What’s in a Name? Terminology and job categories in the Ancient Near East. Alter Orient und Altes Testament Series 440, 15–44. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag (2018)
  • “Dhi Al-ṣawla rock images”, with P. Yule. In P. Yule (ed), Zafar, Capital of Himyar: Rehabilitation of a ‘Decadent’ Society. Excavations of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg 1998-2010 in the Highlands of Yemen.