Photo of actual Babylonian tablets

The earliest known writing system originated over 5000 years ago in what is now Iran, Iraq and other parts of Western Asia. This writing system, called "cuneiform," was used by the ancient Persian kings to make their decrees known, and to audit the tax returns of their many subjects. The characters were inscribed on clay or stone tablets using wedge-like instruments. Although many inscriptions have survived, the writing system was not deciphered by modern scholars until 1846.

In this puzzle you will carry out the kind of work that these scholars had to do to decipher the cuneiform writing system. The following is a fragment from a Babylonian educational document that was discovered in 1811. It was this document that allowed scholars to unlock the number system used by the ancient Babylonians. From this, scholars were able to extend their understanding to the entire writing system. Many of the characters are illegible because of the ravages of time. Nevertheless, it is possible to figure out what the missing characters should be. Your job is to fill in the missing characters:

Babylonian tablet

Original Russian version by A. N. Zhurinskij, copyright (c) 1995 Russian State University for the Humanities. English adaptation by Thomas E. Payne.