Tag Archives: Sumerian cuneiform

The Invention of Writing

Writing is another invention critical to the development of civilization.  The history of writing is complicated because there is no agreement on what constitutes writing and where and how it developed. For the blog purposes, Sumerian and Egyptian writing will be used as examples. True writing which is an encoded record of a spoken language was preceded by pictographs – pictures representing the object themselves and by proto-writing – a system of ideographs that have expanded beyond referring to only an object.

Egyptian Papyrus

True writing appears in Mesopotamia, specifically Sumer, and Egypt in 3200 BC. Cuneiform script, the original Sumerian writing system, originated from a system of clay tokens used to represent commodities. It evolved into a pictographic system incised into clay tablets with a stylus but by 2600 BC had become a set of syllables representing the Sumerian language.

The Rosetta Stone

Egyptian hieroglyphics followed a similar evolution. While some writing was inscribed on stone, ink and papyrus were also used. The system of hieroglyphics was difficult to learn. Scribes, part of an educated elite who had completed intense training, were used by the temples, pharaohs, and military to maintain records. Jean-Francois Champollion who used the Rosetta Stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics accomplished one of the great academic feats of the 19th century.   Tomorrow,  A System of Laws     Rita Bay

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