The Advent of Writing

James R. CoffeyStarred Page By James R. Coffey, 23rd Mar 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1z6fpb_y/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Languages

Most historians agree that more than any other human achievement, the invention of writing brought the seeds of “civilization” to fruition.

An unprecedented step

The advent of writing, some 5000 years ago, made it possible to preserve thoughts and experiences that had previously been the realm of oral tradition, wisdom passed generation to generation with hopes that key elements wouldn’t be lost. In a very real manner of speaking, the creation of writing provided a way to maintain social ideas, thus allowing complex societies to develop. (Artifacts dated to 6600 BCE found at Henan, China, attributed to the Peiligang culture, show the use of a simple system of writing utilizing sixteen distinct marking which apparently never progressed into formalized writing.)

Functional beginnings

The first written words were pictographs used by the Sumerians to record inventories. (Most scholars believe the ancient Egyptians were using a comparable system of notation utilizing early hieroglyphic symbols at about the same time.) The earliest known examples of written Sumerian date to about 3100 BCE, which are marks scratched onto small tablets that were attached like shipping tags to sacks of grain and other agricultural products. The tags recorded the quantity and type of material the sacks contained.

Wealthy Sumerians who owned large warehouses of grains and herds of livestock used larger tablets utilizing columns of pictographs to keep easy-to-read inventory. The tablets were inscribed by using a sharpened reed called a stylus which was used to scratch simple designs (often curving lines) into soft clay that represented the objects they described.

Pictographs to cuneiform

By the early 3rd millennium BCE, Sumerian scribes began to change the basic technique in order to write more quickly. As cities of the Mesopotamian area grew in size, the demands of a growing economy necessitated a faster method of account keeping. Replacing the sharpened stylus with one sharpened to a triangular tip, scribes were then able to refine the crude and often irregular symbols into uniform and complex script capable of not only permitting fast notation, but allowed the expression of abstract ideas. No longer drawing miniature examples of the objects themselves, the script became a series of shorthand symbols now known as cuneiform (Latin for “wedge-shaped).

The scribe

But so elaborate was the script that developed, which utilized more than 700 different signs, that it took many years of diligent practice and study to learn it, elevating those who mastered it to the level of "scribe," a professional status equated with high social office that put them in the service of kings and wealthy merchants.

King Darius' enduring proclamation

One of the most impressive and enduring uses of this writing system can still be seen today on a mountain face in Behistun, Iran, where King Darius the Great of Persia commissioned a proclamation of his military triumphs about 500 BCE, hewn into the mountain some 340 feet off the ground.

The start of something big . . .

For the next 2500 years, the cultures of the Fertile Crescent/Mesopotamia area would use this system of writing--to varying degrees--with the Babylonians, Assyrians, and neighboring groups stylizing the cuneiform method to include cultural variations. From this point, numerous other styles of writing began to merge and morph as empires were built and cultures merged.

References:
http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/jjm2f/old/pictograph.html
http://www.historian.net/hxwrite.htm
http://www.crystalinks.com/sumerwriting.html

Images via wikipedia.org except:
http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/56100/56112/56112_bab-writing_lg.gif

Visit JAMES R. COFFEY WRITING SERVICES & RESOURCE CENTER for more information.

Tags

Cuneiform, First Writing, Hieroglyphs, Invention Of Writing, Peiligang Culture, Pictographs, Writing

Meet the author

author avatar James R. Coffey
I am founder and head writer for James R. Coffey Writing Services and Resource Center @ http://james-r-coffey-writing-services.blogspot.com/ where I offer a variety of writing and research services including article composition, ghostwriting, editing...(more)

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Comments

author avatar Jerry Walch
23rd Mar 2011 (#)

Great minds think alike, my friend. My wife, the retired schoolteacher, were just discussing this very topic at dinner last night.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
23rd Mar 2011 (#)

Well Jerry, I'm so proud to know I'm in such great company!

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author avatar Retired
24th Mar 2011 (#)

my goodness this is awesome, I'd love to link this to my writing blog may I?

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author avatar James R. Coffey
24th Mar 2011 (#)

You really have nothing better to do with your time, Hydutfh???

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author avatar Jerry Walch
24th Mar 2011 (#)

Hey, Hydutfh and all you other bums who are spamming us, it will behoove you to cease and desist NOW!!!!!! If you want to run an online business, get your own site. Get this through your thick heads, WE DON'T CARE ABOUT THE JUNK YOU ARE PEDALING.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
24th Mar 2011 (#)

Certainly, Rebecca. Link away!

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author avatar Dafeenah
24th Mar 2011 (#)

Is there no way to stop those guys? Surely there must be.

I loved the article. Although it seems that the art of writing is dying in our times. I think it soon replaced by the art of typing.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
24th Mar 2011 (#)

I hope you're wrong, Dafeenah. That would be a sad commentary on our times, and an even sadder legacy to leave our children.

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author avatar Carol
24th Mar 2011 (#)

Writing is a wonderful thing, and neat hand writing loooks very good

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author avatar James R. Coffey
25th Mar 2011 (#)

Here in the US back in the 50s, you had to pass a penmanship exam called the "Peterson Writing Test," to pass from the third to fourth grade. I still have the certificate they gave us for passing and I'm still proud of it.

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author avatar Greenfaol
25th Mar 2011 (#)

Showing your age there :D
This is another excelent article, really informative. I just love the visual aspects of cuniform.
Totally agree with you Jerry re these spammers. A real pain.
Great work, James :D

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author avatar kaylar
25th Mar 2011 (#)

I know this has nothing to do with anything, but due to the fact that there is no forum here, I created one, and anyone who reads this can join...esp. James


http://z15.invisionfree.com/Wikinuts_Forum/index.php?act=idx

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author avatar kaylar
25th Mar 2011 (#)

And special invite to Rebecca

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author avatar Melissa Dawn
26th Mar 2011 (#)

Beautifully done. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar Retired
27th Mar 2011 (#)

Hello, old friend... we cross paths again! Another of your brilliantly penned articles. Thanks!

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author avatar James R. Coffey
27th Mar 2011 (#)

Well, hey there, Mike!!

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author avatar TNT_Brian
27th Mar 2011 (#)

Great article James, and I loved the photos too

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author avatar Angelique Newman
29th Mar 2011 (#)

Great article James; well written and I love the layout and pictures you chose.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
29th Mar 2011 (#)

Thanks guys! I aim to inform and entertain!

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author avatar Rathnashikamani
1st Apr 2011 (#)

Good history to know our longing for expression.

People wrote on stones, walls, leaves, coins, tablets, and what not.

And now, we write on (Wiki)nut!

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author avatar James R. Coffey
1st Apr 2011 (#)

Indeed, Rathnashikamani, indeed!

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author avatar Denise O
1st Apr 2011 (#)

James, I am still a snail mail person. I hope this never dies in me. I love writing letters and most everything I write, starts with a piece of paper and a pen. As always, a very nice piece of work. Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar Olyra
21st Jun 2011 (#)

Great article! Thanks for sharing! Just what I need to know about writing since im into this.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
21st Jun 2011 (#)

You're very welcome, Olyra.

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