The origins of writing – the beginning of history

We are used to saying that prehistory ends with the birth of writing. It is indeed with this cultural change that man will go down in history and begin to leave written traces. The first writings were mainly used as accounting books or inventories. But the man will quickly use this new means of communication to tell stories… and especially his story!

The Mesopotamians exploit the territory of the Fertile Crescent in particular through agriculture. Land fertilized by the Tigris and Euphrates even allow them to produce surplus food . These food surpluses are exchanged for other products. Exchanges between peasants, merchants, craftsmen and administrators are increasingly numerous. Traders therefore began to use drawings to keep track and better organize these transactions. This is how we witness the birth of writing . This will develop during the Mesopotamian civilization to become a means of communication still essential today.

The evolution of writing

Writing, first used for commercial purposes, has become essential to meet different needs in the religious, administrative, scientific fields, etc.

The mediums on which the writing invented is produced will change considerably over the years. Papyrus and parchment will replace the clay tablet . These new media make it easier to draw symbols and improve understanding of the message you want to convey.

clay tablet.

cuneiform writing

Cuneiform is the first form of writing invented by the Mesopotamians. The first traces of this method of communication date from around 3,300 BC. Initially , the beginnings of writing consisted in drawing objects, animals and characters on wet clay tablets and then letting them dry and thus preserving their message. These designs engraved in clay are called pictographs . In order to mark clay, the Mesopotamians used a triangular-tipped reed called pen. The carved traces will initially be drawings, but they will be gradually replaced by symbols in the shape of wedges or nails .

Cuneiform script.

Reading and writing cuneiform script is not an easy task. One must be able to know and know how to use hundreds of different symbols.

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The word  cuneiform  means in Latin “in the shape of wedges”.

From image, to word, to sound

The cuneiform writing of the Mesopotamians will evolve considerably over the years. It will first be pictographic, then become ideographic and finally phonetic.

Pictographic writing 

Pictographic writing  is a writing system made up of small pictures representing a concrete thing. These are very simple designs that symbolize objects, animals or humans. 

Mesopotamian pictograms.

Initially, the cuneiform writing of the Mesopotamians is pictographic, that is to say that each of the symbols is associated with an image representing what one wants to say. In short, if you want to represent an animal, the sender of the message will directly sculpt a drawing of this animal. Gradually the symbols will become more complex and multiply.

The Mesopotamians could draw a human head accompanied by a bowl to represent the action of eating.

Ideographic writing

Ideographic writing  is a writing system that represents a word, an idea. It is made up of ideograms, each representing a specific word or idea.

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