Early Writing Systems

It is fascinating to think that the words you are reading right now contain characters with ancient origins. Humans had been speaking for a couple hundred thousand years before they got the inspiration to create a writing system.

When ancient Mesopotaminas began settling onto farms and surrounding cities, life became more complicated. With the invention of irrigation, agriculture required more expertise and detailed record keeping of the surplus of food became necessary. This led directly to the invention of writing. The oldest writing systems historians have found are cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and the alphabet.

Cuneiform is the first known form of writing. Cuneiform is considered the most significant contribution of the Sumerians because of how important writing is to civilization. The origin of this writing is dated approximately 3,300 BCE. Archeologists found over 700 symbols with different meanings that changed with each city-state and over time. It was used to write on a clay tablet with a stylus and used symbols for sounds. This allowed the civilization to document its history, laws, and people.

Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by ancient Egyptians around 3,000 BCE that combined pictographic and alphabetic elements. Hieroglyphs have thousands of symbols that can mean sounds (phonogram) or entire words (ideogram). It took advanced skill to write hieroglyphs and scribes who studied it often began at a young age. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood. They are significant because they are how we know so much about the ancient Egyptians and allowed them to

After thousands of years Cuneiform was replaced with widespread usage of the Phoenician alphabet. It’s earliest known use is 1,000 BCE. Cuneiform differed from pictographic writing in that it was based on sounds and included 22 letters. It was spread by Phoenician traders and became the basis for modern script. Many alphabetic languages trace their roots back to the Phonecian alphabet.