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Ancient Near East - The Development of Writing

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


By the end of the Uruk Period, there existed a system of record keeping with texts, which laid the foundation for the subsequent cuneiform writing system in ancient Mesopotamia. This Uruk system is called Proto-Cuneiform because the signs are drawn into clay with thin lines rather than being impressed with wedges, as in later cuneiform script. This is the first time in history that writing was invented (although some scholars credit this to Egypt), and the first evidence for real script comes from the city of Uruk itself.

From the seventh millennium on, stamp seals were impressed on jars or on lumps of clay attached to containers. In the middle of the Uruk period, the stamp was replaced by the cylinder seal. Each seal belonged to an individual or administrative office and were used to guarantee shipment.

The seals do not disclose the quantity or actual contents involved in a transaction. This information was covered through the use of tokens. These were stone or clay objects of many geometric shapes that were kept together in a clay envelope, which was sealed to prevent tampering.

The Near East always had people speaking various languages who lived side by side. All languages could be written in cuneiform script which was the dominant writing system in the region until it was later supplanted by the alphabetic script of the Phoenicians.

The most popular languages of Mesopotamia was Sumerian and Akkadian. The Sumerian language was spoken throughout the third millennium in the south of Mesopotamia. By the early second millennium, it was only used by bureaucrats and cult personnel. The date of its disappearance as a spoken language remains unknown. Akkadian was the Semitic language related to Hebrew, Arabic, and many other languages of the Near East, but of a different grammatical structure.


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