Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The beginning of writing

Posted by Fredsvenn on October 20, 2013

Sacred Script: Ancient Marks from Old Europe

The history of writing is primarily the development of expressing language by letters or other marks and also the study and describing of these developments. In the history of how systems of representation of language through graphic means have evolved in different human civilizations, more complete writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, systems of ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols.

The invention of writing was not a one-time event, but a gradual process initiated by the appearance of symbols, possibly first for cultic purposes. Scholars make a reasonable distinction between prehistory and history of early writing, but have disagreed concerning when prehistory becomes history and when proto-writing became “true writing”. The definition is largely subjective. Writing, in its most general terms, is a method of recording information and is composed of graphemes, which may in turn be composed of glyphs.

The emergence of writing in a given area is usually followed by several centuries of fragmentary inscriptions. Historians mark the “historicity” of a culture by the presence of coherent texts in the culture’s writing system(s).

Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that one must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to comprehend the text. By contrast, other possible symbolic systems such as information signs, painting, maps, and mathematics often do not require prior knowledge of a spoken language.

Every human community possesses language, a feature regarded by many as an innate and defining condition of mankind . However the development of writing systems, and their partial supplantation of traditional oral systems of communication, have been sporadic, uneven and slow. Once established, writing systems on the whole change more slowly than their spoken counterparts, and often preserve features and expressions which are no longer current in the spoken language. A great benefit of writing is that it provides a persistent record of information expressed in a language, which can be retrieved at a future date.

True writing, in which the content of a linguistic utterance is encoded so that another reader can reconstruct, with a fair degree of accuracy, the exact utterance written down (although writing usually does not convey the tone of the utterance) is a later development. It is distinguished from proto-writing which typically avoids encoding grammatical words and affixes, making it more difficult or impossible to reconstruct the exact meaning intended by the writer unless a great deal of context is already known in advance. One of the earliest forms of written expression is cuneiform.

The early writing systems that emerged in Eurasia in the early 3rd millennium BC were not a sudden invention. Rather, they were a development based on earlier traditions of symbol systems that cannot be classified as writing proper, but have many characteristics strikingly similar to writing. These systems may be described as proto-writing. They used ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols to convey information yet were probably devoid of direct linguistic content. These systems emerged in the early Neolithic period, as early as the 7th millennium BC.

The Vinča symbols, sometimes called the Vinča signs, Vinča script, Vinča-Turdaș script, Old European script, etc. are a set of symbols found on Neolithic era (6th to 5th millennia BCE) artifacts from the Vinča culture of southeastern Europe.

The symbols are mostly considered as constituting the oldest excavated example of “proto-writing” in the world; that is, they probably conveyed a message but did not encode language, predating the development of writing proper by more than a millennium.

It was an evolution of simple symbols beginning in the 7th millennium BC, gradually increasing in complexity throughout the 6th millennium and culminating in the Tărtăria tablets of ca. 5300 BC. with their rows of symbols carefully aligned, evoking the impression of a “text”.

The Dispilio Tablet of the late 6th millennium is similar. The hieroglyphic scripts of the Ancient Near East (Egyptian, Sumerian proto-Cuneiform and Cretan) seamlessly emerge from such symbol systems, so that it is difficult to say at what point precisely writing emerges from proto-writing. Adding to this difficulty is the fact that very little is known about the symbols’ meanings.

The transition from proto-writing to the earliest fully developed writing systems took place in the late 4th to early 3rd millennium BC in the Fertile Crescent. The Kish tablet, dated to 3500 BC, reflects the stage of “proto-cuneiform”, when what would become the cuneiform script of Sumer was still in the proto-writing stage.

By the end of the 4th millennium BC, this symbol system had evolved into a method of keeping accounts, using a round-shaped stylus impressed into soft clay at different angles for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with pictographic writing using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted.

Writing emerged in many different cultures in the Bronze Age. Examples are the cuneiform writing of the Sumerians, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cretan hieroglyphs, Chinese logographs, and the Olmec script of Mesoamerica.

It is generally agreed that true writing of language (not only numbers) was invented independently in at least two places: Mesopotamia (specifically, ancient Sumer) around 3200 BCE and Mesoamerica around 600 BC.

The transitional stage to a writing system proper takes place in the Jemdet Nasr period (31st to 30th centuries BC). A similar development took place in the genesis of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Various scholars believe that Egyptian hieroglyphs “came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and … probably [were]… invented under the influence of the latter …”, although it is pointed out and held that “the evidence for such direct influence remains flimsy” and that “a very credible argument can also be made for the independent development of writing in Egypt…”.

Sumer was progressing from a stage of proto-writing in the mid 4th millennium BC to writing proper in the 3rd millennium BC. The Akkadians, Assyrians and Eblaites were the first Semitic people to use writing, using the Cuneiform script originally developed by the Sumerians circa 3500 BC, with the first writings in Akkadian dating from circa 2800 BC. The last Akkadian inscriptions date from the late 1st century AD, and Cuneiform script in the 2nd century AD, both in Mesopotamia.

The original Sumerian writing system derives from a system of clay tokens used to represent commodities. By the end of the 4th millennium BC, this had evolved into a method of keeping accounts, using a round-shaped stylus impressed into soft clay at different angles for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with pictographic writing using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted.

Round-stylus and sharp-stylus writing were gradually replaced around 2700-2500 BC by writing using a wedge-shaped stylus (hence the term cuneiform), at first only for logograms, but developed to include phonetic elements by the 29th century BC. About 2600 BC cuneiform began to represent syllables of the Sumerian language.

Finally, cuneiform writing became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables, and numbers. From the 26th century BC, this script was adapted to the Akkadian language, and from there to others such as Hurrian and Hittite. Scripts similar in appearance to this writing system include those for Ugaritic and Old Persian.

Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta is a legendary Sumerian account, of preserved, early post-Sumerian copies, composed in the Neo-Sumerian period (ca. 21st century BC). It is one of a series of accounts describing the conflicts between Enmerkar, king of Unug-Kulaba (Uruk), and the unnamed king of Aratta (probably somewhere in modern Iran or Armenia).

Aratta was originally taken to be an epithet of the Sumerian city Shuruppak related to its local name for the god Enlil; however that is no longer seen to be the case. Although Aratta is known only from myth, some Assyriologists and archeologists have speculated on possible locations where Aratta could have been, using criteria from the myths.

Mashu, as described in the Epic of Gilgamesh of Mesopotamian mythology, is a great cedar mountain through which the hero-king Gilgamesh passes via a tunnel on his journey to Dilmun after leaving the Cedar Forest, a forest of ten thousand leagues span. The word “Mashu” itself may translate as “two mountains”, from the Babylonian for twins.

The “twins”, in Semitic mythology, were also often seen as two mountains, one at the eastern edge of the world (in the lower Zagros), the other at the western edge of the world (in the Taurus), and one of these seem to have had an Iranian location.

The Bible says that Noah’s ark landed on the mountains of Ararat. This does not refer to any specific mountain or peak, but rather a mountain range within the region of Ararat, which was the name of an ancient proto-Armenian kingdom also known as Urartu. Nonetheless, one particular tradition identifies the mountain as Mount Masis, the highest peak in the Armenian Highland, which is therefore called Mount Ararat, a snow-capped, dormant volcanic cone in Turkey. It has two peaks: Greater Ararat and Lesser Ararat.

By 1973, archaeologists were noting that there was no archaeological record of Aratta’s existence outside of myth, and in 1978 Hansman cautions against over-speculation. Writers in other fields have continued to hypothesize Aratta locations. A “possible reflex” has been suggested in Sanskrit Āraṭṭa or Arāṭṭa mentioned in the Mahabharata and other texts; Alternatively, the name is compared with the toponym Ararat or Urartu.

In the early 6th century BC, the Urartian Kingdom was replaced by the Armenian Orontid dynasty. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 521/0 BC by the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as Urartu in Assyrian is called Arminiya in Old Persian and Harminuia in Elamite.

Because it gives a Sumerian account of the “confusion of tongues”, and also involves Enmerkar constructing ziggurats at Eridu and Uruk, it has, since the time of Samuel Kramer, been compared with the Tower of Babel narrative in the Book of Genesis.

The Sumerian mythological epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta lists the countries where the “languages are confused” as Subartu, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (Akkad), and the Martu land (the Amorites). Similarly, the earliest references to the “four quarters” by the kings of Akkad name Subartu as one of these quarters around Akkad, along with Martu, Elam, and Sumer. Subartu in the earliest texts seem to have been farming mountain dwellers, frequently raided for slaves.

Eannatum of Lagash was said to have smitten Subartu or Shubur, and it was listed as a province of the empire of Lugal-Anne-Mundu; in a later era Sargon of Akkad campaigned against Subar, and his grandson Naram-Sin listed Subar along with Armani (Armenians), which has been identified with Aleppo, also known as Armi, among the lands under his control. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Hammurabi also claimed victories over Subar.

Aleppo appears in historical records as an important city much earlier than Damascus, but the city has scarcely been touched by archaeologists, since the modern city occupies its ancient site. The site has been occupied from around 5000 BC, as excavations in Tallet Alsauda show.

The first record of Aleppo comes from the third millennium BC, when Aleppo was the capital of an independent kingdom closely related to Ebla, known as Armi to Ebla and Armani to the Akkadians. Giovanni Pettinato describes Armi as Ebla’s alter ego. Naram-Sin of Akkad destroyed both Ebla and Armani in the 23rd century BC.

The land of Armani-Subartu (Akkadian Šú-ba-ri, Assyrian mât Šubarri), Arme-Shupria or Subar (Sumerian Šubur), is mentioned in Bronze Age literature from the 3rd millennium BC). The name also appears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit.

Subartu was apparently a polity in Northern Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris. It was a Hurrian-speaking kingdom, known from Assyrian sources beginning in the 13th century BC, located in the Armenian Highland, to the southwest of Lake Van, bordering on Ararat proper. The capital was called Ubbumu. Scholars have linked the district in the area called Arme or Armani, to the name Armenia.

Weidner interpreted textual evidence to indicate that after the Hurrian king Shattuara of Mitanni was defeated by Adad-nirari I of Assyria in the early 13th century BC, he then became ruler of a reduced vassal state known as Shubria or Subartu. The name Subartu for the region is attested much earlier, from the time of the earliest Mesopotamian records (mid 3rd millennium BC).

Together with Armani-Subartu (Hurri-Mitanni), Hayasa-Azzi and other populations of the region such as the Nairi fell under Urartian (Kingdom of Ararat) rule in the 9th century BC, and their descendants, according to most scholars, later contributed to the ethnogenesis of the early Armenians.

Most scholars accept Subartu as an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east, north or west of there. Its precise location has not been identified. From the point of view of the Akkadian Empire, Subartu marked the northern geographical horizon, just as Martu, Elam and Sumer marked “west”, “east” and “south”, respectively.

Subartu may have been in the general sphere of influence of the Hurrians. There are various alternate theories associating the ancient Subartu with one or more modern cultures found in the region, including Armenian or Kurdish tribes. Some scholars, such as Harvard Professor Mehrdad Izady, claim to have identified Subartu with the current Kurdish tribe of Zibaris inhabiting the northern ring around Mosul up to Hakkari in Turkey.

Subarian is the term used by certain scholars (such as I. J. Gelb & E. A. Speiser) to describe the aboriginal language and inhabitants of Subar-Tu an ancient kingdom in Ararat mentioned in Sumerian records.

The theory is that even the Sumerians originally came down from this area or if not then at least the exonym originated there. Arno Poebel & S.N. Kramer pushed this hypothesis even further to suggest that the original tribe carrying the Sumer/Subar ethnonym was actually the original Shem tribe whose memory is recorded in the Bible (sumerian final -r being an amissable consonant in words with a Semitic form).

Tribes called Subarians were living in an area extending to Zagros Mountains in the north Mesopotamia and to Habur and Balih in the west.The Khabur River (Arabic‎ al-khābūr, Kurdish: Xabûr, Syriac ḥābur/khābur, Turkish: Habur) is the largest perennial tributary to the Euphrates in Syrian territory.

Subarians were known as preliminary Asurians by historians and their country was called Subarto. The Assyrians, also known as Syriacs, Chaldeans, and Aramaeans (see names of Syriac Christians), are a distinct ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient Mesopotamia. They are Semitic people, who speak and write distinct dialects of Eastern Aramaic exclusive to Mesopotamia and its immediate surroundings.

Assyrians trace their ancestry back to the Sumero-Akkadian civilisation that emerged in Mesopotamia circa 4000–3500 BC, and in particular to the northern region of the Akkadian lands, which would become known as Assyria by the 24th century BC. The Assyrian nation existed as an independent state, and often a powerful empire, from the 24th century BC until the end of the 7th century BC.

Subarians are known to have established the first country in the history by making Tel Halief city (Tell Half), which was in the south of Ceylanpınar and Rasulayn (Ra’s al-’Ayn) 40 km.

Important sites that have been excavated include Tell Halaf, Tell Brak, Tell Leilan, Tell Mashnaqa, Tell Mozan and Tell Barri. The region has given its name to a distinctive painted ware found in northern Mesopotamia and Syria in the early 2nd millennium BCE, called Khabur ware. The region of the Khabur River is also associated with the rise of the kingdom of the Mitanni that flourished c.1500-1300 BC.

The Halaf culture, is a prehistoric period which lasted between about 6100 and 5500 BCE. The period is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia.

While the period is named after the site of Tell Halaf in north Syria, excavated by Max von Oppenheim between 1911 and 1927, the earliest Halaf period material was excavated by John Garstang in 1908 at the site of Sakce Gözü, then in Syria but now part of Turkey. Small amounts of Halaf material was also excavated in 1913 by Leonard Woolley at Carchemish, on the Turkish/Syrian border. However, the most important site for the Halaf tradition was the site of Tell Arpachiyah, now located in the suburbs of Mosul, Iraq.

Although no Halaf settlement has been extensively excavated some buildings have been excavated: the tholoi of Tell Arpachiyah, circular domed structures approached through long rectangular anterooms. Only a few of these structures were ever excavated. They were constructed of mud-brick sometimes on stone foundations and may have been for ritual use (one contained a large number of female figurines). Other circular buildings were probably just houses.

The Halaf period was succeeded by the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period (~5500 – 5200 cal. BCE) and then by the Ubaid period (~5200 – 4000 cal. BCE).

Although the Khabur originates in Turkey, the karstic springs around Ra’s al-’Ayn are the river’s main source of water. Several important wadis join the Khabur north of Al-Hasakah, together creating what is known as the Khabur Triangle, or Upper Khabur area. From north to south, annual rainfall in the Khabur basin decreases from over 400 mm to less than 200 mm, making the river a vital water source for agriculture throughout history. The Khabur joins the Euphrates near the town of Busayrah.

Shulaveri-Shomu culture is a Late Neolithic/Eneolithic culture that existed on the territory of present-day Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Armenian Highlands. The culture is dated to mid-6th or early-5th millennia BC and is thought to be one of the earliest known Neolithic cultures. The Shulaveri-Shomu culture begins after the 8.2 kiloyear event which was a sudden decrease in global temperatures starting ca. 6200 BC and which lasted for about two to four centuries.

The 8.2 kiloyear event is the term that climatologists have adopted for a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6,200 BCE, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries. Milder than the Younger Dryas cold spell that preceded it, but more severe than the Little Ice Age that would follow, the 8.2 kiloyear cooling was a significant exception to general trends of the Holocene climatic optimum. During the event, atmospheric methane concentration decreased by 80 ppb or 15% emission reduction by cooling and drying at a hemispheric scale.

Drier conditions were notable in North Africa, while East Africa suffered five centuries of general drought. In West Asia and especially Mesopotamia, the 8.2ky event was a three-hundred year aridification and cooling episode, which may have provided the natural force for Mesopotamian irrigation agriculture and surplus production that were essential for the earliest class-formation and urban life. However multi-centennial changes around the same period are difficult to link specifically to the approximately 100-year abrupt event as recorded most clearly in the Greenland ice cores.

The initial meltwater pulse has caused between 0.5 and 4 m (1 ft 8 in and 13 ft 1 in) of sea-level rise. Based on estimates of lake volume and decaying ice cap size, values of 0.4–1.2 m (1 ft 4 in–3 ft 10 in) circulate. Based on sea-level data from below modern deltas 2–4 m (6 ft 7 in–13 ft 1 in) of near-instantaneous rise is estimated, recorded superimposed on background ‘normal’ post-glacial sea-level rise.

Meltwater pulse sea level rise was experienced fully at great distance from the release area. Gravity and rebound effects associated to the shifting of watermasses mean that the sea-level fingerprint is smaller in areas closer to the Hudson Bay. The Mississippi delta records ~20%, NW Europe records ~70% and Asia records ~105% of the global averaged amount. The cooling of the 8,200 event was a temporary feature; the sea-level rise of the meltwater pulse was permanent.

In 2003, the Office of Net Assessment at the United States Department of Defense was commissioned to produce a study on the likely and potential effects of a modern climate change. The study, conducted under ONA head Andrew Marshall, modelled its prospective climate change on the 8.2 kiloyear event, precisely because it was the middle alternative between the Younger Dryas and the Little Ice Age.

Shulaveri culture predates the Kura-Araxes culture and surrounding areas, which is assigned to the period of ca. 4000 – 2200 BC, and had close relation with the middle Bronze Age culture called Trialeti culture (ca. 3000 – 1500 BC). Sioni culture of Eastern Georgia possibly represents a transition from the Shulaveri to the Kura-Arax cultural complex.

In around ca. 6000–4200 B.C the Shulaveri-Shomu and other Neolithic/Chalcolithic cultures of the Southern Caucasus use local obsidian for tools, raise animals such as cattle and pigs, and grow crops, including grapes.

Many of the characteristic traits of the Shulaverian material culture (circular mudbrick architecture, pottery decorated by plastic design, anthropomorphic female figurines, obsidian industry with an emphasis on production of long prismatic blades) are believed to have their origin in the Near Eastern Neolithic (Hassuna, Halaf).

However, in the beginning of the legendary Sumerian account Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, the following background is provided: “In those days of yore, when the destinies were determined, the great princes allowed Unug Kulaba’s E-ana to lift its head high. Plenty, and carp floods and the rain which brings forth dappled barley were then increased in Unug Kulaba. Before the land of Dilmun yet existed, the E-ana of Unug Kulaba was well founded.”

E-ana was a ziggurat in Uruk built in honour of the goddess Inanna, Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare, also known as the “lady of all the lands” – (E-ana is ‘house of ana’, or ‘Temple of Ana’). Similarly, the lord of Aratta has himself crowned in Inanna’s name, but she does not find this as pleasing as her brick temple in Uruk.

Inanna can be considered the most prominent female deity in ancient Mesopotamia. Her name derives from Queen of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-anna). The cuneiform sign of Inanna however, is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: SAL.TUG) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: AN). These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that originally Inanna may have been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, but the view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.

Inanna seems to be related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities.

Enmerkar, thus “chosen by Inanna in her holy heart from the bright mountain”, then asks Inanna to let him subject Aratta and make the people of Aratta deliver a tribute of precious metals and gemstones, for constructing the lofty Abzu ziggurat of Enki at Eridu, as well as for embellishing her own E-ana sanctuary at Uruk. Inanna accordingly advises Enmerkar to dispatch a herald across the mountains of Susin and Anshan to the lord of Aratta, to demand his submission and his tribute.

Enmerkar agrees and sends the envoy, along with his specific threats to destroy Aratta and disperse its people, if they do not send him the tribute – “lest like the devastation which swept destructively, and in whose wake Inanna arose, shrieked and yelled aloud, I too wreak a sweeping devastation there.” He is furthermore to recite the “Incantation of Nudimmud”, a hymn imploring Enki to restore (or in some translations, to disrupt) the linguistic unity of the inhabited regions, named as Shubur, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (the region around Akkad), and the Martu land.

The messenger arrives in Aratta, reciting this message to the king, and asks him for a reply to take to his lord Enmerkar, whom he calls “the scion of him with the glistening beard, whom his stalwart cow gave birth to in the mountain of the shining me, who was reared on the soil of Aratta, who was given suck at the udder of the good cow, who is suited for office in Kulaba.”

The king of Aratta replies that submission to Uruk is out of the question, because Inanna herself had chosen him to his office and power. But the herald then reveals that Inanna has been installed as queen at E-ana and has even promised Enmerkar to make Aratta bow to Uruk.

Devastated by this news, the lord of Aratta finally gives his response: he is more than prepared for a military contest with Uruk, whom he considers no match for his might; however he will submit, on the sole conditions that Enmerkar send him a vast amount of barley grain, and that Inanna convince him that she has forsaken Aratta and confirm her allegiance to Uruk.

The herald returns to Enmerkar bearing this reply, and the next day Enmerkar actually sends the barley to Aratta, along with the herald and another demand to send even more precious stones.

The lord of Aratta, in a fit of pride, refuses and instead asks Enmerkar to deliver to him these precious stones himself. Upon hearing this, Enmerkar spends ten years preparing an ornate sceptre, then sends it to Aratta with his messenger. This frightens the lord of Aratta, who now sees that Inanna has indeed forsaken him, but he instead proposes to arrange a one-on-one combat between two champions of the two cities, to determine the outcome of the still-diplomatic conflict with Enmerkar. The king of Uruk responds by accepting this challenge, while increasing his demands for the people of Aratta to make a significant offering for the E-ana and the abzu, or face destruction and dispersal.

To relieve the herald who, beleaguered, can no longer remember all the messages with which he is charged, Enmerkar then resorts to an invention: writing on tablets. The herald again traverses the “seven mountains” to Aratta, with the tablets, and when the king of Aratta tries to read the message, Ishkur, the storm-god, causes a great rain to produce wild wheat and chickpeas that are then brought to the king. Seeing this, the king declares that Inanna has not forsaken the primacy of Aratta after all, and summons his champion.

The remainder of the text has many lacunae-(line text losses), and the following events are unclear, but the tablet seems to end with Enmerkar triumphant, possibly installed by Inanna on the throne of Aratta, and with the people of Aratta delivering the tribute to E-ana, and providing the materials to build the Apsû.

It is debated whether writing systems were developed completely independently in Egypt around 3200 BCE and in China around 2700 BCE (single written language by law, earlier written symbols are found as far back as 4200 BCE), or whether the appearance of writing in either or both places was due to cultural diffusion (i.e. the concept of representing language using writing, if not the specifics of how such a system worked, was brought by traders from an already-literate civilization).

Egyptian script is dissimilar from Mesopotamian cuneiform, but similarities in concepts and in earliest attestation suggest that the idea of writing may have come to Egypt from Mesopotamia. Geoffrey Sampson believes that most scholars hold that Egyptian hieroglyphs “came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and … probably [were] invented under the influence of the latter …”

In 1999, Archaeology Magazine reported that the earliest Egyptian glyphs date back to 3400 BCE, which “…challenge the commonly held belief that early logographs, pictographic symbols representing a specific place, object, or quantity, first evolved into more complex phonetic symbols in Mesopotamia.”

In Egypt hieroglyphs emerged from the preliterate artistic traditions of Egypt. For example, symbols on Gerzean pottery from ca. 4000 BC. resemble hieroglyphic writing. For many years the earliest known hieroglyphic inscription was the Narmer Palette, found during excavations at Hierakonpolis (modern Kawm al-Ahmar) in the 1890s, which has been dated to ca. 3200 BC. However, in 1998, a German archaeological team under Günter Dreyer excavating at Abydos (modern Umm el-Qa’ab) uncovered tomb U-j of a Predynastic ruler, and recovered three hundred clay labels inscribed with proto-hieroglyphs, dating to the Naqada IIIA period of the 33rd century BCE.

Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood. Less formal variations of the script, called hieratic and demotic, are technically not hieroglyphs.

Writing was very important in maintaining the Egyptian empire, and literacy was concentrated among an educated elite of scribes. Only people from certain backgrounds were allowed to train as scribes, in the service of temple, pharisaic, and military authorities. The hieroglyph system was always difficult to learn, but in later centuries may have been intentionally made even more difficult, as this preserved the scribes’ position.

Similar debate surrounds the Indus script of the Bronze Age Indus Valley civilization in Ancient India (3200 BCE). In addition, the script is still undeciphered and there is debate over whether the script is true writing at all, or instead some kind of proto-writing or non-linguistic sign system.

The Indus script (also Harappan script) is a corpus of symbols produced by the Indus Valley Civilization during the Mature Harappan period between the 26th and 20th centuries BC. Most inscriptions are extremely short.

It is not clear if these symbols constitute a script used to record a language, and the subject of whether the Indus symbols were a writing system is controversial. It is unclear whether it should be considered an example of proto-writing, or if it is actual writing of the logographic-syllabic type of the other Bronze Age writing systems.

In spite of many attempts at decipherment, it is undeciphered, and no underlying language has been identified. There is no known bilingual inscription. Early examples of the symbol system are found in an Early Harappan context, dated to possibly as early as the 33rd century BC.

The Proto-Elamite period is the time of ca. 3200 BC to 2700 BC when Susa, the later capital of the Elamites, began to receive influence from the cultures of the Iranian plateau. In archaeological terms this corresponds to the late Banesh period. This civilization is recognized as the oldest in Iran and was largely contemporary with its neighbour, Sumerian civilization, the oldest in the world, which began around 3400 BC.

The Proto-Elamite script (ca. 3100–2900 BC) is an Early Bronze Age writing system briefly in use before the introduction of Elamite cuneiform. Texts in the undeciphered Proto-Elamite script found in Susa are dated to this period. But it is uncertain whether the Proto-Elamite script was the direct predecessor of Linear Elamite, a Bronze Age writing system used in Elam, known from a few monumental inscriptions only. Both scripts remain largely undeciphered, and it is mere speculation to postulate a relationship between the two. However, the Elamite cuneiform, adapted from Akkadian cuneiform, was used from ca. 2500 to 331 BC.

During the Bronze Age, the cultures of the Ancient Near East had fully developed writing systems, while the marginal territories affected by the Bronze Age, viz. Europe, India and China, remained in the stage of proto-writing. With the exception of the Aegean (Linear A, Cretan hieroglyphs), the early writing systems of the Near East did not reach Bronze Age Europe. The earliest writing systems of Europe arise in the Iron Age, derived from the Phoenician alphabet.

However, there are number of interpretations regarding symbols found on artefacts of the European Bronze Age which amount to interpreting them as an indigenous tradition of proto-writing. Of special interest in this context are the Central European Bronze Ages cultures derived from the Beaker culture in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. Interpretations of the markings of the bronze sickles associated with the Urnfield culture, especially the large number of so-called “knob-sickles” discovered in the Frankleben hoard, are discussed by Sommerfeld (1994). Sommerfeld favours an interpretation of these symbols as numerals associated with a lunar calendar.

Anatolian hieroglyphs are an indigenous hieroglyphic script native to western Anatolia, used to record the Hieroglyphic Luwian language. It first appeared on Luwian royal seals from the 14th century BC

Cretan hieroglyphs are found on artifacts of Crete (1625−1500 BC.). Linear B (1375−1200 BC.), the writing system of the Mycenaean Greeks, has been deciphered while Linear A (1800−1450 BC.) has yet to be deciphered. The sequence and the geographical spread of the three overlapping,

The first pure alphabets (properly, “abjads”, mapping single symbols to single phonemes, but not necessarily each phoneme to a symbol) emerged around 1800 BC in Ancient Egypt, as a representation of language developed by Semitic workers in Egypt, but by then alphabetic principles had a slight possibility of being inculcated into Egyptian hieroglyphs for upwards of a millennium.

These early abjads remained of marginal importance for several centuries, and it is only towards the end of the Bronze Age that the Proto-Sinaitic script splits into the Proto-Canaanite alphabet (ca. 1400 BC) Byblos syllabary and the South Arabian alphabet (ca. 1200 BC). The Proto-Canaanite was probably somehow influenced by the undeciphered Byblos syllabary, and in turn inspired the Ugaritic alphabet (ca. 1300 BC).

The Phoenician alphabet is simply the Proto-Canaanite alphabet as it was continued into the Iron Age (conventionally taken from a cut-off date of 1050 BC). This alphabet gave rise to the Aramaic and Greek alphabets. These in turn led to the writing systems used throughout regions ranging from Western Asia to Africa and Europe. For its part the Greek alphabet introduced for the first time explicit symbols for vowel sounds. The letters of the Greek alphabet are more or less the same as those of the Phoenician alphabet, and in modern times both alphabets are arranged in the same order.

The Greek and Latin alphabets in the early centuries of the Common Era gave rise to several European scripts such as the Runes and the Gothic and Cyrillic alphabets while the Aramaic alphabet evolved into the Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic abjads and the South Arabian alphabet gave rise to the Ge’ez abugida. The Brahmic family of India is believed by some scholars to have derived from the Aramaic alphabet as well.

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