Many years ago, in the ancient world, on the territory of current Iraq, there was a country with a highly developed lifestyle – Mesopotamia. The Sumerians, its citizens, have made a lot of contributions towards the evolution of the civilization. The invention of writing is among their achievements. It was the first writing system, which is called the wedge writing. The history of the wedge writing developed in Mesopotamia from the icon-paintings to the signs, which meant the syllables speech and abstract concepts. The process of searching for the solution of the writing problems turned into the process of creation of the new writing system. They gradually developed the wedge appearance of the letters – cuneiform. The most significant factor which led to the origin of writing is a bureaucracy and business trade. Of course, the other factors were also important, but this one was the crucial one.
Different other factors led to the creation of specific conditions for writing formation. Here, it was the emergence and development of art. Among the various development concepts of writing, there are three main factors that determine the specificity of this process: the selection of graphic symbols among other primitive forms of communication, the development of graphical tools for stable transfer of the general content of communications, and the establishment of a stable system of graphic symbols to transmit the voice information. The creation of the state required error-free fixation of the growing number of personal names and place names, which promoted the progressive writing phonetization. The writing allowed connecting not only the contemporaries, but even people of different generations and transmitting to the descendants the major achievement of the cultural creativity. Called by the living conditions need to write quickly the document has resulted in the ancient times to facilitate the writing art of the Sumerians: instead of drawing of the whole subject, they began to portray only the most characteristic part, transforming it into a linear pattern.
The writing plays many roles, among them expressive and educational ones. Using a variety of the written media, the mankind can pass on the knowledge from person to person, from generation to generation. Also by writing, various data may be saved for many years.
All of the above suggests that writing is an essential attribute of an advanced civilization. The information is transmitted by means of written language in an unchanged form, which allows applying the same knowledge in the different parts of the world. Writing is an essential attribute of any developed culture. The higher the level and complexity of the written language is, the higher is the cultural level of the language speakers.
The more interesting question than the one about the creation of this writing system is the next about its origins. First of all, it is important to determine some preliminary facts. The research of a language showed to the scientists that the population of Lower Mesopotamia spoke and later wrote on two completely different languages – Sumerian and East-Semitic. The Sumerian language with its bizarre grammar is not akin to any of the extant languages. The East-Semitic language, which later was called the Acadian and Babylonian-Assyrian, refers to the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Like a number of other Semitic languages, it died before the Christian era. The archaeologists claim that the age of the found first letter dates 3400 BC that is a few hundred years before the more famous of the early Mesopotamian writing. This letter was found on clay circles and pottery. In 1999, the American archaeologist, who conducted their excavations at the ancient site Harappa in Pakistan, found the evidence of a written language, dating back to about 3500 BC. In the historical era, Harappa was the main city of the civilization located in the Indian Valley. This civilization dominated in the Western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is necessary to consider another aspect of the development of writing. The fact that the second epoch of the world history is centered on religion is not a secret. The history of writing directs to the most well-known of the world religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and others, which are also widespread today. The technology of the letter was required for these religions. In prehistoric times, religion was an instrument for influencing people and managing them. Inherent to the clergy knowledge and ability to perform the required, long-established rituals correctly was transmitted from one generation to another. At the time of writing, there was a special need, because the knowledge of the rituals could be remembered. However, the alphabetic script, which originated in the Middle East, has changed the routine. In addition, it should be noted that some cultures were split on the script, which one wrote with religious texts and writing for recording conversations and daily needs.
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The question is why did the Sumerians invent the writing system? What were the leading factors to this significant step in the development process? Different scientists have various opinions. However, the summary of all former investigations can be presented as the chain of events. The first origin of the writing system invention is the development of handcraft. It caused the growth of knowledge and information. Previously, the master could retell and show the secrets of his handcraft to his student. The information accumulated with time. The next generations of masters discovered new secrets and improved the old technologies. The amount of information became too immense, and the time of training could not be enough. The human brain is, unfortunately, limited in its ability to remember. It was the first prerequisite for the invention of the new method of the information transfer. The growth of the labor and cultural achievements of the people became the next part of the chain. As the gradually improved handcraft and work in general proved the significance of the information transfer to the next generations, because they could not allow those achievements to be forgotten. The apogee of culture was standing nearby, so the information concerned not only the labor, but also the personal cultural development. This knowledge was about the same significance at that time, as it is currently. The religion during that time consisted of the hieratic ceremonials. This field of life always developed as all the other spheres. Religion of that time was also the science of those people. It involved the information about various investigations, experiments and observations. It was crucial to store the information about the events and the rules of conduct. The writing, in this case, could be the only way how to transfer his knowledge to the masses or to the next generations. The religious aspects can be one of the most significant factors, which led to the origin of writing. However, it is not the one. In fact, there are two the most significant and determinative reasons for the emergence and spread of writing in the society. In this sense, the religion is the first, and the second one is commerce. The commerce of that time was the politics of this period in history. The information, which was essential in the field of trade, considered the debts, expenses, allowance items, and profit. In addition to that, the creation of the contracts, liabilities and receipts also required the evidences that could be more reliable than the words and oral deals. This was the last push for the invention of the writing system. The comparison of these two factors can help with the determination of the most crucial among them.
Quite early the Mesopotamian writing system was applied in a trade, business and reports. The fact that such reports were enough people to like today would say, “Follow the dynamics”. To prove these statements, the facts speak for themselves that the people of Mesopotamia traded extensively with the ancient Egyptian and ancient Indian civilizations. That is why the idea of displaying the words into the signs and symbols may have spread from other cultures. On the other hand, the investigations of different scientists can be the evidences of the fact that the other countries borrowed the writing from the Sumerians. However, the recent discovery undermined the status of ancient Mesopotamia, as the place where writing was born. In 1998, a German archaeologist found a letter in the tomb of King Scorpion in Abydos near Luxor, Egypt. However, the answer for this question cannot be decisive, as each new evidence explains the different facts. This is the weak point of the entire science of history.
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In her investigations, DeniseSchmandt-Besserat proposed an answer to the fundamental question again repeated by the author of the article in the “New York Times”: “When no one knew how to read, who started writing?” According to her hypothesis, nobody invented the Sumerian writing, and it quietly evolved out of the counting system.
The idea that until the advent of writing idea of the number of subjects was inseparable from them; that was the basis, on which Schmandt-Besserat started the construction all over this theory. The numeric labels about 200 years preceded the earliest painted signs. They are small (as the palm of a hand), roughly fashioned and slightly charred, and the variety of characters on them is small – mostly rounded and triangular-conical depressions. Schmandt-Besserat proves that these styles are not marked with signs and tokens, often one chip, dent the ground alternately, on horseback or sideways. The signs of this type correspond to certain measures of grain (and rarely, possibly oil), size of land and a certain number of heads of cattle. With the advent of pictographs, the special plate number was applied in combination with a defining essence of the subject. It is known from other studies, a short wedge (cone indented side) = 1, circle = 10 = 60 long wedges, a long wedge with tuck at 600, a large circle of 3600. Now, it turns out that the original “1” also corresponds to small, and 10 – the least grain (for larger numbers such compliance is also possible). Schmandt-Besserat cites the existence of the Sumerians, along with special rates to denote numbers from 1 to 10 parallel to the archaic system, in which the names of numbers from 4 to 7 are constructed by agglutination of only three routes (1, 2, and 3). She also cites various languages of the presence of different numbers of names applied to different categories of objects, although in most cases it is not just about the numbers on the two or three. At the same time, the linguists reconstruct that the numbers up to ten are from the proto-Indo-European language. It is not clear, therefore, whether in Mesopotamia the abstract bill appeared only with the script or use of the mark for the measure grain as figures related only to the need to keep a record of more grain than any other products.
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Thus, it may seem that the most crucial factor that caused the origin of the writing system is a trade. With the development of the commerce relations, the Sumerian needed to simplify their documentation. Previously, they counted the amount of the products according to their presence. However, the more they developed the process of creation of new products, the bigger the amount became. There was not enough to count its presence, so they had to document. The former pictograms were not so comfortable for the use, because they were big and could have different meanings. This could lead to the misunderstanding, which could cause the further problems in the trade relations, relations between the countries, wars and other unpleasant things, so the appearance of the cuneiform aimed at avoiding this development of the events. However, the Sumerians needed the numbers more than the letters in order to count and control the cycle of the product. They could still write the names of items with the pictograms, but the development cannot be one-sided. The writing system evolved in each aspect. The problem with the personal names and abstract words were soon solved.
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Why can this factor be considered as the most significant one? As it is known, not only trade, but also culture and religion pushed the Sumerian to the creation of the writing system, but culture and religion existed longer than trade, and people passed this knowledge for a long time without any clear documentation, so they could continue doing this further. The oral form of the communication can be suitable for the information transform of the cultural and, especially, religious knowledge. However, this could not last for a long time. Soon, the Sumerians would anyway invent the writing system to simplify this process as well. The writing fulfilled three criteria – it was “invented” around the middle of the fourth millennium BC by the Sumerian, who was looking for the best method to deal with complex accounting.
However, the invention of the writing system is generally seen as forces for good. The scientists believe that the ancient invention of writing was the most essential contribution of the Sumerians in the history of the world culture. On the territory of the Ancient Near East long, before the cuneiform writing, even long before the Sumerians, there was a way to store and transfer information. This system was the clay ball (icons or chip size of 1-3 cm), where each element represents one object (cow, sheep, etc.) served to account for the assets already in the 9th millennium BC. In order to account for the assets, the citizens of Mesopotamia and Elam used a system of clay balls. Initially, each bead represents one object (cow, sheep, etc.), and then the size and shape of the lump become meaningful. Soon, the marks appeared (thumb mark, serif) that changed their “weight”. Thus, the first characters of the alphabet had a form deemed objects (goods), for example, the sign “goat”. Playing the role of “symbol-pictures”, they were icons by definition.
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After the advent of writing complex, chips gradually disappear as simply – remain, which once again proves challenging single-function chips and writing. Unfortunately, there are no studies remain, which could be a rival power center in southern Mesopotamia. In her monograph, Schmandt-Besserat gives a table of correspondences between five dozen types of chips and marks the picturesque ancient writing. These correspondences are undeniable and obvious, covering concepts such as lamb, sheep, cow, dog, breed, Hutch, oil, food, sweets or honey, beer, milk from sheep, wool, various types of clothing, metal bed, a bracelet, a smell, nail, foot, etc. There are paintings that remain, which are impossible to build a chip, so that a certain logical boundary between the chip and the script seems to have been. It can be compared to the transition from hieroglyphics to the alphabet. The main thing is that the presence of chips paved the way for the addition of writing. The Sumerians left a huge number of the cuneiform clay tablets. Perhaps, it was the first in the world of bureaucracy. The earliest inscriptions belong to 2900 BC and include commercial accountings. The researchers complain that the Sumerians have left a lot of “business” records and “lists of the gods”, but did not bother to write the “philosophical basis” of their belief system. Therefore, the current knowledge is only an interpretation of the “cuneiform” sources, most of them translated and rewritten by the priests of the later cultures.
It is quite clearly established that the need for writing was a bureaucratic and ritual necessity. Letter originally served to count the donations, offerings in the temples, the property of kings and pharaohs, as well as to account for the calendar and dynastic cycles. This function is bureaucratic overkill for a primitive society. Therefore, we can say that the people lived before writing the primitive system, and with the written language originated civilization.
Unfortunately, the history does not throw much light on the origin of writing. Its inventor is unknown. Perhaps, there were many. The only thing which is known is that the trade and social intercourse increased. At the same time, the religion developed further. The need of the permanent and better organized form of the pictures, symbols and marks replacement appeared. The exact links in the chain of the writing system development remain unknown, but different investigations allow observing various possibilities. On the other hand, scientists proved the origin process of the writing system in Mesopotamia. They also investigated the interesting evidences of the language development. The Sumerian created the writing system aiming for the information transfer. The knowledge that they wanted to pass further concerned religion, culture and commerce. However, the trade deals with the need of accounting, which was the decisive factor. The creation of writing had a significant impact on the further development of the culture, religion, trade, science and many other aspects of life.