Cuneiform Script

Mesopotamia is probably best known for inventing writing system. The oldest known writing system - the pictographic script was invented by the Sumerians about 3300 BC, while pictographic tablets from Uruk represent the earliest system of writing. Pictographic writing system or drawing images and signs of concrete objects was predominant until about 2900 BC. Eventually, the pictograms became more abstract, while representation of certain words required introduction of symbols for sounds which resulted in the development of partial phonetic script consisting of logophonetic and syllabic systems - the cuneiform script. At the same time writing became more cursive mostly due to use of clay tablets as a writing material and a sharpened reed stylus as writing implement. The sign inventory was reduced from about 2,000 signs to some 600 signs. The script was commonly incised on carved reliefs and stele.

Example of Sumerian cuneiform script, about 2600 BC Sumerian cuneiform script, c. 2600 BC

The texts written in cuneiform script included hymns, prayers, magical incantations, business and personal letters and transactions, various lists, laws, scientific texts including mathematics, astronomy, astrology and medicine, and literature and poems such as the famous Epic of Gilgamesh. However, writing and reading of cuneiform script remained mostly limited to the scribes who gained great power and influence in predominantly illiterate society. Cuneiform script spread throughout the Middle East over the following two millenniums but it also underwent considerable changes with time and adjustments to languages of the peoples who used cuneiform script system.


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