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History of script development

The script is the written expression of language. Cuneiform, the first script, was invented in Sumer, Mesopotamia. 3500 BCE, in Egypt sometime before the Early Dynastic period (3150–2613 BCE), and Sanskrit in India during the Vedic period (1500 to 500 BCE). The writing was later adopted by other cultures enabling the development of civilization.

The period before the invention of writing is known as the prehistoric period when there was no written record of human thought and action. Archaeologists have reconstructed this era through material evidence such as grave goods, images on cave walls, and ancient rubbish dumps from the Banpo village in China or Skara Brae in Scotland. After the script was invented, however, a written history of civilization became available to complement and explain how people lived and thought and, together, provided the modern world with its own history.

Scripts developed from simple to more complex writing systems:

  •  Pictorial (a symbol for an object, word, or phrase)
  • Ideographic (a symbol for an object or concept such as a sign for a percentage %)
  •  Logical (one symbol for the whole word or phrase)
  •  A phoneme (a symbol representing a sound)
  •  Alphabetical (less than 100 symbols (letters) are used to form words representing objects and concepts)


The last three are still used today in written languages such as Chinese (logographic), Russian (phonographic), and English (alphabet). Scholars debate whether Mesopotamia, Egypt, or the Indus Valley Civilization first invented the script, but it is generally believed to have originated in Sumer. Once invented, it was developed by other civilizations for communication, record-keeping related to trade, and religious belief, but over time, it came to preserve every aspect of the human condition.

Mesopotamia and the birth of the script

The script was first invented in Sumer around 3500 BC. 3200 BC in the city of Uruk. Although those of the Indus Valley Civilization (7000–600 BCE) are sometimes cited as the first, the Indus script has not been deciphered, and the oldest inscriptions date to the middle or later part of the Early Harappan period ( 5500–2800 BCE), 3500 BCE. By that time, proto-cuneiform script had been invented in Mesopotamia as well as impression stamps are known as cylinder seals, dating from 7600–6000 BCE. Scholar Stephen Baartman comments on the origins of the script in Mesopotamia:


As vast and influential as its impact was, the origins of writing were simple and humble. The earth itself was its birthplace: the clay found along its rivers was shaped in the hands into small pillow-like tablets for writing, while the reeds growing along the rivers became the tools. By neatly cutting off the upper and lower parts of the stem, the reed became a stylus and acquired a triangular cross-section that could be pressed into soft soil. The wedge-shaped indentation later gave rise to a name for this style of writing, “cuneiform” from the Latin word “cuneus” for the wedge.

The script was invented in ancient Mesopotamia to meet a need arising from trade, as Baartman wrote:

      One thing is almost certain: necessity was the mother of invention. As each culture became more economically and politically complex near the 4th millennium BCE, writing was devised as a method of record-keeping. The raw materials needed to become literate were found by each nation in its natural environment.

In Mesopotamia, it began in the Uruk period (4100–2900 BCE) and was fully developed by the Early Dynastic period (2900–2334 BCE). The Adubba (“House of Tablets”) was the scribal school where the script was taught and refined so that, by 2600 BCE, literature was created and activities of daily life were recorded. The Instructions of the Shurupag, the world’s oldest philosophical text, is generally dated. Maybe as old as 2000 BC. 2600 BCE and the first appearance of the hero-king Gilgamesh is dated to 2150 BCE.

As writing developed as a craft, it required its own patron deity, first visualized as the Sumerian goddess Nisaba and, later, the Babylonian deity Nabu. These deities, like those of other civilizations, were thought to have inspired scribes with the ability to capture concepts in the script and preserve them for future generations to learn. The ability to write and read the script was highly regarded in any given culture and works now known as literature are routinely attributed to divine inspiration and guidance, as scholar Will Durant states:

The literature is at first words rather than syllables, despite its name; It originated in the form of clerical chants or magic spells, usually recited by priests, and transmitted orally from memory to memory. Carmina, as the Romans named the poem, meant both verses and charms; Ode, among the Greeks, was originally a magic spell; So the British ran and lay down, and the German Lied. The rhythm and meter, perhaps suggested by the rhythms of nature and physical life, were apparently developed by magicians or shamans to preserve, transmit, and enhance the magic spells of their verse. Of these priestly origins, the poet, orator, and historian were differentiated and secularized: the orator as the official exponent of the king or deity’s advocate; the Historian as recorder of royal deeds; Poets originally as singers of sacred chants, narrators, and patrons of heroic legends, and musicians who put their stories to music for the instruction of masses and kings.

The Mesopotamian scribe most famous for her literary work was the high priestess Enheduanna (1. 2285–2250 BC), daughter of Sargon of Akkad (Sargon the Great, r. 2334–2279 BC), who is considered the first scribe in the world. Is known. Name. Initially, the cuneiform script was used to write the Sumerian language, but during and after the Akkadian period (2334–2218 BCE), it also served to write Akkadian and, later, other languages of the Mesopotamian civilizations.

Egyptian hieroglyphs

The same pattern of development of the script is also seen in other ancient cultures. In ancient Egypt, it was also invented to convey information about goods in long-distance trade. Early pictographic writing dates back to the Predynastic period (6000 to c. 3150 BC) in Egypt and had evolved into a hieroglyphic script by the Early Dynastic period, as evidenced by the offering of lists found in tombs.

Like the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians credited gods with the gift of writing, and their literary deities were Thoth and Sheshat. Seshat not only inspired Egyptian scribes but placed his works in a celestial library where they were believed to be preserved for eternity, encouraging belief in writing as a means of immortality. However, the hope of eternal life through one’s work was only open to the scribe who wrote in the spirit of truth or, in other words, who was informed on the subject and whose work encouraged recognition of cultural values. . Scholar Margaret Bunson comments:

[In ancient Egypt, Thoth created the script.] He was considered skilled in sorcery and became the patron of all scribes throughout the land. Thoth appears in Horu’s legends and was portrayed in every age as a god who ‘loved and hated truth’.

Before Egyptian scribes could write anything down, however, they needed something to write and something to write on. Early Egyptian paintings were carved on rocks and painted in tombs, and early hieroglyphic script followed this pattern until the invention of other materials. Baartman notes:

At about the same time in history [as the Sumerians created writing], writing was invented in the Nile Valley. There the Egyptians made use of a plant that grew abundantly along the banks of the river, the papyrus plant. From its fibrous pulp, beaten flat and dried in the sun, they made the world’s first paper. Actually, our word “paper” comes from the ancient word “papyrus”. From the loose fibers at the ends of the plant’s stems, the Egyptians made brushes that they used to apply ink to paper.

Initially, the script was used to write the Prasad List, a list of what was due to the deceased, written on the walls of their tomb. These lists can be quite long and often include details of the person’s life and prayers for offerings. These early lists inspired the first works written on papyrus – prayers, and biographies – that would eventually develop into Egyptian literature. The works of Egyptian scribes were both fictional and non-fictional, religious and secular, but they were understood to represent the truth of their subject matter in whatever was written. The writing was a sacred craft in Egypt, and their script was known as medu-netzer (“words of the gods”), translated by the Greeks as hieroglyphs (“sacred carvings”).

Chinese Scripts and Sanskrit

The scribe’s association with truth, with writing as revealing and preserving truth, was a constant in other cultures as well. In China, the earliest script appears through the use of oracle bones in the practice of divination around 1200 BCE during the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BCE). Questions in the form of pictures were carved into the shell of a tortoise or bone of some animal, and the object was exposed to intense heat. The resulting cracks in the shell or bone provide the fortune teller with the answer to the question.

However, this answer did not come from the mortal prophet but from the divine realm and was therefore a recognizable truth. From this beginning, the script evolved into the written expression of the spoken language of China. The four oldest Chinese scripts were:

  • Jiaguwen – pictographic (used on oracle bones)
  • Dajuan – pictorial but more refined, developed c. 1000–700 BCE, also known as the Greater Seal Script
  • Xiaozhuan – logical, developed c. 700 BCE, also known as the Lesser Seal Script
  • Lishu – logical, developed c. 500 BCE, also known as the clerical script because it was used by government bureaucrats

Later scripts included Kaishu, Xingshu, and Kaoshu, which developed during the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE) and the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). As in Egypt and Mesopotamia, Chinese scribes were expected to represent the truth in their writings, which meant being informed on the subject matter, and so, as in either culture, a writer was not only literate but highly educated. Was. The Chinese script was adopted by the Khitans of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia, as well as informing the Tangut script of Tibet. As writing spread, so did the concept of an educated, informed scribe.

The script as a representation of truth and inspired by the gods is inscribed in the Rigveda, the oldest Hindu scripture known as the Vedas from the Vedic period. The Sanskrit script developed in India through the Indo-Aryans (Aryan means “free” or “noble” and has nothing to do with race) and the Vedas – considered the real words of the universe – were passed down by oral tradition before they committed to writing C beginning. 1500 BC.

The Rigveda, consisting of 10 books of hymns, addresses basic philosophical questions of human existence, including “What is the source of life?” and “How did the world come to be?” These questions were explicitly asked sometime before the Vedic period, and their answers were debated, but once scripts developed, the written work could be referred to, and then others, as commentaries. was created. Through this process, other Vedas as well as later commentaries on them were written. Sanskrit also allowed for the codification of the beliefs of Charvaka, Jainism, and Buddhism.

Phoenicia, Greece, and Rome

The ancient Greeks also used script in the early period to maintain their religious beliefs. The text, known as The Room of the Chariot Tablets, is the oldest known work written in Linear B script, dated to c. 1400–1200 BCE (1700–1100 BCE), during the period of the Mycenaean civilization. Another early Greek script, the Linear A script, has not yet been deciphered. The Room of the Chariot Tablets, while not strictly a religious text, lists several deities that appear in the Greek pantheon of the later classical period.

The Phoenician alphabet was developed by c. 1100 BCE, adopted by the Greeks in the 9th–8th centuries BCE and replaced the Linear B script. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as well as the Works and Days and Theogony of Hesiod, all dated c. 8th century BC, were written in the Greek alphabet informed by the Phoenician system. According to Herodotus (l. c. 484–425–413 BCE), the alphabet was brought to Greece by the Phoenician Cadmus, best known as one of the earliest Greek heroes and the legendary founder of Thebes:

      the Phoenicians who came to Greece with Cadmus … settled in this land and introduced to the Greeks many achievements, most notably the alphabet, which, as far as I can tell, the Greeks did not have. At first, the letters they used were the same as all Phoenicians everywhere, but as time went on, along with the sound, they changed the way they wrote the letters.

The Greek alphabetic script developed during roughly the same period as the Etruscan script, and both together with the Phoenician system informed the Latin script of Rome. Although there is no connection between Latin and the cuneiform script of ancient Mesopotamia, the concept of representing language in script spread from Sumer throughout the ancient Mediterranean and developed itself in other regions (such as Africa, Asia, and Mesoamerica). The Latin script served the same purpose as Sanskrit or cuneiform, as Durant notes:

      As trade-linked tribes of diverse languages, some mutually intelligible methods of record and communication became desirable. Presumably, numerals were among the earliest written symbols, usually taking the form of parallelograms representing fingers; We call them fingers even when we speak of them as numbers. Words such as five, German Funf, and Greek Pente, originally meant hand; So the Roman numerals indicated the fingers, the ‘V’ represented an outstretched hand, and the ‘X’ was just two ‘V’s’ connected at their points. Writing in its beginning was a form of drawing, an art.



The script worked to communicate the most profound, as well as the most practical, aspects of the human condition. From a simple need to communicate across distances, the writing system became the means by which people preserved past knowledge, great advances, disappointments, and disasters, which are passed on to people in the present by reading about past events and hearing from older people. Offer the possibility to learn from the past. Voices, as Baartman notes:

      The invention of writing was one of the greatest achievements of Mesopotamia. It facilitated the organization and management of society and served as the main tool by which a complex civilization could come into existence. Eventually, it became the medium through which the collective experience and knowledge of the people were transmitted generationally. Although Mesopotamian languages and scripts eventually became extinct, the invention of writing has survived as its most enduring legacy to the modern world.

A writing system is listed as one of five factors necessary for the development of civilization. Although the script is often given in the present day, it has been vital to the progress of humanity, by providing a past for people to learn from and build upon, while at the same time, introducing and preserving concepts that are entirely new. or searching for questions. Which has been sought for centuries.

From Mesopotamian clay tablets and reeds to modern-day email and e-books, scripts allow one to communicate ideas with others over distances and between places that the authors themselves could never meet. can never see. For ancient people, it was a gift from the gods to be respected, and for many people in the present day, it remains so.

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