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Ancient Writing


Ancient Writing Pre-requisites for Civilization Agriculture developed in the Fertile Crescent around 9000 bce Mining and use of copper around 6000 bce Growth of ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ancient Writing

Ancient Writing
Pre-requisites for Civilization
  • Agriculture developed in the Fertile Crescent
    around 9000 bce
  • Mining and use of copper around 6000 bce
  • Growth of villages and towns
  • Division of labor
  • Smelting of tin and copper to make bronze around
    3000 bce gt Bronze Age

Invention of Writing
  • Writing developed on the basis of earlier
    existing pictographs and ideographs-- pictures
    began to be used to denote syllables of sound,
    not meaning alone
  • Modern humans began drawing pictures 40,000 years
    ago (San in SW Africa, Australian Aborigines,
    Cro-Magnon in southwest Europe).
  • True writing is thought to have been invented
    independently at least twice and perhaps three
    times in different places and times in human
  • in ancient Sumeria by 3200 bce -- where cuneiform
  • in ancient Mexico by the Olmecs before 400
    bce--the precursor to the Maya glyphs (used
    2001500 ce)
  • Writing may have been invented a third time
    independently in North China by 1200 bce - -the
    precursor of modern Chinese characters

Stimulus Diffusion
  • After the Sumerians, the idea of writing seems to
    have diffused to many peoples of Southwest Asia
    and Egypt.
  • The Egyptians, the Cretans, the Elamites, and the
    Indus Valley peoples developed writing.
  • Clay inscriptions dating back as far a 2500 bce
    have been found in these areas.  As yet none of
    the inscriptions from Crete or the Indus Valley
    have been deciphered.
  • It is virtually certain that these peoples
    borrowed the idea of writing syllables of sound
    by using pictures.

Divine Invention
  • In Mesopotamia, the Sumerians credit either the
    god Enlil or Ningizzida, Lord of the Tree of
    Truth, as the creator of writing.
  • Later during Assyrian, and Babylonian periods,
    the god Nabu was credited as the inventor of
    writing and scribe of the gods.
  • Mesopotamian scribal gods also exhibit the power
    of creation via divine speech.

Divine Invention Egypt and Phoenicia
  • In ancient Egypt, the invention of writing is
    attributed to the god Thoth or Tehuti (Dhwty in
    Egyptian), the scribe and historian of the gods,
    who also kept the calendar and invented art and
  • Taautos of Byblos, the Phoenician precursor of
    Thoth, was the father of tautology or imitation.
  • The Greeks associated both gods with their god,

Mesopotamian Writing
  • At first, the Sumerians used stone and clay
    tokens, which represented various goods and
    numerical values, to keep track of their
    mercantile dealings.
  • Around 3200 B.C. these tokens were replaced by
    markings made on clay tablets and written
    language was born.
  • The first cuneiform writings consisted of
    pictograms, drawings of the items represented.
  • Shortly thereafter ideograms, or abstract
    symbols, were also used.

Tablet of pre-cuneiform script South
Mesopotamia Uruk III, end of 4th millenium
BC. Clay (?sun-baked clay) Louvre
Cuneiform Clay Tablet, ca. 1900 bce.
  • Cuneiform recorded all important activities, from
    the sale of land to marriage and adoption
  • By the middle of the third millennium bce, the
    Sumerian written language was developed enough to
    record oral epic poetry, such as The Epic of

Student Practice Tablet
  • Literacy was a highly valued skill
  • Sumerians set up first institutions of formal
    education edubba
  • Education included writing and mathematics
  • Tuition paid for education
  • Educated were privileged elite government
    officials, scribes, etc.

Deciphering Cuneiform
1835 Henry Rawlinson, an English army officer,
found some inscriptions on a cliff at Behistun in
Persia. Carved in the reign of King Darius of
Persia (522-486 BC), they consisted of identical
texts in three languages Old Persian, Babylonian
and Elamite.
Nippur Flood Tablet
...a flood will sweep over the cult centers To
destroy the seed of mankind... Is the decision,
the word of the assembly of the gods. By the word
commanded by An and Enlil... All the windstorms,
exceedingly powerful, attacked as one, At the
same time, the flood sweeps over the cult
centers. After, for seven days and seven
nights, The flood had swept over the land, And
the huge boat had been tossed about by the
windstorms on the great waters, Utu came forth,
who sheds light on heaven and earth, Ziusudra
opened a window on the huge boat, The hero Utu
brought his rays into the giant boat.
The tablet can be dated by its script to the late
17th century BC. University of Pennsylvania
Enheduanna, Priestess and Poet, the worlds first
known writer Enheduannas Inscription
Here are the first 4 lines of cuneiform 1)
en-he-du-an-na.....................En-he-du-ana, 2
) MUNUS.NUNUZ.ZI.............zirru priestess 3)
dam-nanna........................... wife of the
god Nanna, 4) dumu-...............................
....daughter The inscription continues 5)
sarru-GI............................ of Sargon,
6) lugal...............................
king of 7) KIS..................................
. the world (Kish), 8) e-INANNA.ZA.ZA.............
in the temple of the goddess 9)
uri.KI-ma-ka...................... Inanna- ZA.ZA
in Ur, 10) bara-si-ga........................
made a socle and 11) bi-e-du 12) bara
bansur-an-na...........named it 'dais, table
of 13) mu-se bi-sa......................the god
Were Egyptians the first scribes?
  • The earliest writing ever seen may have been
    discovered in southern Egypt. The hieroglyphics
    record linen and oil deliveries made over 5,000
    years ago.
  • The exact date of Sumerian writing remains in
    doubt but the new Egyptian discoveries have been
    confidently dated to between 3300 BC and 3200 BC
    using carbon isotopes

3100-2700 bce
  • The culmination of the formative stage of the
    Ancient Egyptian civilization that began
    centuries before during the Prehistory
  • Goal to gain stable, superior status in Mid-East
  • Establishment of divine kingship as Egypt's form
    of government
  • Writing evolved from a few simple signs to a
    complex system of several hundreds of signs with
    both phonetic and ideographic values.
  • Craftsmen increased their skills and experimented
    with the use of more durable materials.
  • Structures built in brick, wood and reeds were
    copied in stone, giving birth to the typical
    Ancient Egyptian architecture.

Palermo Stone
  • A dark stone containing information from the
    early dynasties.
  • It is inscribed on both sides with a list of
    kings from Pre-Dynastic Egypt to the middle of
    the 5th Dynasty.
  • The exact creation date is not known, the
    earliest possible date being the middle of the
    5th Dynasty.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs
  • Hieroglyphs were called by the Egyptians "the
    words of God" and were used mainly by the
  • The painstakingly drawn symbols decorated the
    walls of temples
  • Hieratic script was used for conducting day to
    day business
  • Hieroglyphs are written in rows or columns and
    can be read from left to right or from right to
    left. The direction in which the text is to be
    read is indicated by the human or animal figures
    which always face towards the beginning of the
  • The upper symbols are read before the lower.

History of Hieroglyphs
  • 30th century BCE The hieroglyphic system is
  • 500 BCE A slow revolution of hieroglyphic
    writing starts, as new signs are introduced. The
    number of available signs in the system grows
    over the centuries from around 700 to several
  • 394 CE The date of the last case of hieroglyphic
  • 1799 The Rosetta Stone is discovered, which
    contained the same text in two languages
    (Egyptian and Greek), and in three writing system
    (hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek).
  • 1822 The French scientist Jean-Francoise
    Champollion completes the decipherment of the

Rosetta Stone, 196 bce
History of Hieratic Script
  • Around 2750 BCE First examples of hieratic
  • Around 2000 BCE Writing direction changes from
    vertical to horizontal read from right to left
  • Around 600 BCE Demotic script replaces hieratic
    script for use with secular writing. Hieratic
    continued to be used for religious texts.
  • Around 100 CE Last examples of hieratic script.

Hieratic Script
  • Developed from the hieroglyphic system.
  • Hieratic comes from Greek denoting "priestly",
    since it was used only for sacred texts in the
    last 1000 years of its existence.
  • Hieratic script was used in carved or painted
    inscriptions, normally written in ink with a reed
    pen on papyrus.
  • Hieratic script lasted for about 3200 years, but
    was through the last 1000 years challenged by
    demotic script.
  • Hieratic script was taught in school, while
    hieroglyphs were only understood by a small
    minority of priests in the society.

History of Demotic Script
  • 660 bce First known example of demotic script.
  • 5th century bce Demotic script is in use all
    over Egypt.
  • Beginning 4th century ce Demotic script is
    starting to be replaced by Greek writing.
  • 425 ce Last known example of demotic script.

Demotic Script
  • Demotic script lasted for about 1000 years,
    during the last period of ancient Egyptian
  • The term "demotic" comes from the Greek word for
    people, or popular.
  • Demotic script was used for business and literary
    purposes, while hieratic was used for religious
  • Demotic was the most abbreviated and cursive
    script developed by the ancient Egyptians
  • Most demotic texts were written in ink on
    papyrus. It was also written on wood or linen or
    carved in stone or metal.

Who were the Phoenicians?
  • Phoenicians, Canaanites Punic/ Carthaginians
    are the same people Eastern Canaanites were
    called Phoenicians by the Greeks Western
    Canaanites were called Punic by the Romans.
  • The Phoenicians called themselves Canaanites, and
    they were the descendants of two groups, the
    early Canaanites who inhabited the coast of
    Lebanon, and the Sea People who invaded Lebanon
    about l200 bce.
  • Economic opportunity and population pressures led
    them into the Mediterranean Sea where they became
    great traders and colonizers
  • The Phoenician alphabetic script of 22 letters
    was used at Byblos as early as the 15th century

  • Phoenicia is a term which was applied by
    classical authors to the city-states northern
    Lebanon from 1200 BC onwards.
  • Their main cities were Tyre, Sidon and Byblos on
    the coast of Lebanon
  • The Greek word from which 'Phoenicia' derived
    meant 'purple', and was a translation of the name
  • Canaan which may have had some linguistic
    connection with the purple dye produced from
    local murex shellfish for which the region was

http// http//
enicia.html http//
The Sea Peoples
  • The Phoenicians were the best seafarers and ship
    builders of the ancient world.
  • The famous Lebanese cedar trees covering the
    slopes of mountains of their native land was a
    perfect material for construction of strong
    seaworthy ships.
  • The Phoenicians are credited with the division of
    a circle into 360 degrees and having reliable
    celestial reference points.
  • The earliest evidence for Phoenician ships comes
    from an Egyptian tomb relief of around 1400 BC at
    Thebes which shows Phoenician ships unloading in
    an Egyptian port.

Cedars of Lebanon Egyptian connection
  • As far as back as 3200 B.C., the people of
    Gebeil (Byblos) were cutting down cedar trees in
    the mountains of Lebanon, to be shipped to Egypt
    and Mesopotamia for use in building ships and
    making columns for houses.
  • The Phoenicians brought back gold, copper,
    and turquoise from the Nile Valley and Sinai.
  • Canaanite ceramic pieces have been found in
    Egyptian tombs dating back to 2999 B.C.
  • Legend has it that an Egyptian pharaoh hired a
    band of Phoenicians to map and circumnavigate
    the coast of Africa.

Phoenician Writing
  • The 1st inscription reads "Wall built by
    Abibaal, king of Byblos, for Baalat-Gebel, his
    lady. May Baalat-Gebel prolong the days of
    Abibaal and his years over Byblos."
  • The 3rd inscription reads "Wall built by
    Shipitbaal, king of Byblos, son of Elibaal, king
    of Byblos, for Baalat-Gebel, his lady. May
    Baalat-Gebel prolong the days of Shipitbaal and
    his years over Byblos." The red line indicates
    the presumed location for Shipitbaal'.

Phoenician alphabet
  • The Phoenician alphabet consisted of twenty-two
    symbols, all consonants. Each one represented its
    own sound.
  • The Egyptian symbol for the ox head was given
    the Semitic name aleph and was sounded as "a."
  • The Phoenician alphabet was used to form the
    other alphabets which followed it. Aleph became
    the Greek alpha, Beth became beta. In time, these
    letters became the Latin letters A and B, etc.
  • The written language inscribed on papyrus, a
    type of paper made of reeds.
  • So, closely linked with papyrus with the city of
    Byblos (which traded cedar for the paper) that
    when the writing of the Hebrew prophets were
    translated into Greek the city's name was given
    to the great book- Biblia the Bible.

Phoenician alphabet
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Cadmuss gift to the Greeks
The Phoenicians who came with Cadmus
introduced into Greece, after their settlement in
the country, a number of accomplishments, of
which the most important was writing, an art till
then, I think, unknown to the Greeks. At first
they used the same characters as all the other
Phoenicians, but as time went on, and they
changed their language, they also changed the
shape of their letters. At that period most of
the Greeks in the neighborhood were Ionians they
were taught these letters by the Phoenicians and
adopted them, with a few alterations, for their
own use, continuing to refer to them as the
Phoenician characters - as was only right, as the
Phoenicians had introduced them.
The Histories
Writing in China
  • The origins of Chinese writing are obscure and
  • Some believe that the principle was borrowed
    through the trade routes from Sumeria to
    China--which would be an example of stimulus
  • Many believe that the ancient Chinese hit upon
    the writing principle completely independently. 
  • The earliest known form of true writing in China
    dates from the Shang dynasty, 1200 bce-1045 bce,
    dates considerably later than for Sumerian
    writing.  But it is entirely possible that
    pictographic signs had begun to be used as sound
    symbols in China long before that. 
  • Ancient pictograms and ideograms came to be used
    to denote syllables of sound rather than to
    depict concepts. 

Shang Dynasty 16th-11th c. bce
Shang Dynasty
  • Central Yellow River Valley
  • Oldest examples of Chinese writing
  • Hunters and farmers
  • Brilliant bronze culture
  • casting of intricate ritual vessels
  • tools
  • Cities
  • Cheng Chow (16th c. bc)
  • Anyang (C. 1384-1111 bc)

Oracle Bones
  • Oracle bones used for divination.
  • A question was written on the bone, which was
    then fired and a T shaped crack was produced to
    be interpreted the interpretation was then
    written on the bone.
  • After the predicted event occurred, the date of
    the occurrence was also written on the bone.

Astronomy and Calendar
Ox bone inscribed with a table of the Heavenly
Stems and Earthly Branches
  • Oracle bone with record of solar eclipse

Writing in the Americas
  • The oldest discovered examples of writing in the
    Americas are a cylinder seal and carved
    greenstone plaque bearing glyphs dating to ca.
    650 bce, uncovered near the Olmec center of La
    Venta in Tabasco, Mexico.
  • Key aspects of the Mesoamerican scripts were
    present in Olmec writing
  • the combination of pictographic and glyphic
    elements to represent speech,
  • the use of the sacred 260-day calendar,
  • the connection between writing, the calendar, and
  • Writing spread from La Venta to other parts of
    Mesoamerica, where the Maya developed the Olmec
    prototype into the New World's most sophisticated

http// research/meso/
Olmec ca. 1200-300 bce
  • Established the first major Mesoamerican
  • Often regarded as the Mother Culture of later
    Middle American civilizations,the Olmec people
    called themselves Xi
  • First to use stone architecturally and
  • Clever mathematicians and astronomers who made
    accurate calendars
  • Highly developed technical skills
  • magnetic compass
  • skill with iron ores
  • complex drainage system
  • First writing in North America

Olmec Glyph
  • This plaque records the story of creation.
  • It shows the World Tree sprouting out of Creation

Olmec influence on Central-American Civilizations
  • Art
  • Religious symbolism
  • Hieroglyphic writing
  • Bar and dot numbering system
  • Calendar
  • Bloodletting ritual
  • Ball game

  • Although there was never such a thing as a Maya
    Empire, the diverse peoples and
    politico-religious formations that in the past
    occupied Yucatán and modern day Belize, Chiapas,
    Guatemala and Honduras, all had common cultural
  • a highly developed calendar
  • a rich complex writing system, and sophisticated
  • Archeologists and historians recognize several
    periods in the history of these cultures
  • Preclassic 2000 bce-100ad
  • Classic 100 -900 ad
  • Postclassic 900 ad-1500 ad

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Mayan Hieroglyphics
  • The unit of the Maya writing system is the
    glyphic cartouche, which is equivalent to the
    words and sentences of a modern language.
  • Maya cartouches included at least three or four
    glyphs and as many as fifty.
  • There is no Maya alphabet.
  • Writing considered to be a sacred gift from the
  • Knowledge of reading and writing was jealously
    guarded by a small elite class, who believed that
    they alone could interact directly with the gods

Glyphs representing, from left to right
the sky an ahau (king) a house
a child the city of Palenque.

The Maya wrote using 800 individual signs or
glyphs, paired in columns that read together from
left to right and top to bottom. Maya glyphs
represented words or syllables that could be
combined to form any word or concept in the Mayan
language, including numbers, time periods, royal
names, titles, dynastic events, and the names of
gods, scribes, sculptors, objects, buildings,
places, and food.
  • Maya glyphs were also painted on codices made of
    either deer hide or bleached fig-tree paper that
    was then covered with a thin layer of plaster and
    folded accordion-style.
  • Recorded rituals, chronologies, myths and
    important events.
  • Most were burned by the Spanish during the 16th

4 Extant Codices Dresden, Madrid, Paris, Grolier
Popul Vuh
  • Book of Council
  • Sacred book of Quiche Maya
  • Lords of the great kingdom of Quiche had a way of
    seeing what could not be seen with the physical
  • Their guide was Popul Vuh, a book that could
    allow the lords to know past and future events.
  • The book speaks of occurrences before the first