Cuneiform writing is one of the oldest ways of writing. It started in Sumer then was adapted by several other nations such as Akkadia, Eblaite of Syria, Elamite, Hittite, Luwian, Hattic and Hurrian nations of north Mesopotamia, Syria and Asia Minor; and Urartian of Armenia, as well as influencing the Ugaritic and Old Persian alphabet system. It appears on the Bible Timeline around 2000 BC when it reached widespread use.
It was used all throughout the Middle East during the ancient times. Cuneiform started as pictographs of about 1,000 distinct figures. These figures were accepted and understood by the different nations in the Middle East; by nations who were using their own distinct languages. Gradually, the picture forms became simpler yet more abstract as the figures were cut down to 400 during the Late Bronze Age until it became extinct and replaced by the Phoenician alphabet. Cuneiform literally means “wedge-shaped” in Latin. Documents were written with the aid of the stylus blunt reed being pressed on clay tablets. The clay was then baked into an oven or left to dry under the sun. The reed stylus creates a wedge shape after being pressed to the surface of the tablet and thus inspired the term cuneiform. Aside from clay, cuneiform writings were also inscribed on stone, metal, and wax. The cuneiform tablets were usually so small that they could fit into someone’s palm.
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The Sumerians No one knows for sure where the Sumerians came from before they settled in Sumer. Sumer was situated in the middle of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers at the south of Mesopotamia. Sumerians excelled in farming that helped them survive despite the huge population. They were able to develop sophisticated canal and irrigation systems. They started out with struggling small towns that eventually flourished and developed into city-states. The nation’s main economic source was farming wheat, barley, date palms, and vegetables.
They also made a living on animals such as donkeys, sheep, and goats. As the civilisation flourished there were others who learned how to create art and tools of gold, silver, copper, and stone. The land was marshy and swampy, literally surrounded by mud. This is the reason why Sumerians made use of mud in cuneiform writing and mud brick in building infrastructures.
Sumerians contributed many important things and knowledge to mankind. They were thought to be the ones who started to use the arch and wheel and created the number system that was based on 10s and 6s. But introducing documented history through cuneiform writing is believed to be their most significant contribution. Sumerians documented essential information about their government, religion, culture, and even literature through the cuneiform. The first recognized code of law which is the Code of Hammurabi was inscribed on the cuneiform tablets together with hymns, epic tales, poems, and myths.
Evolution of Cuneiform
Aside from mud clay, Sumerians made use of metal, and stone as the mediums to write on. They scratched the surface of those materials to create the figures until they discovered the triangular reed stylus. First forms of cuneiform writings were in the form of pictograms. They were written and read from top to bottom. That changed to left to right in its later stage. The pictograms were used to document crops and taxes, as well the trade industry and astronomy. It also served as something like a daily journal.
Gradually, straight lines started to appear. Pictures became figures of straight lines and numbers were known by counting the strokes or circles. Then it became a combination of logograms and syllables. And eventually became alphabets during the time of Ugaritic and Old Persia. When the Phoenician alphabets appeared during the 7th and 6th century AD, it replaced the cuneiform writings until its extinction. The last cuneiform writing was an astronomical text believed to have been inscribed in 75 AD.
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