Introduction-Writing in the Ancient World

World Map Showing the Beginnings of Writing

          In the far distant past, when events were recorded with symbols, the emergence of a writing system heralded the emergence of written history. Of all the ancient peoples, the earliest to cast aside primitive symbols and develop a form of writing were the Sumerians of Uruk. Around 3300 BC, they began to write using a system of symbols which, after 2900 BC, developed into the cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia. It was later borrowed in the Babylonian and Assyrian scripts. Between 3100 and 3000 BC, perhaps influenced by the Sumerians, Egyptians developed a pictographic (hieroglyphic) form of writing. Sometime around 2500 BC, writing also appeared in the Indus Valley, while the oldest Chinese oracle bone inscriptions date from the 14th century BC.

          The writing systems of the Near East disappeared with the fall of their civilizations. Only with the Renaissance movement in Europe did these civilizations once again receive attention. European imperialism and exoticism brought relics of ancient Egypt and the Near East into Western museums, thereby reintroducing these civilizations and their scripts to the world.