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International World History Project

World History From The Pre-Sumerian Period To The Present

A Collection Of World History Related Essays, Documents, Maps and Music


"Oh human race, born to fly upward."  "Wherefore at but a little wind does thou so easily fall?"



The invention of writing was one of the great advances in civilization. Writing, in fact, helps assure the continuity of civilization, because it carries a tangible record of the human race from generation to generation.

The earliest writing can be traced to Sumer, in Mesopotamia. This system did not use an alphabet, instead it used pictographs which are symbols representing familiar objects. This type of writing was called cuneiform, or wedge-shaped writing. Egyptians used hieroglyphics, also a pictograph system.

The use of an alphabet probably originated among the Phoenicians sometime between 1700 and 1500 BC. This Semitic writing had only consonants; the ancient Greeks later came up with the idea of vowels. The Chinese writing system, also very ancient, maintained its pictograph character instead of developing an alphabet.

The history and prehistory of writing are as long as the history of civilization itself. Indeed the development of communication by writing was a basic step in the advance of civilization.

Yet writing is little more than 5,000 years old. The oldest writings that have come down to the present day are inscriptions on clay tablets made by the Sumerians in about 3100 BC. The Sumerians lived in Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Egyptians in the Nile River valley developed writing about 100 to 200 years later

Writing is sometimes spoken of as humankind's greatest invention. It was developed by many people, in many places, and over a long period of time. The identity of the individuals responsible for the major steps in the development of writing is not known. Their names, like those of the inventors of the wheel, are lost forever in the dimness of the past.






Copyright 1995 2006  [World History Project Sacramento, CA. USA] All rights reserved.

Updated October 2006*


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