The first revolution in human communications
occurred when the Sumerians developed a written language. In
this they were followed shortly after by the Egyptians.
This step had a fantastic impact on life in
Mesopotamia. With this invention, people could record their
deeds and transactions, give lasting form to their thoughts and
visions, and preserve their laws and commandments. Writing proved
to be a huge tool in aiding progress and it vastly hastened the
growth and spread of civilisation.
The Sumerian writing system went through several
stages of development from its beginnings, and some of them were
roughly paralleled by equivalent developments in Egypt.
The first stage in Sumerian writing was pictorial,
with simple pictures representing concrete objects and actions.
These symbols, or pictograms, were initially used as business
accounts from the late fourth millennium onwards in Mesopotamia.
Long-range trading networks were being solidified at the same time,
reaching up into Anatolia and westwards to Syria and the Levant.
The use of clay counters, or tokens, to help record
transactions was already common by then, having been introduced as
early as 8000 BC for basic record keeping.
The next stage was keeping those tokens inside a
sealed clay 'envelope' which was marked with symbols to indicate
what was inside.
The first actual texts consisted of numbers only,
but the next development was in numbers with representations of
domesticated animals, which probably functioned as receipts.
Records of the most primitive kind come from Uruk and Ninevah in
Mesopotamia, Habuba Kabira and Tell Brak in Syria, and Susa, Choga
Mish, and Godin Tepe in Elam (modern Iran).
The most important subsequent development took
place in Mesopotamia. Marks were made by inscribing wet cakes of
clay (tablets) in vertical columns with the end of a hollow reed
stem, or stylus, which produced wedge-shaped marks.
Gradually, from this, an entire pictographic script
In this early Sumerian script, a stylised drawing
of a human head meant 'head', while two wavy lines meant 'water'.