History of Writings

In every culture, there is a history of writings and verbal set of spoken sounds that communicate specific meanings. This is a form of verbal exchange. But writing is still spoken communication, and it’s just done in a different manner. A Script, or writing, refers to a visual representation of spoken words.

Palaeography, the study of the history of handwriting as a discipline, is based on the premise that writing has its own history. Only those who have dedicated their lives to learning the alphabet can decipher it, even after it has replaced hieroglyphics as the primary means of communication. In order to understand the old manuscripts, one must always be acquainted with the crinkled and compressed text, with forms of abbreviations and techniques for simplifying the tedious transcribing process. As essential as this field is to historical investigation,

Early markings were mostly memory aids, such as those used across the primitive globe, such as scratch marks on sticks or leaves and bark of trees, runic signs, wampum belts, guaranteeing that all participants to an agreement remember alike, or documenting information. One of the most essential of these methods is the use of symbols representing ownership to indicate rights of property.

For the most part, palimpsests kept the half-obliterated original when a weaker texture like papyrus would not have been capable of doing so. A sponge could clean the papyrus leaves, but they couldn’t be reused for long-lasting texts because of the paper’s weak structure.

The fragmented nature of the original texts preserved by mediaeval palimpsests reveals that “the scribes were indiscriminate in feeding themselves with material from any ancient volumes that happened to be at hand.” Even though the writings are fragmentary, modern academics have been able to reconstruct valuable passages from antiquity’s lost pieces of literature by treating them chemically and critically reading them.

The oldest inscriptions, from which historical records sprang, were just monograms of names like these. They were, of course, royal name monograms etched on Egyptian stone or Babylonian brick. Such monograms, carved into the rock over five thousand years ago, have preserved the name of Egypt’s purported founder of the first dynasty for us. The early Babylonian inscriptions have identical royal names and titles, and they are simply historical documents as a courtesy.

History of Writings Development

Writings in Mesopotamia

Scholars largely agree that Mesopotamia was the site of the development of the earliest form of writing more than 5,500 years ago (present-day Iraq). Early visual signals were gradually superseded by a complex system of letters reflecting the sounds of Sumerian (the language of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia) and other languages as the world’s first written language. Around 3200 BCE, the earliest Mesopotamian tablets were written, and Picture-like signs and numerals were included. These were around 5,000 lists of cattle, fish, bread loaves, and other things brought into or distributed from the temples of Uruk, a city in the south.

Writing arose when society needed to preserve records of transactions – because transactions in city life happened at different times, included many individuals and involved a wide range of things.

Mesopotamians wrote on clay tablets. A scribe would moisten clay and pat it into a size that he could easily handle in one hand, then meticulously smoothen its surfaces. He would use the sharp end of an obliquely cut reed to press wedge-shaped (‘cuneiform’) marks onto the smoothened surface while it was still damp.

When dried in the sun, the clay hardens, and the tablets become virtually as unbreakable as pottery. For example, when a written record of the delivery of metal components became obsolete, the tablet was discarded. Signs could not be pressed onto a tablet once it had dried; therefore, each transaction, no matter how modest, required an unique written tablet.

This is why tablets may be found in their hundreds at Mesopotamian sites. Because of this richness of information, we know far more about Mesopotamia than we do about modern India.

By about 260 BCE, the letters had become cuneiform, and the language was Sumerian. The writing was now employed not just for maintaining records, but also for creating dictionaries, granting legal legitimacy to property transactions, recounting monarchs’ deeds, and declaring changes to the region’s customary rules. Sumerian, the first known Mesopotamian language, was progressively superseded by the Akkadian language from 2400 BCE. Cuneiform writing in the Akkadian language was used until the first century CE, a period of more than 2,000 years.

Writings in China

Writing in China appears to have emerged independently from divination ceremonies utilizing oracle bones around 1200 BCE, given there is no indication of cultural transmission between China and Mesopotamia at this time. Divination in ancient China was accomplished by carving markings on bones or shells, which were then burned until they shattered. A Diviner would then interpret the fractures.

The first evidence of writing in China were discovered near Anyang, on a branch of the Yellow River 500 kilometers south of Beijing. The rulers of the late Shang dynasty (1300–1050 BC) established their capital here and performed divination ceremonies with animal bones.

For decades, farmers discovered bone pieces and marketed them as ‘dragon bones for use in Chinese medicine. It wasn’t until 1899 that politician and scholar Wang Yirong (1845–1900) recognised and realised the importance of characters engraved into the surface of some of these bones. These inscriptions, the earliest written documents of Chinese civilisation discovered to date, enhanced Chinese historical and linguistic knowledge by many centuries.

These ‘oracle’ bones (oxen and turtle plastrons) record queries made to the royal ancestors on issues ranging from agricultural rotation to warfare, childbirth, and even pain. Nearly 150,000 such bones have been discovered to date, comprising over 4,500 distinct symbols, many of which may be identified as forebears of Chinese characters still in use today.

Writings in Egypt

New finds have brought the chronology of Egyptian writing closer to that of Mesopotamia. The discovery of large-scale engraved ritual scenes at the Egyptian rock art site of El-Khawy dates to circa 3250 BC. They have characteristics that are akin to early hieroglyphic forms. Some of these rock-carved signs stand about a meter tall.

Egyptian hieroglyphs first emerged around 3200 BC on tiny ivory tablets used as labels for burial goods in the tomb of the pre-dynastic King Scorpion at Abydos, as well as on ceremonial surfaces used for grinding cosmetics, such as the Narmer Palette.

Writing with ink with reed brushes and pens was invented in Egypt. This ink writing became known as hieratic (‘priestly’ script) in Greek, whereas the carved and painted letters we see on monuments are known as hieroglyphs (‘holy carvings’).

Carved and written characters are both recent. This shows that writing in Egypt had two uses from the beginning: one was ceremonial, a display script (carved), and the other was in the service of royal and temple authorities (written).

Within four centuries after the discoveries in King Scorpion’s tomb, hieroglyphs and Hieratic (an Ancient Egyptian cursive writing system) had acquired a full spectrum of characters. This included: 24 uni-consonantal symbols (an ‘alphabet’ made up entirely of consonants) phonetic components that represented sound combinations determinative signals (signs with no phonetic value, used only to determine which of several alternative meanings for a word is meant in a particular context).It is through this Egyptian writing that an alphabet would initially emerge, around 1850 BC.

Writings in Indus River valley (Pakistan and northwest India)

This region of Pakistan and northwest India has contained items with symbols that might represent writing. At least 7000 years ago, a civilization in the Indus area utilized these symbols as a conclusion of a long history of human colonization. Between 2600 and 1900 BC, cities had a flourishing high urban culture, but, after that time, the cities began to deteriorate.

Despite the fact that we know of nearly 5,000 inscribed artefacts, the longest of which has 26 symbols, the majority of them only have three or four signs.

There aren’t enough of the 400 recognized unique symbols to make a logographic word-based writing system workable. Pre-dynastic Egyptian hieroglyphics and early Sumerian writing both used a comparable amount of characters. The Indus River Valley script, like these two other scripts, has been theorized to feature a combination of logographic and syllabic elements.

Quiz Time: Answer in the comments

How do you represent verbal language you speak? How do you preserve for long time? .
What do you mean by the term Palaeography?
How do you infer old writings or old manuscripts or monograms?
How historians learned from these inscriptions?
Write about writing development in different regions of world.
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