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Before the advent of alphabets, people used cuneiform as a writing system. Regardless of what they wrote on, on wood or clay, the signs turned out to be wedge-shaped. In the Bronze Age, Sumerian and Akkadian became the most famous written language.

History of appearance

The first known cuneiform monument dates back to the middle of the IV millennium BC. It is a clay tablet from the city of Kish in Mesopotamia. A little younger than her is a sign from the city of Uruk. It dates back to 3300 BC.

The process of the emergence of cuneiform coincided with the appearance of the wheel and metallurgy – copper smelting.

In the cities between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lived people who were engaged in handicrafts and trade. They needed to somehow transmit information and record the number of products produced or sold. Consequently, the importance of cuneiform for those societies is that it allowed transmitting information by improvised means – on a clay tablet. It was first created by representatives of the Sumerian kingdom, and then it penetrated into Elam on the territory of modern Iran. By the end of the II millennium BC, Cuneiform writing spread throughout the Middle East. Cuneiform archives have been preserved in a number of ancient cities, for example, in the Egyptian Amarna and the Hittite Hattus.

Features of this writing system

Cuneiform characters are often called pictograms. Each of them carried some kind of quantitative or qualitative shade, for example, meant one bag of grain or two sheep. Later, ideograms appeared, that is, the binding of drawings to abstract concepts. For example, “fertility" was depicted as a bird and an egg. A kalam stick was used for writing. The number of symbols used by the middle of the III millennium BC reached 600.

Cuneiform was widely used in such languages:

  • Hurrian
  • Elamite
  • Hittite
  • Urartian

Separately, we can single out the Ugaritic alphabet, which appeared on the Mediterranean coast of modern Syria. It was cuneiform only in form, but was formed under the influence of the Phoenician alphabet.

The Cuneiform of Babylon
Cuneiform is one of the first topics that are taught in the school history course of the 5th grade. In the curriculum, the meaning of this term is briefly explained to children. Cuneiform is studied in more detail at the Department of the Ancient World of the Faculty of History.
Cuneiform of Mesopotamia

What have we learned?

To understand the achievements of the Ancient world, it is necessary to know what cuneiform is. It appeared in Mesopotamia, spread to the Middle East, and then ceased to be used due to the spread of the Greek alphabet.

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