The Concept of Civilisation

Origins of the word
Civilisation may seem like an impartial concept as just another word in the English language. But the connotations of the word, and its use in archaeology, are rightfully contentious if you look deeper. The origins of the term in English relates to the French word civilis√©, meaning 'civilised', which itself derives from the Latin civilis ('civil'). The Latin term is associated with civis, 'citizen', and civitas, 'city'.  The Eurocentrism inherent in the term 'civilisation' is clear when considering the history of this word. The ancient Romans contrasted themselves, who they viewed as civilis (civil), with non-Roman groups who were seen as being inferior or uncivilised. The ancient Greek term barbaros, used to refer to non-Greek speaking people of other cultures, was later adopted in Latin during the time of the Roman Empire. It is from this word that the English term barbarian is derived, with the negative connotations it encom…

Cuneiform and Early Writing

As part of my PhD research I have been looking at early writing systems. Writing systems are the way that language is visually represented. In the case of archaeology, writing systems make languages accessible to us through recording. If we know how to interpret a writing system, we can reconstruct the writing back into the speech that it represents. In this way we can find out much more about an ancient society than from archaeological artefacts alone. The earliest languages that we are aware of include Sumerian, ancient Chinese, ancient Egyptian, and Indus Valley or Harappan writing (the subject of my PhD). The Sumerians are credited with the first invention of writing about 5000 years ago, which developed from earlier non-written symbolic communication. Their writing system of cuneiform consisted of wedge-shaped strokes that were initially used for keeping administrative records to support their society. Other uses of the language include religious purposes and royal communication.…

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