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. 

I recently created some online content for the University of Sydney's Chau Chak Wing Museum exploring cuneiform and a few examples of ancient Sumerian texts that are in the museum's collection. It is in the format of a few short videos looking at a royal inscription on a ceramic cone, agricultural recording on a clay tablet, and a receipt on a brick fragment. 

Since the inception of writing by the ancient Sumerians, we can trace the spread of writing systems and recording throughout the world in an enormous range of different cultures and societies. This has led to the widespread way in which we use writing today to communicate in so many different media.