Mesopotamia – Egypt – Indus Valley
Shang – Olmec – Chavin - Aegean
 Early writing in pictures, lines, and symbols
 Represent sounds or words
 Monopolized by scribes
 Mostly used in government
 Sometimes commoners had own writing systems
 Languages have been deciphered from
civilizations with extensive trading contacts
 Mesopotamia & Egypt
 Bilingual texts available
 Some languages still undeciphered
 Indus Valley, Olmec, Chavin, Minoan
 First written language
 3500BCE
 Emerged similar in time to Egyptian hieroglyphics
 Representational at first
 Bull = picture of bull
 Pictograph of barley = barley
 Inconvenient for writing other than nouns &
increasingly abstract
 Functioned both phonetically (sounds)
and semantically (object or concept)
 Composed of wedges
 Accomplishments
 First written law
 Epic of Gilgamesh
 Hieroglyphics
 Unlike Mesopotamia, Egyptians didn’t simplify hieroglyphs
 Used mainly by priests
 Hieratic
 Used for conducting day-to-day business
 Picture signs abbreviated
 Written in rows or columns
 Read right to left or left to right, depending on what way
humans or animals are facing
 Four categories
Alphabetic – single sound
Syllabic – combination of two or three consonatns
Word-signs – pictures of objects
Determinative – picture of an object that helps the reader
 Writing samples are 2,000 inscribed seals in legible
 Seals – used to make impressions on malleable material
like clay
 Difficult to decipher
 Very short, brief texts
 Language beneath seals is unknown
 Lack of bilingual texts
 Theories
 Language unrelated to anything else
 Language is “Aryan” (Indian-Iranian or Indo-European)
 Language belongs to Munda family like other SE Asian
 Dravidian (spoken in Southern India)
 Examples on oracle bones –
priests interpreted cracks formed by
holes & punched bones; write down
history of dynasty
Ancestor of modern Chinese writing
Symbols or characters for each word
Never became purely phonetic
system like the Roman alphabet
Required learning to recognize &
write several thousand characters
 Highly specialized skill
 No common writing
 Symbols & inscriptions
on pillars and artwork
indecipherable today
 Minoan writing system undeciphered
 Information from Mycenae written on clay tablets
 Linear B – uses pictorial signs to represent
 Early form of Greek
 Palace administrators kept records of animals,
people, and objects
 Reveal little about political & legal system, social
structure, gender relations, or religious beliefs
 Why is a writing system a requirement for being a
 How does the ability to read and write impact
social structure?
 How is history limited by written records?
 http://www.ancient.eu.com/cuneiform/
 http://www.discoveringegypt.com/Egyptian-
 http://www.ushistory.org/civ/9b.asp