Cuneiform: Earliest Known Writing System

How many words do you read in a day? With text everywhere, it’s easy to take writing for granted. But did you know that the world’s earliest known writing system first appeared in Mesopotamia, what we know as southern Iraq, around 3200 BC? It’s called cuneiform, Latin for “wedge-shaped,” because a reed stylus was used to impress wedges into wet clay tablets to record temple holdings and transactions, such as the number of animals in a herd, for example. Within a few hundred years, cuneiform writing spread throughout southern Iraq.

No longer just for record-keeping but for correspondence in business and political communications, including hymns that celebrated the gods. From these developments came scribes trained in the art of reading and writing, many of who worked for temples and palaces. Cuneiform texts—a reliable “written” history of ancient peoples for us to study and understand.

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