Word Power: How the art of writing ushered in an era known as 'history'
Thursday 12 February 2009
The difference between history and prehistory can be summarised in a word. Writing allowed people to keep records of what happened and when. It meant they could pass on stories to other generations. With writing came the beginning of what is called "recorded" history. Everything before is "pre-history", or prehistoric.
Recorded human history really begins at the same time as writing first appears – and that happened in the earliest human civilisations of the Middle East, about 5,000 years ago, which takes us to within one 10th of a second to midnight on the 24-hour clock of Earth history.
No one knows who actually invented writing. It is highly unlikely that any one person did. People may have begun to experiment with the first scratches and scribbles as much as 10,000 years ago as a way of keeping track of the cycles of the Moon and stars. However, it was only about 5,000 years ago that the first clear use of written symbols by a settled civilisation appears, initially as a way of keeping commercial records and accounts.
Merchants of the Middle East drew simple pictures on clay tablets to identify particular goods. Next to them they scraped counting marks to show a quantity. These tablets were baked in ovens to make their marks permanent, creating an unchangeable set of records showing exactly who had received what goods. Writing helped people manage their accounts of trade and exchange.
But making drawings on clay was a time-consuming and laborious business. It made more sense to come up with a shorthand code to speed the process up. Over time, wedge-shaped strokes replaced the pictures because they were easier and quicker to mark onto the tablets. These strokes were made using a kind of pen made out of reed in the shape of a modern-day cutting knife. This style of writing is called cuneiform and it forms the basis for three of the oldest written languages in the world: Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian.
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered
- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
- 5 35,000 walrus gather ashore on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Five facts you never knew about your (almost obsolete) tax disc
The Aral Sea: Nasa pictures show how what was once the fourth largest lake in the world has become almost completely dry
Brad Pitt, on the moment he completely lost his temper with Clint Eastwood's son
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Benefits 'smart cards' plan revealed by Iain Duncan Smith to stop claimants spending welfare money on alcohol
- < Previous
- Next >
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...
£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...
Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...