Say What? Mesopotamia

Map focus, Mesopotamia
Who? City-states and kingdoms of Mesopotamia

Can you trace the similarities in the characters?

Can you trace the similarities in the characters?

When? 3500 BC – 500 AD

Where? Earliest Sumerian writing was found in the temple precinct Eanna, the city-state of Uruk, located in southern Babylonia in present-day Iraq.

Why? Sumerians needed a writing system because of the sudden expansion of Babylonian city-states, socio-cultural complexity of administrative tasks, and scribal training.

What? Cuneiform is the writing system developed by Sumerians. (Cuneiform comes from two Latin words: cuneus, which means “wedge,” and forma, which means “shape.”)

How? Writing with reeds onto wet clay

System? Before cuneiform, and as early as 8000 BC, people of Mesopotamia used logograms (pictures that represent words), but a recognizable system of logograms and phonetic script did not develop until about 3200-3100 BC.

Because drawing on clay is difficult, the Mesopotamians eventually reduced pictograms into cuneiform , a series of wedge-shaped signs that they pressed into clay with a reed stylus. Cuneiform came to function both phonetically (representing a sound) and semantically (symbolizing an object or concept) rather than only pictorially.

Learn more about Ancient writing systems from different cultures.

  1. How Ancient Writing Began… and Ended
  2. Say What? China
  3. Say What? Egypt
  4. Say What? Mesoamerica
  5. Say What? Mesopotamia
  6. Say What? The Rosetta Stone
  7. Say What? Object Slideshow