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By definition, the modern practice of history begins with written records. Evidence of human culture without writing is the realm of prehistory.
Mesopotamia[ edit ] While neolithic writing is a current research topic, conventional history assumes that the writing process first evolved from economic necessity in the ancient Near East.
Writing most likely began as a consequence of political expansion in ancient cultures, which needed reliable means for transmitting information, maintaining financial accounts, keeping historical records, and similar activities.
Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration outgrew the power of memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form.
Louvre Museum Archaeologist Denise Schmandt-Besserat determined the link between previously uncategorized clay "tokens", the oldest of which have been found in the Zagros region of Iran, and the first known writing, Mesopotamian cuneiform. Later they began placing these tokens inside large, hollow clay containers bulla, or globular envelopes which were then sealed.
They next dispensed with the tokens, relying solely on symbols for the tokens, drawn on clay surfaces. To avoid making a picture for each instance of the same object for example: In this way the Sumerians added "a system for enumerating objects to their incipient system of symbols".
By the end of the 4th millennium BC,  the Mesopotamians were using a triangular-shaped stylus pressed into soft clay to record numbers.
This system was gradually augmented with using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted by means of pictographs. Round-stylus and sharp-stylus writing was gradually replaced by writing using a wedge-shaped stylus hence the term cuneiformat first only for logogramsbut by the 29th century BC also for phonetic elements.
Around BC, cuneiform began to represent syllables of spoken Sumerian. About that time, Mesopotamian cuneiform became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables, and numbers. Scripts similar in appearance to this writing system include those for Ugaritic and Old Persian.
The last cuneiform scripts in Akkadian discovered thus far date from the 1st century AD. Elamite scripts[ edit ] Over the centuries, three distinct Elamite scripts developed.
Proto-Elamite is the oldest known writing system from Iran. In use only for a brief time c. The Proto-Elamite script is thought to have developed from early cuneiform proto-cuneiform. The Proto-Elamite script consists of more than 1, signs and is thought to be partly logographic.
Linear Elamite is a writing system attested in a few monumental inscriptions in Iran. It was used for a very brief period during the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC. It is often claimed that Linear Elamite is a syllabic writing system derived from Proto-Elamite, although this cannot be proven since Linear-Elamite has not been deciphered.
Several scholars have attempted to decipher the script, most notably Walther Hinz and Piero Meriggi. The Elamite cuneiform script was used from about to BC, and was adapted from the Akkadian cuneiform.
The Elamite cuneiform script consisted of about symbols, far fewer than most other cuneiform scripts. Cretan and Greek scripts[ edit ] Further information: Linear Bthe writing system of the Mycenaean Greeks has been deciphered while Linear A has yet to be deciphered.
The sequence and the geographical spread of the three overlapping, but distinct writing systems can be summarized as follows: Oracle bone script and Bronzeware script The earliest surviving examples of writing in China—inscriptions on so-called " oracle bones ", tortoise plastrons and ox scapulae used for divination—date from around BC in the late Shang dynasty.
A small number of bronze inscriptions from the same period have also survived. The earliest known hieroglyphic inscriptions are the Narmer Palettedating to c. The hieroglyphic script was logographic with phonetic adjuncts that included an effective alphabet.
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