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| Published in History of Education | Written by Tracy R. Baro

History of Writing

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Indeed, one of the most important inventions of humanity is writing. However, most people don’t know how complicated and long this development has been. Mostly, we perceive writing as something that has always existed. So, we lose an opportunity to learn a charming history about how the main technique of communication and expression has appeared and developed.

Writing was brought into existence by a really complex and long process. If you would like to learn more about how writing appeared just read this article and we will travel back in time for thousands and thousands years.

Invention of writing

In ancient times, the invention of writing has been a result of continuous advances. This process has lasted for a long time and has been enriched by further developments. Writing was invented in an independent way in different corners of the world. The development of writing followed the same basic steps: pictures and signs moved to a phonetic system, then it moved to syllabic writing and finally the alphabetic writing appeared.

30-40,000 years ago, during the Palaeolithic, people draw paintings and graffiti on the walls of their caves and on the rocks. Unfortunately, the initial purpose of the pictures of animals painted on the walls and the purpose of repeated signs is unknown.  Probably, the images of animals were connected to magical rituals to conduce hunting, the signs on the bones and stones served to count something (captured prey, days that pass or lunar months).

The origins of writing

There is no single origin of writing. It was independently invented in different parts of the planet. Egyptians and Sumerians are considered as the first people who wrote (3500-3200 BC). It is unknown which of them invented writing earlier. However, scientists claim that the Egyptian writing seems to have Sumerian influence. Both of them had known agriculture and felt the need for some notation system for agricultural products.

The rulers imposed taxes on their subjects as the products of agriculture. The resources  were used to pay for the building of palaces and temples, to court officials, to maintain an army, etc. Moreover, trading has created a necessity to annotate goods.

Many other inventions of Neolithic age were followed by writing. Among them, there are the construction of cities, the invention of a wheel, the use of bronze, the loom for weaving and the porter’s wheel. During this period, due to the spread of breeding and agriculture, it became necessary to indicate persons and goods in commercial transactions and account documents. (See also: Europe VS USA: Where To Study?)


10,000 years ago in Syria, people made special tokens of different shapes. These tokens of clay were used to indicate different agricultural products. For instance, a token shaped as a coin with a line carved on it indicated one sheep; a cone made of clay meant corn, an egg-shaped one was used to indicate an amphora of wine or oil, etc.

To show the difference between a lamb, a ram and a sheep, people used different carvings as marks. Twenty tokens meant twenty sheep. This system was used for a really long time, but in 3500 BC token stores used to avoid dispersing and placed tokens inside sealed clay balls. So they started drawing how many tokens every ball contained.  Later the balls and tokens were replaced by flat clay tablets that were smaller and handier than heavy mud balls.

Pictographic writing systems were developed in China and meso-America. The scripts, recently deciphered used symbols that depicted sounds and entire words. In 19th century, Chinese used a pictographic writing system as a mnemonic for the priests.

Later phoenician writing appeared. There were 22 symbols, and all of them were consonants. Vowels were not written. In 750 – 500 B.C.E archaic Greek writing adapts Phoenician script and puts a basis to an alphabetic system we use nowadays.

Pictographic systems still play a great role in communication, and they are an integral part of writing system even today. Writing always was a tool of decoration and communication, and it never stops its development!