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"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

Col 3:23

The History of Writing

Writing is easily one of the most considerable of the cultural branches of language; its formation signifies a revolution in human progress. In fact, with the appearance of writing within a society, it must be stressed that other progressive patterns are also assuredly in place— patterns such as sedentism, agriculture and organized gathering, more formalized and shared religious beliefs, etc.

So the discussion of writing and “advanced” societies should go hand-­‐in-­‐hand in regards to their manifestations after language. The development of a standardized writing system is a cultural off-­‐shoot of a standardized language, observed in the evolution of many given “advanced societies.” As a culture or a people grow and expand in other areas, an apparent need for written communication arises. There is a transition from a simply widely-­‐spoken and understood language to a designation of a palpable system of letters and symbols which correspond to that language.

Therefore, writing is one of a number of indications of a truly emergent society. Richard Rudgley, author of Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age, validates this: “writing is, of course, one of the main features of those societies considered to be civilized” (Rudgley, 15). (It is precisely because of writing and the written record that actual cases of writing in the world can be examined within this text.) This contention, regarding the necessity and the resolution of writing, can be seen repeatedly through some very particular examples in prehistory, which will be discussed.

First, for the purpose of argument within the context of this piece, it is appropriate to identify the qualities of an “advanced society.” Basically, the people in a progressing society find STUDENT PULSE | DECEMBER 2009 | WWW.STUDENTPULSE.COM 15 15 something of a common identity. An advanced society is one which possesses intricate functions, one which has made significant contributions in areas such as architecture and agriculture. An advanced society has some designated and somewhat stable ruling power for the benefit of its occupants. It is one that has developed the need for interdependent economies and craft specialists.

It is relatively urbanized, or at least those in smaller centers ascribe to the central culture. These are societies in which “not only did abstract thinking in technology and science flourish but so did much more complex social organizations, and there were striking developments in… art, writing, literature… and so on” (Greenspan and Shanker, 380). It is these demands of more “advanced societies” that necessitated the transition from merely speaking a language to writing it down.

Next, it is important to define “writing” and determine how it differs from earlier proto-­‐ writing. Writing can be described as “a system of graphic symbols that can be used to convey any and all thought” (Robinson, 14). It is a widely-­‐established and complex system that all speakers of that particular language can read (or at least recognize as their written language). According to The History of Writing: Script Invention as History and Process, “writing includes both the holistic characteristics of visual perception, and at the same time, without contradiction, the sequential character of auditory perception. It is at once atemporal and temporal, iconic and symbolic” (Robertson, 19).

Writing is clearly more advanced than proto-­‐writing, pictograms, and symbolic communication, which should also be briefly classified. Ice Age signs and other types of limited writing could be designated as “proto-­‐writing.” This type of communication was long before any systems of full writing were developed. In short, proto-­‐writing can involve the use of pictures or symbols to convey meaning. This form of early writing could relate an idea, but the system was not elaborate, complete, or fully evolved. A group of clay tablets from the Uruk period, probably dating to 3300 BC, model these properties of proto-­‐writing (Robinson, 62).

The tablets mostly deal with numbers and numerical amounts; most of the symbols are pictographic in nature. Nothing that could be identified as true writing is evident. So, this form of communication can convey certain concepts well enough, but it isn’t capable of expressing more abstract ideas, nor is it necessarily standardized.
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