Thursday, October 4, 2007


1 October 2007


Writing in this part of the world (=Eastern Mediterranean/Southwestern Asia/Middle East) is derived from the development of recording language in the Ancient Near East.

Writing is one of the defining aspects of urban civilization that we depend on in the modern era.

Writing in the sense of recording began as a method to remember- a method to support memory, as a mnemonic device. What was being remembered? Transactions. Early writing develops to facilitate accounting.

The medium of this early system of recording was clay tokens: counting your herd animals, vessels of grain, vessels of oil etc. by producing that amount or representative amounts of clay tokens i.e. one conical shaped tokens for every ten sheep. These tokens were enclosed in round hollow balls, envelopes, which were then impressed with a seal of the owner to ensure that nobody adds or subtracts further tokens.

Information conveyed in this way was very limited: amount of transaction (for ex. 15 tokens=150 animals), type of commodity (for ex. Conical shape for sheep) and owner (seal impression)

Next step was to record all aspects of activity. The need for this was purely bureaucratic/administrative, no great intellectual desire involved:

pictographs [=symbols=simple pictures] to represent objects

signs for numbers=dots for 10, strokes for 6 etc. (sexigasimal system)

Both of these were recorded on clay tablets. Earliest tablets contain only information on accounting, concern for time saving and accelaration (similar development happened in the modern era when computers were invented for number crunching)

With pictographs as logograms i.e. one sign representing one word, all you can write are strings of words, and absract concepts remain difficult.

Next breakthrough was when the sound value of words was recognized and signs were used not only to represent the meaning of the word but the sound. Writing was developed by Sumerian speaking people, their language was syllabic. Abstract concepts could now be written using principles of homophony and polyphony.

REBUS system: you want to record belief, you draw the sign for a bee (the insect) and the sign for a leaf ( of a tree), the combination of these sounds, when pronounced create the word you actually try to express, bee-leaf=belief.

The impetus to record grammar seems to have come from people speaking semitic languages trying to record their language which is based on consonant roots in this script developed for a syllabic language.

This syllabic system of incising signs on clay tablets in the Ancient Near East is referred to as cuneiform writing, a nickname. In the beginning sign lists consisted of thousands of signs, lateron the number of signs decreased somewhat.

The next step of development is alphabetic writing, where one sign represents the smallest sound unit of a consonant or vowel. This type of recording radically lowers the number of signs necessary to record language.

Cuneiform writing was invented about 3000 B.C. in southern Mesopotamia. The act of writing (=recording) consists of making impressions with a reed stylus into a damp piece of flatened clay. Most of the earliest clay tablets with information on transactions come from the city of Uruk.

Alphabetic writing was invented in the course of the second millennium B.C. in Canaan lands by semitic speaking people, earliest samples of alphabetic inscriptions were found in the Sinai peninsula. The alphabet was adopted by semitic speaking Phoenecians and then spread rapidly in the Eastern Mediterranean during the first half of the first millennium.

3 October 2007


Palaeolithic and Neolithic developments present in Anatolia.

3000-2000 B. C. Early Bronze Age; no literacy discovered in Anatolia, prehistoric period.

Increase in number of villages, and in social stratification, some villages develop into larger centers during this period.

Metallurgy develops a new economic dimension: in addition to agriculture now mining, metal processing and production of finished products as well as metals trade define economic activities in a settlement, hence Bronze Age. Metallurgical technology develops.

2000-1650 B.C. Middle Bronze Age, first written records appear in Anatolia, merchants record economic activities, but also jurisdiction and private affaires reflected in merchants archives. Script imported from Mesopotamia (cuneiform), language of writing also imported (Assyrian). Both foreign and Anatolian merchants record their transactions in this way. Politically, Anatolia is fragmented into many city-states, each with its own domain of economic and political interest and power, in competition. The largest one of these is Kanesh (modern Kültepe) with the Karum of merchants located near Kayseri.

1650-1200 B.C. Late Bronze Age, several city-states united into a single political unit, the Hittite state(=kingdom), later larger regions were annexed to this state forming the Hittite Empire. The Hittites are an Indo-european speaking people. The language is referred to as Neshili. They utilize cuneiform script to record their language.

The Hittites participate in the international trade and diplomacy of the period, shared by a ‘Balance of Powers’ of contemporary states around the Eastern Mediterranean. The archives of the capital city Hattusha at Bogazköy reveal a sophisticated people with traditions of learning, record keeping, law, engineering, historical awareness, literature and institutionalized religion. Their legacy undoubtedly had an impact on the later Graeco-Roman phase of the Eastern Mediterranean.

1200-600 B.C. Iron Age, after 1200 B.C. Anatolia witnesses together with the Aegean, Syria, Levant, Cyprus and Egypt a period of turmoil, disruption and destruction. The Hittite state as such dissappears, the cuneiform tablet archives come to an end. A string of new states develop more or less simultaneously from East to West, including the Urartian, several Neo-Hittite, the Phrygian and the Lydian kingdoms. The use of Irons predates the so-called Iron Age; however the widespread use of iron for tools and weapons is only attested after 1200 B.C.