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Thread: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

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    Default The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    There is an interesting wiki page on the history of writing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_writing

    I'd never given it too much thought before, beyond having the vague idea that it had started in what we now call the middle east, in a rich agricultural area based on virgin riverside topsoils.

    Written number systems originated in the same area (now part of Iraq) -

    The earliest known writing for record keeping evolved from a system of counting using small clay tokens that began in Sumer about 8000 BC.[6]
    The cities of Sumer were the first civilization to practice intensive, year-round agriculture, by perhaps c. 5000 BC showing the use of core agricultural techniques, including large-scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-cropping, organized irrigation, and the use of a specialized labour force. The surplus of storable food created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place, instead of migrating after crops and grazing land. It also allowed for a much greater population density, and in turn required an extensive labour force and division of labour. Sumer was also the site of early development of writing, progressing from a stage of proto-writing in the mid 4th millennium BC to writing proper in the third millennium (see Jemdet Nasr period).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumer

    The earliest known writer of literature was a woman, an Akkadian princess from Sumer, called Enheduanna.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna (an example of her work - http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin...72.p7#t4072.p7 ) The concept of writing spread, and new forms of writing were developed. There were also, later, separate developments of writing - in America first and also in China and quite a few other places.

    Writing is important -

    The great benefit of writing systems is their ability to maintain a persistent record of information expressed in a language, which can be retrieved independently of the initial act of formulation.
    Writing has made possible the spread knowledge and culture through large populations and also allowed for an increasingly rapid development of new knowledge, standing on the shoulders of what was known before.

    The benefits of writing were constrained when each copy had to be hand written. Many important works have been lost from that period.

    The development of the printing press in the 15th century "cracked open" the potential of writing for societal development. Written works were far more accessible and less likely to be lost.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing_press

    The internet (developed in the 1950s-80s), likewise, has had an exponential effect on the sharing and spread of knowledge, in that it has provided a much cheaper and more readily available global means of access to writing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet

    Thousands of free books and articles (damn you, pay walls!)

    http://www.gutenberg.org/

    Both of these developments have come about on the back of the general level of technological and scientific development in society.

    One would think that writing might be challenged by development of recorded sound - I have just listened to a talk by Conor McCabe, on youtube, for example, that once would have been more likely shared by means of a pamphlet, or that would not have been heard beyond the initial live audience.

    But writing is in many ways superior - a moment's lapse of concentration when listening to a recording means the tedium of playback and listening again, maybe more than once. Reading a written version, one can go at one's own pace.

    Perhaps the next step will be some form of direct plug-in of information into the brain.
    Last edited by C. Flower; 21-01-2012 at 11:30 AM.

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Probably even older than that. What a lot of people seem to forget is that most civilisations develop near water and the coasts and that the coastlines have shifted in the last 20K or so years. The early history of literature may be at the bottom of some seas and all we have left is that which survived.

    Regards...jmcc
    Last edited by jmcc; 21-01-2012 at 11:40 AM.

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Flower View Post
    Perhaps the next step will be some form of direct plug-in of information into the brain.
    Or maybe not.






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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Both a strength and a limitation for historians is the written records.

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Slightly amended version on the blog

    http://itsapoliticalworld.wordpress....ry-of-writing/

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by jmcc View Post
    Probably even older than that. What a lot of people seem to forget is that most civilisations develop near water and the coasts and that the coastlines have shifted in the last 20K or so years. The early history of literature may be at the bottom of some seas and all we have left is that which survived.

    Regards...jmcc
    Indeed...I just came across the fascinating tale of this site earlier today.

    There are also numerous sunken cities off the coast of India which are all much older than the Sumerian cultures.

    It increasingly looks like Graham Hancock might have been onto something after all.

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by jmcc View Post
    Probably even older than that. What a lot of people seem to forget is that most civilisations develop near water and the coasts and that the coastlines have shifted in the last 20K or so years. The early history of literature may be at the bottom of some seas and all we have left is that which survived.

    Regards...jmcc
    The wiki entry really is very interesting. It explains that there was "proto writing" using symbols maybe tens of thousands of years before writing proper was developed, and a far more sophisticated pre history than we have assumed.

    But I think that the developments in Sumer were something very important and it is easy to see how the material conditions were there that supported the development of writing.

    Agriculture, urban development, and writing all came about together.
    The first written numbers and words were all about food surpluses and sheep trading.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_agriculture

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    Default Maidir Le: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers




    Ogham did not emerge until the fourth century for the recording of Old Irish. It seems we have mainly the monumental sculptures as record. Ogham written on wood would have perished.

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Yep but those Indian cities would upset a lot of the conventional model and that's why the academics don't like it. It is like that Clovis Horizon mess in the USA.

    Regards...jmcc

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Flower View Post
    The wiki entry really is very interesting. It explains that there was "proto writing" using symbols maybe tens of thousands of years before writing proper was developed, and a far more sophisticated pre history than we have assumed.
    The problem with "proto writing" is that it means that people looking at it today don't understand it. This is often a problem of context in that the modern day person does not think like a person in ancient times. Without understanding the context, it is impossible to decipher the text. It is the same thing with the carvings seen on Newgrange and other places. They are encoded information but most people looking at them just see them as artistic or religious carvings rather than symbols.

    But I think that the developments in Sumer were something very important and it is easy to see how the material conditions were there that supported the development of writing.
    They were important becuse they survived largely unharmed and they were easily uncovered.

    Regards...jmcc

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    The main purpose of earlier writing was for record keeping purposes. They had to keep records of who owed what, its more or less because of accounting needs that it was needed . Stephen Fry covered it very well his programme Planet Word and Nicholas Ostler in his book Empires of the Word.
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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by jmcc View Post
    The problem with "proto writing" is that it means that people looking at it today don't understand it. This is often a problem of context in that the modern day person does not think like a person in ancient times. Without understanding the context, it is impossible to decipher the text. It is the same thing with the carvings seen on Newgrange and other places. They are encoded information but most people looking at them just see them as artistic or religious carvings rather than symbols.

    They were important becuse they survived largely unharmed and they were easily uncovered.

    Regards...jmcc
    The "fertile crescent" also was the place where cattle were first domesticated - and then were brought from there by people migrating to the rest of the world.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...van.20267/full

    The genetic evidence is there.

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by fluffybiscuits View Post
    The main purpose of earlier writing was for record keeping purposes. They had to keep records of who owed what, its more or less because of accounting needs that it was needed . Stephen Fry covered it very well his programme Planet Word and Nicholas Ostler in his book Empires of the Word.
    Yes - the first written numbers were for counting sheep, and the first words (so far as we know) were lists of grain surpluses / stores.

    But did you read the piece of writing by that Sumerian priestess? It's powerful stuff, and somehow doesn't read to me as though no one had ever written such stuff before.

    But perhaps there had been an oral tradition of prayer writing that she had learned from.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jmcc View Post
    Yep but those Indian cities would upset a lot of the conventional model and that's why the academics don't like it. It is like that Clovis Horizon mess in the USA.

    Regards...jmcc
    I think what I find interesting is that writing came out of a certain level of agricultural development, first and foremost.

    If it happened earlier somewhere now under a few fathoms, I'm very certain that that place had also developed a fairly advanced agricultural system that was generating grain surpluses. Native American and Chinese writing, which developed separately, also had advanced agriculture with irrigation and good grain surpluses and grain/rice stores.

    Clay is important too, for storage vessels, and for writing tablets.

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    Default Re: The History of Writing - Words and Numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Flower View Post
    Yes - the first written numbers were for counting sheep, and the first words (so far as we know) were lists of grain surpluses / stores.

    But did you read the piece of writing by that Sumerian priestess? It's powerful stuff, and somehow doesn't read to me as though no one had ever written such stuff before.

    But perhaps there had been an oral tradition of prayer writing that she had learned from.
    I didnt see it! Going to have a look later

    BTW Cass if you ever get a chance to visit Copenhagen, their national museum I think it is (I was there years ago!) has a great section devoted it
    Cause I can’t change, I can’t change the world alone
    I need you all, everybody, start dreaming of it
    And take your step that’s gonna make a difference and change your world
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