Wednesday, July 01, 2020

World's oldest writing not poetry but a shopping receipt

By Rym Ghazal. This appeared in 2011 at a new site called "The National" from United Arab Emirates. I saw this recently on Twitter from George Mason University economics professor Alex Tabarrok. Excerpt:

"The neatly drawn lines are marked by impressions and imprints on a clay tablet.

The 5,000-year-old receipt for clothing, sent by boat from Ancient Mesopotamia to Dilmun - what is now Bahrain - represents the oldest writing in the world.

"The origin of writing is not very romantic, I am afraid," said Dr Irving Finkel, curator of the Middle East Department at the British Museum. "Writing was not invented for poetry and storytelling."

Dr Finkel was in Abu Dhabi last night at the Manarat al Saadiyat to present his work on the "world's oldest writing" as part of the ongoing Splendours of Mesopotamia exhibition.

For more than 42 years Dr Finkel has studied ancient languages and writings, specialising in the world's oldest known written variety. Cuneiform, which in Latin translates to "wedge-shaped", was done by pressing a reed stylus on to damp clay. The writing is believed to be even older than Egyptian hieroglyphics, arising out of the administrative and practical needs of the time.

"Mesopotamia was the site of the world's first international cities, and so its people needed a way of managing their lands and trade," said Dr Finkel.

Developed for book-keeping purposes, at first the clay tablets were most commonly used to jot down shopping lists, wages and the allocation of rations for temple workers. The writing expanded to include letters, art, official announcements and even historic records, which were then often buried with kings or kept in temples."

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