Cuneiform Writing


published on 18 January 2012

Writing is undeniably one of humanity's most important inventions. The earliest forms of storing information on objects were numerical inscriptions on clay tablets, used for administration, accounting and trade. The first writing system dates back to around 3000 BC, when the Sumerians developed the first type script: hundreds of abbreviated pictograms that could be pressed into clay.

Individual symbols for nouns, verbs, and adjectives followed. These symbols were eventually refined and simplified. As round shapes were hard to etch into clay, they were replaced by lines, and depressions were made at the beginning of the line, creating the unique style known to us as cuneiform script.

The first writing was done from top to bottom, but left to right writing was adopted around 2400 BC, simply by rotating the symbols by 90 degrees. The ingenious invention of writing traveled and was adopted by the Egyptians (in the form of hieroglyphs), the Elamites (who modified it slightly), and finally the Akkadians.

The Akkadians modified the Sumerian writing system so that every sign represents a syllable, which brings us another step closer to a modern alphabet. Eventually, syllabic cuneiform was adopted across different languages all over western Asia, including in Babylon, Ugarit, and Hattusas.

Cuneiform Writing

Cuneiform writing from Assyria.

About the Author

Jan van der Crabben
Jan is the Founder and CEO of Ancient History Encyclopedia, leading the non-profit company and its team to best fulfil its mission. He is passionate about history, education, and web technology.
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Cite This Work

APA Style

Crabben, J. V. D. (2012, January 18). Cuneiform Writing. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Crabben, Jan V. D. "Cuneiform Writing." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 18, 2012.

MLA Style

Crabben, Jan V. D. "Cuneiform Writing." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 18 Jan 2012. Web. 22 Oct 2017.

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