Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Art of the Ancient Near East

What is cuneiform?

Cuneiform is the first system of written language; invented by the Sumerians around 3100 B.C.E., it was originally pictographic. This means, for example, that a bull’s head, would represent a bull. Over time, cuneiform evolved into a more abstract system of signs consisting of wedge-shaped lines pressed into clay tablets with a pointed tool called a stylus. Cuneiform was used to keep track of business records in cities like Uruk, in modern day Iraq. Cuneiform tablets have withstood the test of time and offer scholars a wonderful window into the culture of the ancient Near East.


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