Was writing first invented by the Sumerians? Before then? A lot of people seem to have misconceptions about what actually constitutes ‘writing’ and it’s predecessor ‘proto-writing’. Today I will touch on writing’s beginnings, as well as confusion of what writing is and is not.
Writing was first invented in Sumeria around 3200 B.C. What people confuse with writing is proto-writing, which is a precursor to writing. The word writing is defined as the activity of skill of marking coherent words on text. Therefor, proto-writing is not writing.
Above is a picture of the Karanovo Seal. People like to say that that denotes writing having it’s beginnings in Southeastern Europe in Romania around 7000 years ago. But that is proto-writing and not what we would call “writing” today. The Seal was made by the Vinca culture of Southeastern Europe. It is devoid of logograms, which is a written symbol representing an entire spoken word without expressing its pronunciation. The Seal is also of the Zodiac, and not any actual writing. It roughly matches up to the constellations when divided up in to four quadrants.
The Tartaria Tablets (which the Karanovo Seal is included with) were excavated in 1961 in Romania. People say that the above is writing. To quote Professor Colin Renfrew:
“To me, the comparison made between the signs on the Tărtăria tablets and those of proto-literate Sumeria carry very little weight. They are all simple pictographs, and a sign for a goat in one culture is bound to look much like the sign for a goat in another. To call these Balkan signs ‘writing’ is perhaps to imply that they had an independent significance of their own communicable to another person without oral contact. This I doubt.”
Steven Fischer writes in his book History of Writing:
The current opinion is that these earliest Balkan symbols appear to comprise a decorative or emblematic inventory with no immediate relation to articulate speech.
Proto-writing=/=writing. It doesn’t convey text and syllables and logographs. A logograph is 1 word represented by a single sign. For something to be classified as writing, it needs to have logograms and phonographs, which are signs holding purely phonetic or sound value.
The New World Encyclopedia says that those ‘writings’ cannot be called proper writing due to the fact that they are ancient traditions of symbol systems.
Now that we have a good understanding of proto-writing and what is and is not writing, lets touch on where writing was developed.
The five original writing systems were developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, the Maya of Central America, the Ancient Egyptians of Egypt, the Dravidians of India and the Chinese of China. Though, the only remaining language in use is Chinese.
All five of the writing systems mentioned above use logograms, phonograms and syllables. All five of those writing systems can be spoken, which denote writing and language. The Tartaria Tablets, including the Koronovo Seal, cannot be spoken from, as the Seal is for the Zodiac and the Tablets are a form of proto-writing that cannot be spoken due to no logograms or phonograms.