Cuneiform Writing

Location: Iraq
Culture: Ancient Middle East
Period: About 3100 – 3000 BC
Material: Ceramic


This piece of clay contains some of the earliest writing in the world. It’s called ‘cuneiform,’ which means wedge-shaped. This tablet is a record of the daily beer rations for workers. Beer here is represented by an upright jar with a pointed base. The symbol for rations is a human head eating from a porridge bowl. The round and semicircular impressions represent the measurements. All the signs were produced by a cut reed.


The oldest known example of writing comes from Mesopotamia and dates to about 3300 BC. In time different-looking writing appeared in the river valleys of Egypt, the Indus Valley, China and Central America. We cannot yet be certain whether writing spread from Mesopotamia, or developed independently in these civilisations.



As Mesopotamian society became more complex, writing allowed administrators to keep an account of who had been paid and what had been traded. The earliest cuneiform tablets are almost all records of accountancy.