When we look around to-day, at how things are, and how much our daily lives rely on the art of writing. We have to wonder how difficult it must have been in those early times, before writing and the alphabet came into existence.
Primitive man, a nomadic race of people, whom we are descended from, lived on this world of ours some 30,000 or more years ago. They left their story for future inhabitants to find, on the walls of caves, made up of pictures and symbols, cut into stone using shaped stone tools and bones, often coloured by natural dyes.
They moved around, following herds of animals; as their food moved, so did they. Only when they became less nomadic in their lifestyle, and learnt to cultivate crops and raise herds of cattle, would some form of early language develop… the first steps in communication. So the evolution of man had started; pictures to symbols and symbols to letters as the alphabet was developed.
When I think back to my early years, and being taught how to write, creating my first o then adding a side line and a tail to the right and creating an a. It must have been a thrill to those men of learning who went on and created the very first alphabet.
They produced an early form of writing instrument, made out of stone, and sharpened, so they could scratch Rock Art pictures on the walls of caves and dwellings. It could be anything from, family life, their offspring, crops and victories with cave men or animals.
With the discovery of clay, early traders were able to record details of their trading using clay tokens with pictographs.
Writing forms started out in 3500 BC, when the Sumerians, created their own unique style of Pictograms, which consisted of people or objects. They found they needed more forms of images to express their meaning, which led to the Ideogram. In time these symbols represented a word; Logograms.
An example of the changes: You had four people, standing by a camel. Instead of showing four separate images for each person and one for the camel, this would be replaced by an image of a single person and the sign indicating four, plus the camel image.
The Sumerians used a wedge-shaped tool, made from reed, to press signs into clay tablets they had developed. This new writing system was called Cuneiform (Wedge-Shaped).
From these humble beginnings, they developed images to represent sounds, so as to create a record in their own spoken language. Sounds equalled specific images, once achieved they took it a step further, and recorded for history, works of literature.
In 668-627 BC the Assyrian King; Ashurbanipal had libraries containing such works as the “Epic of Gilgamesh.”
The cuneiform writing system spread through the middle east, during its 3,000 year history, writing the sounds as used by many countries and their languages. Which included Babylonian, Assyrian, Elamite and Hittite, just some of the fifteen, who used this system of writing.
An early writing system was in its early stages of creation on the island of Crete in 3000 BC. By 2000 BC they had developed the phonogram-syllabic script.
Therefore all the indications were there, the Greeks possessed a writing system. Sadly their culture, their lifestyle was destroyed by Dorian invaders around 1100 BC.
Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, were discovered in 1988 by Gunter Dreyer the archaeologist at Abydos, south of Cairo. Inscriptions were found upon; pottery, bones, tombs and clay seals. Radiocarbon analysis performed on the finds, deduced they dated between 3400 and 3200 BC which would make them one of the oldest, if not the oldest example of Egyptian writing known to exist. Some of the Hieroglyphs used in Egypt, were similar to the cuneiform, that they referred to objects or had their links to sounds. Many are used by royalty and deity, as can be seen in the Valley of the Kings, where many Pharaoh’s have their pyramids and burial chambers.
The word hieroglyph, is Greek in origin, and comes from the word hieros, and if we follow the route of the word it means sacred and carved stone.
Other types of scripts were developed by the Egyptians; “Hieratic” a hand written style produced between 2613-2160 BC, and used until 700 BC. It was later replaced by the “Demotic” a popular abbreviated version (661-332 BC).
The earliest known styles, still in existence within China are believed to date back to the Shang Dynasty (1500-1050 BC). Inscriptions have also been discovered, carved into oracle bones and upon Shang bronzes dating from this period. Egyptian hieroglyphs faded with the rigors of time, whilst Chinese versions exist in one form or another.
Seal scripts as developed around 221 BC, are still used as a seal, as a personal signature. By 200 BC a Clerical script came into existence for the purpose of book-keeping, and Grass script for note-taking.
China’s highest written art-form has to be that of Calligraphy; produced by using a brush or quill.
The Phoenicians once belonged to the Aramaic people, and settled in Syria pre 1000 BC, and were established sea-faring traders. The writing systems of the Phoenician and Aramaic people were similar.
The Aramaic people were suppressed and scattered by the Assyrian invasions of their lands, sometime after 732 BC. By then, much of the Babylonian language and cuneiform writing system had been replaced by their own, before being lost …
Aramaic scripts spread across the Assyrian Empire through to the lands of Afghanistan, India and Mongolia. From these small steps, new writing systems developed; modern Arabic, Hebrew, Persian scripts and Brahmin script as used in India.
The Aramaic script was the language of Jesus and his disciples. In the 6th century AD, this script was still being used, for St.Mashtots introduced it as the new alphabet for the Armenian people.
The Arabic script of Islam, a descendant of the Nabatean. These scripts first started appearing around 300 AD.
Phoenician had a direct connection with Hieratic and Demotic scripts of Ancient Egypt. Once a standard style had been developed for its use, so the Koran a sacred text was written, and spread through North Africa, Asia, India and China. It was halted in its path of crossing into the lands of Western Europe by Charles Martel who defeated the Saracen armies at Poitiers in 733 AD.
If we cross the Pacific Ocean, and come forward in time to AD 300-900 we reach the Maya civilisation in Central America. It is here glyph pictograms have been discovered upon sculptures, pottery murals and public buildings, and are believed to date back to (AD 250-900) their Classic period. Whilst other’s are known to belong to their Late Pre Classical period (400 BC – AD 250). The inscriptions detail historical events, alliances, wars and marriages.
The Maya glyphs are made up of square blocks each with its own inscription, then placed in horizontal and vertical rows, and finally read from left to right.
The first known alphabet was developed around 1500BC, by the Semites in Syria and Palestine, using signs to show the consonants of syllables, using their own set of characters.
Around 1000BC the Phoenicians developed an alphabet which the Greek modified. With written lines; left to right and they added symbols for vowels. Now days all western alphabets, are based on the early Greek alphabet.
In the early days of writing, there was only uppercase lettering, until around 600AD, when lowercase was introduced, with finer writing pens for this use.
The earliest implements that resembled that of a pen and paper were developed by the Greeks, using a nib made of metal, bone or ivory.
For it was that the Grecian scholar, Cadmus who invented the written letter-text messages.
Indian ink was invented by the Chinese Philosopher; Tien-Lcheu in 2697BC, out of soot, lamp oil, gelatine of donkey skin and musk, and was commonly used by 1200BC. Other cultures developed their inks using natural dyes, with berries for colour, plants and minerals.
With the invention of ink, came the introduction of parchment paper, created in 2500 BC by the Egyptians, made from a water plant; papyrus. Which was used by early Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Hebrews.
We now had paper and ink, but needed an effective way of transcribing it. So it was the Romans who created a reed style of pen, from the hollow tubular-stems of marsh grasses. By cutting one end to create a nib or point, with which to write with, they filled the stem with ink, and squeezed the stems, thus forcing the fluid into the nib.
By 400AD a stable form of ink had been developed, consisting of iron-salts, nutgalls and gum, which would remain in use for centuries. When first applied to paper, it was a bluish-black in colour, turning truly black, then to a dull brown over the years.
A wood fibre paper had been invented in China around 105AD and brought to Spain by the Arabs in 711AD.
The writing instrument that dominated history was the quill pen, as that used by Calligraphists, first introduced in 700AD and made from bird feathers. Goose feathers were most commonly used, swan feathers being scarce were classed as premium grade, and crow feathers used for straight lines.
Plant fibre paper became the primary medium for writing after the dramatic invention by Johannes Gutenberg of the printing press with wooden or metal letters in 1436.
Articles written by hand had resembled printed letters until scholars began to change the form of writing, using capitals and small letters, writing with more of a slant and connecting letters. The running hand or cursive style of handwriting with Roman capitals and small letters (Uppercase and lowercase) was invented by Aldus Manutius of Venice in 1495AD, and by the end of the 16th century we had the twenty-six lettered alphabet as we know it to-day.
The history of writing in Britain started in the 5th century AD, with the Anglo-Saxons. By the 7th century AD, the Latin alphabet had been introduced.
The Normans invaded our shores in 1066, and the English language was relegated to the poor, whilst nobility, clergy and scholars spoke and read Norman or Latin. By the 13th century, the English language had become the most prominent language once again, having been influenced by two centuries of Norman rule.