The birth of Writing

Among all the revolutionary creations of man, writing ranks as the supreme intellectual achievement. It was invented not once, but perhaps as many as six separate times, in places as distant from one another as China and Central America. Each effort began with simple pictures and plain strokes or dots - adequate for recording objects or numbers. But abstract formulations -such as «I shall», «Please grant» and «Go quickly»- called for something flexible enough record speech itself.

A form of writing that began to mirror the workings of the human mind and heart first came into being late in the 4th Millennium BC. In Mesopotamia, the seminal Middle Eastern area that also gave birth to the earliest farms, cities and technology. The inventors of this writing were probably Sumerians; their script evolved into the system of wedge-shaped marks called cuneiform.

Meanwhile, hieroglyphic writing -the combination of pictures and signs that remains one of the most exquisite and complex scripts ever-devised- was being developed to meet the needs of Egypt΄s royalty and priesthood.

But perhaps more than the Egyptians, the Sumerians spread their use of writing across the full spectrum of their lives; the y used it not only for everyday bookkeeping and commercial dealings, but also for recording the texts that governed their religion and philosophy.

The climax of writing΄s developmental stage came near the end of the 2nd Millennium BC. With the emergence of the Phoenician alphabet - precursor of the printed book script of the book you are holding in your hands. By stages far less that preceded it, the alphabet led to the complex uses of writing we know today, and inevitably to their technological offspring, from the printing press to the high-speed computer printout.

Even today, however, the story of writing and its beginnings is far from completely told: ancient writing systems discovered in Crete and Mexico and Pakistan remain largely impenetrable. And the decipherment of important cuneiform records, such as those of the Sumerians, has not automatically revealed the meanings of others; instance, the Elamite script used by early settlers in Iran has not yet yelled its secret.

It is by his writings, uniquely, that we truly come to know him; that we can finally, after the passage of long millennia, see inside the mind.