Writing developed in a number of ancient cultures independently. In most cases its original purpose was entirely practical, but it soon became used in a variety of ways, although the number of people who could read and write was always very small. Being able to read the writing of a culture allows the archaeologist and historian to unlock aspects of life, beliefs and experiences that would otherwise remain hidden.
Clay tablet from UrSee more See more: /images/uploads/classroom/Ur_tablet.jpg
The earliest writing known is from the Sumerian civilisation in present-day Iraq around 3200 BC. Simple picture signs developed into a system of wedge-shaped marks made in soft clay using a stick or reed. This script, called cuneiform, spread through the Middle East and was eventually used to write around fifteen different languages. See Object File: Mesopotamian clay tablet.