Clay tablet

List of the victories of Rimush, king of Akkad, upon Abalgamash, king of Marhashi, and upon Elamitemonumental inscription, ca. 2270 BCE. (see Obelisk)

In the Ancient Near East, clay tablets (Akkadian ṭuppu(m) 𒁾)[1] were used as a writing medium, especially for writing in cuneiform, throughout the Bronze Age and well into the Iron Age.

Cuneiform characters were imprinted on a wet clay tablet with a stylus often made of reed (reed pen). Once written upon, many tablets were dried in the sun or air, remaining fragile. Later, these unfired clay tablets could be soaked in water and recycled into new clean tablets. Other tablets, once written, were fired in hot kilns (or inadvertently, when buildings were burnt down by accident or during conflict) making them hard and durable. Collections of these clay documents made up the very first archives. They were at the root of first libraries. Tens of thousands of written tablets, including many fragments, have been found in the Middle East.[2][3]

In the Minoan/Mycenaean civilizations, surviving writing is mainly that used for accounting. Tablets serving as labels, with the impression of the side of a wicker basket on the back, and tablets showing yearly summaries, suggest a sophisticated accounting system. In this cultural region the tablets were never fired deliberately, as the clay was recycled on an annual basis. However, some of the tablets were "fired" as a result of uncontrolled fires in the buildings where they were stored. The rest are still tablets of unfired clay, and extremely fragile; some modern scholars are investigating the possibility of firing them now, as an aid to preservation.[citation needed]

Scribes

Writing was not as we see it today. In Mesopotamia, writing began as simple counting marks, sometimes alongside a non-arbitrary sign, in the form of a simple image, pressed into clay tokens or less commonly cut into wood, stone or pots. In that way, recorded accounts of amounts of goods involved in a transaction could be made. This convention began when people developed agriculture and settled into permanent communities that were centered on increasingly large and organized trading marketplaces.[4] These marketplaces traded sheep, grain, and bread loaves, recording the transactions with clay tokens. These initially very small clay tokens were continually used all the way from the pre-historic Mesopotamia period, 9000 BCE, to the start of the historic period around 3000 BCE, when the use of writing for recording was widely adopted.[4]

The clay tablet was thus being used by scribes to record events happening during their time. Tools that these scribes used were styluses with sharp triangular tips, making it easy to leave markings on the clay;[5] the clay tablets themselves came in a variety of colors such as bone white, chocolate, and charcoal.[6] Pictographs then began to appear on clay tablets around 4000 BCE, and after the later development of Sumerian cuneiform writing, a more sophisticated partial syllabic script evolved that by around 2500 BCE was capable of recording the vernacular, the everyday speech of the common people.[6]

Sumerians used what is known as pictograms.[4] Pictograms are symbols that express a pictorial concept, a logogram, as the meaning of the word. Early writing also began in Ancient Egypt using hieroglyphs. Early hieroglyphs and some of the modern Chinese characters are other examples of pictographs. The Sumerians later shifted their writing to Cuneiform, defined as "Wedge writing" in Latin, which added phonetic symbols, syllabograms.[5]