Cuneiform: The Earliest Form of Writing from Ancient Mesopotamia

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Kelly Macquire
published on 01 June 2021

Cuneiform is a writing system or script which was developed by the ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia between 3500 and 3000 BCE. It is the earliest form of writing in the world and is thought to have developed so people could communicate long-distance in trade. The word cuneiform actually comes from the Latin for wedge, cuneus, since to write cuneiform, scribes would have pressed a triangular-shaped reed stylus into soft clay which produced the wedge-like impressions.

Cuneiform was used by all of the great Mesopotamian civilisations until alphabetic scripts became more popular in around 100 BCE. Some of these cultures were; the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Elamites, Hatti, Hittites, Assyrians and the Hurrians. The earliest form of cuneiform is known as proto-cuneiform. This early script was pictorial, since the tablets addressed tangible things like how much cattle were traded, a battle, the amount of grain collected as taxes, a flood or a king. The development in cuneiform script meant that emotions, intent, and intangible ideas could be better expressed, and in general, the texts were more detailed and clearer.

You can find all attribution and credits for images, animations, graphics and music here -

The music used in this recording is the intellectual copyright of Michael Levy, a prolific composer for the recreated lyres of antiquity, and used with the creator's permission. Michael Levy's music is available to stream at all the major digital music platforms. Find out more on:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public Domain

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About the Author

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2021, June 01). Cuneiform: The Earliest Form of Writing from Ancient Mesopotamia. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Cuneiform: The Earliest Form of Writing from Ancient Mesopotamia." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 01, 2021.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Cuneiform: The Earliest Form of Writing from Ancient Mesopotamia." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 01 Jun 2021. Web. 04 Feb 2023.