Top Ten Written Language Artifacts

Top Ten Written Language Artifacts

  1. Cuneiform

    Cuneiform script is the earliest known writing system in the world. Cuneiform writing emerged in the Sumerian civilization of southern Iraq around the 34th century BC during the middle Uruk period, beginning as a pictographic system of writing. Cuneiform was the most widespread and historically significant writing system in the Ancient Near East. The development of cuneiform writing was an evolution of an earlier Mesopotamian accounting system that had been used for five thousand years before. Clay tokens had been used for some form of record-keeping in Mesopotamia since perhaps as early as 8,000 BC, according to some estimates. Cuneiform documents were written on clay tablets, by means of a reed stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge shaped, thus giving rise to the name cuneiform (“wedge shaped,” from the Latin cuneus, meaning “wedge”). Cuneiform script underwent considerable changes over a period spanning three millennia. In the course of the 3rd millennium BC the script became successively more cursive, and the pictographs developed into conventionalized linear drawings, the number of characters in use also refined from around 1,000 unique characters in the Early Bronze Age to around 400 characters in Late Bronze Age (Hittite cuneiform). The original Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Akkadian, Eblaite, Elamite, Hittite, Luwian, Hattic, Hurrian, and Urartian languages, and it inspired the Ugaritic and Old Persian alphabets. Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by the Aramaic alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and by the 2nd century of the Common Era, the script had become extinct.
    Links: Top 100 Sumerian Artifacts,,
  2. Hieroglyphics

    Egyptian hieroglyphs was a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that contained a combination of logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood. Less formal variations of the script, called hieratic and demotic, are technically not hieroglyphs.
    Links: Top 100 Egyptian Artifacts, Top Ten Egyptian Attractions,,
  3. Mayan Glyphs

           Mayan glyphs or Mayan hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered. The earliest inscriptions found which are identifiable as Mayan date to the 3rd century BC in San Bartolo, Guatemala. Maya writing was in continuous use throughout Mesoamerica until shortly after the arrival of the conquistadors in the 16th century AD and into the 18th century in isolated areas, such as Tayasal. Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing. Mayan writing was called “hieroglyphics” or hieroglyphs by early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its general appearance reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs. 
    Links: Top 100 Mayan Artifacts, Top Ten South American Codices,,
  4. The Phaistos Disk

           The disc of Phaistos is the most important example of hieroglyphic inscription from Crete and was discovered in 1903 in a small room near the depositories of the “archive chamber,” in the north east apartments of the palace, together with a Linear A tablet and pottery dated to the beginning of the Neo-palatial period (1,700- 1,600 BC). Both surfaces of this clay disc are covered with hieroglyphs arranged in a spiral zone, impressed on the clay when it was damp. The signs make up groups divided from each other by vertical lines, and each of these groups should represent a word. Forty five different types of signs have been distinguished, of which a few can be identified with the hieroglyphs in use in the Proto- palatial period. Some hieroglyphic sequences recur like refrains, suggesting a religious hymn, and Pernier regards the content of the text as ritual. Others have suggested that the text is a list of soldiers, and lately it has been speculated to be a document in the Hittic language in which a king discusses the erection of the Palace of Phaistos.
    Links: Top Ten Codes, Top Ten Unsolved Codes, Top Ten Minoan Artifacts, Islands,,
  5. Phoenician

           The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1,050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad. It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia. It has been classified as an abjad because it records only consonant sounds, with the addition of matres lectionis for some vowels. (One of its descendants, the Greek alphabet, revamped some letters to more consistently represent vowels.) Phoenician became one of the most widely used writing systems, spread by Phoenician merchants across the Mediterranean world, where it was assimilated by many other cultures and evolved. Many modern writing systems thought to have descended from Phoenician cover much of the world. The Aramaic alphabet, a modified form of Phoenician, was the ancestor of the modern Arabic and Hebrew scripts. The Greek alphabet (and by extension its descendants such as the Latin, the Cyrillic and the Coptic), was a direct successor of Phoenician, though certain letter values were changed to represent vowels.
  6. Ancient Chinese Writing

    Some of the earliest known recorded Chinese writing is in the form of oracle bones and turtle shells.
    Links: Top 100 Chinese Artifacts,
  7. Rongorongo (Easter Island Text)

    Rongorongo is a system of glyphs discovered in the 19th century on Easter Island that appears to be writing or proto-writing. It cannot be read despite numerous attempts at decipherment. Although some calendrical and what might prove to be genealogical information has been identified, not even these glyphs can actually be read. If rongorongo does prove to be writing, it could be one of as few as three or four independent inventions of writing in human history. Two dozen wooden objects bearing rongorongo inscriptions, some heavily weathered, burned, or otherwise damaged, were collected in the late 19th century and are now scattered in museums and private collections. None remain on Easter Island. The objects are mostly tablets shaped from irregular pieces of wood, sometimes driftwood, but include a chieftain’s staff, a bird-man statuette, and two reimiro ornaments. There are also a few petroglyphs which may include short rongorongo inscriptions. Oral history suggests that only a small elite was ever literate and that the tablets were sacred.
    Links: Top Ten Easter Island Attractions, Sculptures,,
  8. Himyarite Writing Found in Ma’rib, Yemen

    Links: Top Ten Yemen Attractions,
  9. Baška Tablet

            The Baška tablet is one of the first monuments containing an inscription in the Croatian language, dating from the year 1100 AD. The tablet was discovered by scholars in 1851 in the paving of the Romanesque church of St. Lucy (Sveta Lucija) in Jurandvor, near Baška, on the island of Krk. Since 1934 the original has been kept in the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Zagreb.
    Links: Top Ten Croatian Attractions,,
  10. Links: Top Ten Documents, Top 100 Artifacts, Top 100 Books, Top 100 Ancient Texts,