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Proto-writing consists of visible marks
communicating Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (philosophy), entities or Organization, groups through the use of sufficiently mutually understood signs, symbols, and Semio ...

communicating
limited information. Such systems emerged from earlier traditions of
symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), m ...

symbol
systems in the early
Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is t ...
, as early as the 7th millennium BC in
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...
. They used
ideographic An ideogram or ideograph (from Ancient Greek, Greek "idea" and "to write") is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept, independent of any particular language, and specific words or phrases. Some ideograms are comprehensible only b ...

ideographic
or early
mnemonic A mnemonic () device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory Memory is the faculty of the by which or is , stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the ...

mnemonic
symbols or both to represent a limited number of concepts, in contrast to true
writing systems A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, p ...
, which record the
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...
of the writer.


Neolithic


Neolithic China

In 2003,
tortoise Tortoises () are reptiles of the family Testudinidae of the order Testudines (Latin: tortoise). They are particularly distinguished from other Turtle, turtles (which includes the order Chelonia) by being exclusively land-dwelling, while many (t ...

tortoise
shells were found in 24 Neolithic graves excavated at
Jiahu Jiahu () was the site of a Neolithic settlement based in the central plain of ancient China, near the Yellow River. It is located between the floodplains of the Ni River (China), Ni River to the north, and the Sha River to the south, north of ...

Jiahu
,
Henan Henan (; ; alternatively Honan) is a landlocked province of China The provincial level administrative divisions () are the highest-level administrative divisions of China. There are 34 such divisions claimed by the People's Republic of ...

Henan
province, northern China, with
radiocarbon date Radiocarbon dating (also referred to as carbon dating or carbon-14 dating) is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material Organic matter, organic material, or natural organic matter refers to the large source of ...
s from the 7th millennium BC. According to some archaeologists, the
symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meanin ...
carved on the shells had similarities to the late 2nd millennium BC
oracle bone script Oracle bone script () was an ancestor of modern Chinese characters engraved on oracle bonesanimal bones or turtle plastrons used in pyromancy, pyromantic divinationin the late 2nd millennium BC, and is the earliest known form of Chinese writin ...
.. Others have dismissed this claim as insufficiently substantiated, claiming that simple geometric designs such as those found on the Jiahu shells cannot be linked to early writing.


Neolithic Europe

The
Vinča symbols The Vinča symbols, sometimes known as the Danube script, Vinča signs, Vinča script, Vinča–Turdaș script, Old European script, etc., are a set of untranslated symbols found on Neolithic era (6th to 5th millennium BC) artifacts from the Vin ...
(6th to 5th millennia BC, present-day
Serbia Serbia (, ; Serbian Serbian may refer to: * someone or something related to Serbia, a country in Southeastern Europe * someone or something related to the Serbs, a South Slavic people * in both meanings, depending on the context, it may ref ...

Serbia
) are an evolution of simple symbols beginning in the 7th millennium BC, gradually increasing in complexity throughout the 6th millennium and culminating in the Tărtăria tablets of c. 5300 BC.


Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age

The transition from proto-writing to the earliest fully developed writing systems took place in the late 4th to early 3rd millennia BC in the
Fertile Crescent The Fertile Crescent is a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East The Middle East ( ar, الشرق الأوسط, ISO 233 The international standard are technical standards developed by international organizations (intergovernmental orga ...

Fertile Crescent
. The
Kish tablet The Kish tablet is a limestone tablet found at Tell al-Uhaymir, Babil Governorate, Iraq – the site of the ancient Sumerian city of Kish (Sumer), Kish. A plaster-cast of the artifact is today in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum. The Kish ta ...
, dated to 3500 BC, reflects the stage of "proto-cuneiform", when what would become the
cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram, logo-Syllabary, syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East. The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era. It is nam ...

cuneiform
script of
Sumer Sumer ()The name is from Akkadian language, Akkadian '; Sumerian language, Sumerian ''kig̃ir'', written and ,approximately "land of the civilized kings" or "native land". means "native, local", iĝir NATIVE (7x: Old Babylonian)from ''The ...

Sumer
was still in the proto-writing stage. By the end of the 4th millennium BC, this symbol system had evolved into a method of keeping accounts, using a round-shaped stylus impressed into soft clay at different angles for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with
pictographic A pictogram, also called a pictogramme, pictograph, or simply picto, and in computer usage an icon An icon (from the Greek language, Greek 'image, resemblance') is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the E ...
writing using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted. The transitional stage to a writing system proper takes place in the
Jemdet Nasr period The Jemdet Nasr Period is an archaeological culture An archaeological culture is a recurring Assemblage (archaeology), assemblage of types of Artifact (archaeology), artifacts, buildings and monuments from a specific period and region that may con ...
(31st to 30th centuries BC). A similar development took place in the genesis of the
Egyptian hieroglyphs Egyptian hieroglyphs () were the formal writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent ...
. Various scholars believe that Egyptian hieroglyphs "came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and ... probably
ere Ere or ERE may refer to: * ''Environmental and Resource Economics ''Environmental and Resource Economics'' (''ERE'') is a peer-reviewed academic journal covering environmental economics published monthly in three volumes per year. It is the offici ...

ere
nbsp;... invented under the influence of the latter ...", although it is pointed out and held that "the evidence for such direct influence remains flimsy" and that "a very credible argument can also be made for the independent development of writing in Egypt ..." (See further .)


Bronze Age

During the
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric Periodization, period that was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the Three-age sys ...
, the cultures of the
Ancient Near East The ancient Near East was the home of early civilization A civilization (or civilisation) is any complex society that is characterized by urban development, social stratification, a form of government, and symbol A symbol is a mark ...
are known to have had fully developed writing systems, while the marginal territories affected by the Bronze Age, such as Europe, India and China, remained in the stage of proto-writing. The
Chinese script Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East-Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system The modern Jap ...
emerged from proto-writing in the
Chinese Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric Periodization, period that was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the Three-age syst ...
, during about the 14th to 11th centuries BC (
Oracle bone script Oracle bone script () was an ancestor of modern Chinese characters engraved on oracle bonesanimal bones or turtle plastrons used in pyromancy, pyromantic divinationin the late 2nd millennium BC, and is the earliest known form of Chinese writin ...
), while symbol systems native to Europe and India are extinct and replaced by descendants of the Semitic abjad during the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of Human, humanity's pa ...
.


Indian Bronze Age

The
Indus script The Indus script (also known as the Harappan script) is a corpus of symbols produced by the . Most inscriptions containing these symbols are extremely short, making it difficult to judge whether or not these symbols constituted a used to recor ...

Indus script
is a symbol system that emerged during the end of the 4th millennium BC in the
Indus Valley Civilization , c. 2500 BCE. Terracotta Terracotta, terra cotta, or terra-cotta (; Italian language, Italian: "baked earth", from the Latin ''terra cocta''), a type of earthenware, is a clay-based ceramic glaze, unglazed or glazed ceramic, where the ...

Indus Valley Civilization
.


European Bronze Age

With the exception of the
Aegean Aegean may refer to: *Aegean Sea *Aegean Islands *Aegean Region (geographical), Turkey *Aegean Region (statistical), Turkey *Aegean civilizations *Aegean languages, a group of ancient languages and proposed language family *Aegean Sea (theme), a n ...
and mainland Greece (
Linear A Linear A is a writing system that was used by the (Cretans) from 1800 to 1450 BC to write the hypothesized . Linear A was the primary script used in palace and religious writings of the Minoan civilization. It was discovered by arch ...
,
Linear B Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or ...
,
Cretan hieroglyphs Cretan hieroglyphs are a hieroglyph A hieroglyph ( Greek for "sacred carvings") was a character of the ancient Egyptian writing system. Logographic In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural ...
), the early writing systems of the Near East did not reach
Bronze Age Europe The European Bronze Age is characterized by bronze artifacts and the use of bronze implements. The regional Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric Periodization, period that was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas proto-writ ...
. The earliest writing systems of Europe arise in the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of Human, humanity's pa ...
, derived from the
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes t ...

Phoenician alphabet
. However, there are number of interpretations regarding symbols found on artefacts of the European Bronze Age which amount to interpreting them as an indigenous tradition of proto-writing. Of special interest in this context are the
Central Europe Central Europe is an area of Europe Europe is a which is also recognised as part of , located entirely in the and mostly in the . It comprises the westernmost peninsulas of the of Eurasia, it shares the continental landmass of with both ...

Central Europe
an Bronze Age cultures derived from the
Beaker culture The Bell Beaker culture (or, in short, Beaker culture) is an archaeological culture An archaeological culture is a recurring Assemblage (archaeology), assemblage of types of Artifact (archaeology), artifacts, buildings and monuments from a specifi ...

Beaker culture
in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. Interpretations of the markings of the bronze
sickle A sickle, bagging hook, reaping-hook or grasshook is a single-handed agricultural tool designed with variously curved blades and typically used for harvesting, or reaping, grain crops or cutting Succulent plant, succulent forage chiefly for feedi ...

sickle
s associated with the
Urnfield culture The Urnfield culture ( 1300 BC – 750 BC) was a late Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric that was characterized by the use of , in some areas , and other early features of urban . The Bronze Age is the second princ ...
, especially the large number of so-called "knob-sickles" discovered in the
Frankleben hoard The Frankleben hoard is a significant hoard A hoard or "wealth deposit" is an archaeological Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered ...
, are discussed by Sommerfeld (1994). Sommerfeld favours an interpretation of these symbols as
numerals A numeral is a figure, symbol, or group of figures or symbols denoting a number. It may refer to: * Numeral system used in mathematics * Numeral (linguistics), a part of speech denoting numbers (e.g. ''one'' and ''first'' in English) * Numerical di ...
associated with a
lunar calendar A lunar calendar is a calendar A calendar is a system of organizing days. This is done by giving names to periods of time, typically days, weeks, months and years. A calendar date, date is the designation of a single, specific day with ...
.


Later proto-writing

Even after the Bronze Age, several cultures have gone through a period of using systems of proto-writing as an intermediate stage before the adoption of writing proper. The " Slavic runes" (7th/8th century) mentioned by a few medieval authors may have been such a system. The
Quipu Quipu (also spelled khipu) are recording devices fashioned from historically used by a number of cultures in the region of . Knotted strings for collecting data, government management and keeping records were also used by the , and , but ...

Quipu
of the
Incas The Inca Empire, also known as Incan Empire and the Inka Empire, and at the time known as the Realm of the Four Parts,,  "four parts together" was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The administrative, political and military ce ...

Incas
(15th century), sometimes called "talking knots", may have been of a similar nature. Another example is the system of pictographs invented by
Uyaquk Uyaquq (also Uyaquk or Uyakoq; sometimes referred to in English as Helper Neck) (ca. 1860–1924) was a member of the Yup'ik The Yup'ik or Yupiaq (sg & pl) and Yupiit or Yupiat (pl), also Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Central Yup'ik, Alaskan ...
before the development of the
Yugtun syllabary The Yugtun or Alaska script is a syllabary invented around the year 1900 by Uyaquq to write the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language. Uyaquq, who was monolingual in Yup'ik but had a son who was literate in English, initially used indigenous pictograms ...
(c. 1900).


African Iron Age

Nsibidi Nsibidi (also known as nsibiri, nchibiddi or nchibiddy) is a system of symbols or proto-writing Proto-writing consists of visible marks Communication, communicating limited information. Such systems emerged from earlier traditions of symbol sys ...

Nsibidi
is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern
Nigeria Nigeria (), officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a country in West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of . The defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and as we ...

Nigeria
. While there remains no commonly accepted exact date of origin, most researchers agree that use of the earliest symbols date back between the 5th and 15th centuries. There are thousands of Nsibidi symbols which were used on anything from
calabash Calabash (''Lagenaria siceraria''), also known as bottle gourd, white-flowered gourd, long melon, New Guinea bean and Tasmania bean, is a vine A vine (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a langua ...
es to
tattoo A tattoo is a form of body modification Body modification (or body alteration) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy or human physical appearance. It is often done for aesthetics, sexual enhancement, rites of passage, religious s ...

tattoo
s and to wall designs. Nsibidi is used for the Ekoid and
Igboid languages Igboid languages constitute a branch of the Volta–Niger language family. The subgroups are: *Ekpeye language, Ekpeye * Nuclear Igboid: Igbo language, Igbo, Ikwerre language, Ikwerre, Ika language (Nigeria), Ika, Izi language, Izii–Ikwo languag ...
, and the
Aro people The Aro people or Aros are an Igbo people, Igbo subgroup that originated from the Arochukwu kingdom in present-day Abia state, Nigeria. The Aros can also be found in about 250 other settlements mostly in the Southeastern Nigeria and adjacent areas. ...
are known to write Nsibidi messages on the bodies of their messengers.


See also

*
Asemic writing Asemic writing is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many ...

Asemic writing
*
History of communication The history of communication technologies (media and appropriate inscription tools) have evolved in tandem with shifts in political and economic systems, and by extension, systems of power. Communication can range from very subtle processes of excha ...
* Prehistoric numerals *
Solar symbol A solar symbol is a symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical ...


References

{{Authority control History of writing Neolithic