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Analysis of Early Writing

Art has been instrumental in human development since it contributed to the improvement of cognitive skills. Art has also provided a way for humans to express their thoughts, experiences, and feelings. Storytelling was one of the first forms of art evident in humans and formed a foundation for the development of writing and literature. Hence, examples of early writing are crucial to our understanding of human development and the evolution of writing as a form of expression and communication. The present paper will focus on early writing samples in an attempt to analyze the topics, similarities, and differences evident in them.

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First, the samples will be analyzed for their content, and comments on the purpose of writing in each society will be provided. Then, the similarities and differences in letter and symbol form and context will be described. Based on this part of the paper, thoughts on the pattern of development of writing will be offered. There are five examples of early writing presented in the book that come from various geographical and cultural backgrounds: Sumerian, Egyptian, Harappan, Shang Dynasty, and Greek.

Each of the examples focuses on different topics and subjects with little thematic similarity between the samples. First of all, the piece of Sumerian writing is focused on an encounter between the lord of Aratta and a messenger from the lord of Kulaba. The focus of the meeting was on the message inscribed on a clay tablet, which the messenger passed to the lord (Pollard et al. 78). The primary theme of the passage is literacy, as it is said that the messenger was incapable of transmitting the message orally, forcing the lord to inscribe it on a clay tablet. The second sample of writing documents the Egyptian mouth-opening ritual.

Both parts of the passage appear to be a monologue that describes the actions and connects them with the symbolic meaning behind the ritual. The theme of religion is thus at the center of the passage since it mentions Egyptian gods, including Horus, Seth, and Thoth (Pollard et al. 79). The mixture of procedural details and chants makes the passage particularly compelling and establishes its connection to the religion and culture of Ancient Egypt.

Harappan Seal Stones, the Shang Dynasty Oracle Bone, and Greek writing samples were also included in the images, and the content of writing in each example differs significantly. Harappan seal stones depict people and animals and appear to be a collection of visual stories about religious or political events. On the first stone, there is a group of human figures surrounding an animal, which is challenging to identify.

The animal in the second picture appears to be a unicorn, whose image is surrounded by symbols, including an incense burner (“Stamp Seal”). In the third picture, the author depicted a person sat in a crouched position with symbols inscribed above them. The fourth picture appears to represent a person on a horse, although it is hard to identify the contents any further. The overall theme of these stamp seals seems to be the religious and cultural beliefs of the people of Harappa.

The Shang Dynasty Oracle Bone, which has been partially translated, provides historical details about local events of the time. The passage informs that, despite the king’s assurance of peace, there were “alarming news” about an invasion of borders by hostile neighbors (Pollard et al. 80). The themes of the passage are thus peace, war, and politics in general. Finally, the example of early Greek writing documents wheat collection from local farmers and is therefore focused on agriculture in the community.

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The differences in the content of the five samples can be used to analyze how the purpose of writing varied from one society to another. Based on the overview, it is evident that in some cultures, the writing focused mainly on documenting the history and re-telling the events that took place. In the example of Sumerian writing, the description of a seemingly minor event is given in great detail. In the Chinese sample, however, the writing is factual and provides limited explanations.

This suggests that, although both societies used writing for historical purposes, Sumerian writers also aimed to explore the artistic potential of writing, thus providing more linguistically complex explanations and descriptions. Chinese writers, on the contrary, centered their attention on the facts and used writing to report on events. The cultural purpose of writing is also evident in Egyptian and Harrapan samples. Although these examples of writing differ a lot in their form and content, they both focus on documenting religious and cultural ideas.

Still, Egyptian writing also served the purpose of passing on the tradition to future generations, since the procedures of the ritual were recorded in detail. The last example provided in the book suggests that Greek people used writing for more mundane purposes, such as keeping track of commodities. This distinguishes the Greek sample of writing from other examples provided.

While the content and themes of writing samples provide excellent ideas on the differences between societies, it is also necessary to consider the form and context of each piece. Symbols representing syllables and signs were used in most of the examples, thus highlighting linguistic differences that existed across cultures. The shape of symbols in each case is different, with Chinese and Egyptian symbols being more complex and well-developed than Greek writing.

The complexity of inscriptions suggests that these examples of writing were taken from various points of literacy development of their respective societies. Chinese and Egyptian writing is also similar in terms of structure, with both cultures using well-organized vertical lines to represent the text. Harappan seal stones are unique both in terms of their content and purpose and due to the form of the writing. While images are also used in Egyptian writing, Harappan images are more complex and depict scenes rather than symbolizing a particular concept or event.

Another significant point of comparison of the five examples is the objects used for inscriptions. Although clay was used in two of the five samples, the rest of them used varied objects and materials. For example, Harappan people used stone, whereas Chinese inscriptions appeared on a bone. Still, in all of these cases, writing was inscribed on specific, independent objects, such as tablets. This was likely because writing was intended to pass messages from one location to the other, as described in the Sumerian sample. Egyptian writing is unique since it was inscribed on pyramid walls rather than on objects that could be moved around freely. This feature is also likely to be connected to the purpose of the piece, which was to pass on the tradition and provide instructions.

The similarities and differences identified above do not provide a clear answer as to whether the writing spread through borrowing versus independent development, mainly because the samples fulfilled different purposes. However, there are definitely some trends that point to the independent evolution of writing. The dissimilarity of writing forms is one argument in favor of the independent development theory. The visual and structural differences that are evident in the examples of Egyptian, Harappan, Chinese, and Greek writing indicate that these cultures likely developed writing without the influence of one another.

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The same suggestion can be made based on the differences in materials. Although clay was arguably the best material for message tablets due to its availability and ease of inscription, it was only used in two of the five examples. If writing had spread through borrowing, different societies would likely use the same writing tools and materials, and the writing itself would have been visually similar.

On the whole, the examples of early writing provided in the book differ a lot in terms of their intended purpose, content, and the technique of writing used. Two of the samples appear to be concerned with reporting events, whereas other examples provide instructions, record commodities, and project cultural symbols. The visual form of writing and the objects and materials used are also dissimilar in most cases. These differences provide evidence in favor of the theory that societies developed writing independently rather than through borrowing. Nevertheless, it is also crucial to acknowledge that the range of writing samples is not sufficient to provide a definite answer. Comparing writing samples with the same purpose and from the same time period could offer more insight into the question.

Works Cited

Pollard, Elizabeth, et al. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. Concise ed., vol. 1, W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Stamp Seal and Modern Impression: Unicorn and Incense burner (?).The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2020. Web.

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