The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil...

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, circa 2nd millennium BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, the writing’s on the tablet and I’m not talking computer tablets here, in terms of writing and technology, it seems we’ve come full circle! 😀

Like many of us, when I was a child I believed that the ancient Egyptians invented writing. That hieroglyphics were man’s earliest endeavour at making sense of the world in written form.

Of course, we all know this to be untrue now, that actually Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) and the ancient Sumerians invented writing, Sumerian cuneiform by writing on clay tablets with a reed called a stylus, at least 200 years before the Egyptians.

"The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the mo...
“The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the most famous of all cuneiform tablets. It is the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Like Noah, Utnapishtim was forewarned and built an ark to house and preserve living things. After the flood he sent out birds to look for dry land. ME K 3375.” In the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we grow and get older, thus our knowledge grows. What will we learn tomorrow? 😀   The reason for my focusing on ancient history, apart from the fact that I love it, study it and it continually inspires me, is simply the wonderment of the act of writing itself. That miracle of thought made manifest that we all take for granted.The Sumerians were this planet’s earliest known civilisation, although new discoveries are being made all the time so never let your knowledge be set in stone!

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script lis...

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script listing gods in order of seniority, 2400-2200 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As well as inventing writing, the Sumerians invented the round wheel, astronomy and agriculture as we know it. A truly amazing people, thousands of years ahead of their time. Yet we know so little about them. Their great ziggurats (pyramids) have not withstood the ravages of time as well as their later Egyptian cousins, many of their stele ‘stelae’ (huge standing stones inscribed with cuneiform) are but broken fragments. Of course, time has not been the only eroding factor. Sumer as it was, lying between the great river deltas of the Tigris and Euphrates, is modern-day Iraq, a country which has been ravaged by war for hundreds of years.

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancien...

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancient Nippur), Iraq, are said to be the site for the meeting of Sumerian gods, as well as the place that man was created. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sumer’s greatest city states were Uruk, Ur, Nippur, Eridu and Kish, though these are ruins now, their history overwritten by the Babylonian Empire which followed, the Akkadians, Assyrians, Hittites and a host of other invading and overlapping peoples. In such a rich environment, it was hardly surprising that the fertile ground of the Tigris and Euphrates would be a prize worthy of fighting for.

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Anti...

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Antiguas ciudades de Sumeria Magyar: Ókori sumer városok (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, the reason I’m focusing on the Sumerians in particular, is simply because they also gave the world its very first story, The Epic of Gilgamesh. A wonderful fantasy adventure story on an epic scale, with our hero Gilgamesh, along with his friend Enkidu, trying to defy the gods and find the secret to immortality.

Gilgamesh Sumerian King

Gilgamesh Sumerian King (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Think of it, the world’s very first story, long before the Bible, Torah, Qur’an (Koran), the ancient Vedic Rig-Veda (early Hindu sagas), Buddhist tales, Zoroastrian writings or ancient Chinese scrolls of Confucius, the Sumerians were writing about their lives and they were writing stories. We have SO much to thank the Sumerians for!

What made them first think of projecting their thoughts in written form? No doubt the need for trade pushed the need for communication between peoples.

Evidence suggests that it was this cuneiform, written on clay tablets, that travelled to Egypt and India and other parts of near/middle Asia as part of the ancient trade links of the time; and that these later inspired the Egyptian earliest proto-hieroglyphics and the written language of the Indus Valley Civilisation (centred around Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa), covering modern-day India and Pakistan.

English: Mohenjo-daro

English: Mohenjo-daro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose that is one of the contributing factors to my liking fantasy, particularly epic fantasy –  the fact that such sagas were written thousands of years ago, is certainly fuel for the imagination. The Sumerian King List for instance, a legendary text now where fantasy and fact certainly mix. The King List simply lists all the great rulers of the time, but it is not this which makes the record so extraordinary. It is the fact that this document cites many of those Kings as having lived and ruled for hundreds even thousands of years! Immortals? Talk about a feast for the imagination. If you’re looking for inspiration look to history.

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth ki...

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth king of Uruk, according to the Sumerian king list) by Urdun, civil servant of Lagash, Ur III. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The melding of fiction and fact is something I adore. Looking at history as we know it and daring to ask, what if this happened? For me, researching for an ancient forgotten people/culture that pre-date humanity, I had a lot of rich source material to draw from. Were these Sumerian Kings immortal exiles perhaps? Banished from their own Ǽllfren or Dworllian kin, to live amongst lesser humans? Perhaps it was these early sun-gods with their advanced knowledge and long life that seeded our civilisations? Are they the reason for the sudden unexplained jump in technology and culture all those thousands of years ago?

For me, my mind boggled with the possibilities. Certainly a rich pre-history from which to hang the tapestry of imagination.

But, fact and fiction aside, all we do know for certain, is that as readers and writers and lovers of the written word, we owe much to that ancient civilisation and their miraculous inventions!

😀 xx

Ziggurat at Ur

Ziggurat at Ur (Photo credit: jmcfall)

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33 thoughts on “The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

  1. I have to say I don’t know very much about very ancient history, but it is fascinating! A very interesting post Sophie, thank you 🙂

  2. Fascinating, well-written article, Sophie. I love reading your blog posts. I learn something new every time!

  3. Remembering the myths and stories of our ancestors brings blessings. The dust of their bones, and their wisdom (wisdom that applies more than ever) is in the air we breathe. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Thank you, Ashen. Yes, I just wish that we as a species learned from the lessons and wisdoms of the past instead of continually repeating the same mistakes. But there is so much to be inspired by. As new discoveries are made, I think our Western view of linear history will have to change. 😀

      • Our Western view of just about everything is upside down. Yet slowly by slowly – it is changing.

      • Totally agree! We have so much to learn from other cultures, particularly those older than our own. I love for instance, that archaeologists discovered the remains of a huge city under the sea off the coast of Dwarka, India, some marine archeologists have dated stone and pottery fragments as being as old as 12,000 BC, if that is true, it would totally change our understanding of history and the seeds of civilisation. 🙂

  4. Andy Szpuk says:

    Inspiring stuff Sophie

    • Thank you, Andy. Lol, I really wish I’d studied this at University instead of doing Fine Art! Guess there’s always the chance of MA courses, but I do find ancient history such a rich source of inspiration.

  5. M T McGuire says:

    I loved this post. I too find stuff like this interesting and inspiring. So much to fire the imagination. 🙂

    Cheers
    MTM

    • Thanks MT! It’s amazing how little of our ancient past is taught and covered in school. Even the TV, tends to focus on the same periods of history, the same cultures. I love reading about the ancient Egyptians but how many programmes have we all seen on the same topic? Yet the Sumerians and civilisations like the Indus Valley, have so little written about them. Yeap, like you, I definitely find these things inspiring – mixing fact, fiction and mythology, what could be more fun?! 😀

      • M T McGuire says:

        Very true. My dad taught classics and ancient history so I am fairly steeped in it all. I think it’s brilliant. If I had the right kind of memory, ie one that retains anything, I’d have done Latin and Greek, myself.

        Cheers

        MTM

      • Lucky you, to be surrounded by it! I would love to have had an academic father, but I must confess, my brain is a strange thing indeed. I can remember and retain the oddest facts, but don’t ask me my mobile number! Cheers MT! 😀

  6. I too love the Gilgamesh epic, and the art of this period. Love those winged guardian animals. I’ve shared your post because I too am a huge fan of mixing fact and fiction for my novels; your enthusiasm is catching and fun! Thanks for sharing!

    • Many thanks Beth, great to have a fellow afficionado out there! Yes, I really don’t know why, but aside from my love of celtic and nordic mythology, middle eastern and asian myths and ancient history I find utterly fascinating. Thanks for sharing the post. 😀 x

  7. Kay Kauffman says:

    I love ancient history, and this was fascinating! Reminded me of my world cultures class in high school, as we spent a good deal of time talking about the Middle East.

    I nominated you for the Liebster Award! All the info is here. 🙂

    • Yay! Thank you sweetie, that’ll be my next post then! Cheers. 😀

      I knew you’d like this as we’re both fans of ancient history, particularly of the Middle East. I should forward this on to Hazel Butler too as she loves the subject matter too – hell she teaches celtic mythology!

      Anyway, thanks again sweetie 😀 xx

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        You’re welcome! I can’t wait to read your answers. 😀

        And you can’t go wrong with mythology, can you? I’m really a sucker for it. 🙂

      • Thanks sweetie, that’s SO kind of you honey! I’ll get onto that asap.

        Me too, its totally absorbing and as far as writing goes, the great thing is, apart being a continual source of inspiration and ideas, many of the stories and myths really lend themselves to being retold or re-imagined with fresh mythologies to create something else. I just love melding fact and fiction like that, all those puzzle pieces coming together. 😀

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        I haven’t been brave enough to try a retelling yet, but I want to someday. Like you said, there’s just so much you can do with the wealth of stories that are out there! 😀

      • They’re fantastic aren’t they? I know I used elements of Sumerian, Siberian and African tales in White Mountain, particularly the background stuff and am using Nordic, Egyptian, Indian and Indosnesia myths for the second. Mostly subtle references to monsters, demons etc, but it’s all such cool stuff!!! 😀

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        And that’s where the danger of research comes in – I could get lost reading and forget what I started “researching” in the first place! 😀

      • Absolutely! But what a wonderful thing to get lost in! 😀 xx

  8. armenpogharian says:

    I’m also fascinated by ancient history. In my Misaligned series I combine ancient history with the multi-dimensional aspects of string theory and a bit of writer’s license to create a contemporary fantasy. I try to weave the history into the story via characters rather than just facts (they’re in there too) to make it more appealing, but I make no bones that one of my objectives is to inspire readers to dig deeper into the history. Probably a bit grandiose, considering my skill and audience, but I enjoy the research. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Isn’t that so much fun, the research? I must say, as much as I love writing, I could seriously spend my life quite happily researching the past. It’s often like a wonderful jigsaw, with one piece leading to another and interconnecting in quite an unexpected way. But yes, for me also, it’s the melding of fact and fiction which I find so intoxicating. So much of our understanding of ancient cultures is still evolving, certainly when it comes to civilisations like the Indus Valley which we know so little about, it’s easy to find windows in the past where you can hang the tapestry of your story and make them fit beautifully. Cheers for sharing mate, great to see other like minded souls out there! 😀

  9. Reblogged this on Sophie E Tallis and commented:

    I don’t usually re-blog my own posts, in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it before, but I saw this post I blogged in May last year and just loved the subject matter – writing and the history of writing! Enjoy! 😀 xx

  10. For Justice says:

    When I was in Elementary School, we had an instruction unit on cuneiform and hieroglyphics. I thought it was the coolest thing ever! Although it was incredibly simple, it was fascinating to learn modern concepts in an ancient language at that age.

    • WOW!!! That’s really impressive! I’d love to learn cuneiform, I have a few book on it but just need the time at the moment, but very impressed that they had that at your school. My school was dreadful, only choice was German or French, no latin, no Italian, no other choices. Totally agree, learning modern concepts through the eyes of the past is thrilling. 🙂

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