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Fire and Steel

The flames rise high, over withered fields
as burning sun glints off sword and shield
Who will carry victory, who will yield?
Is destiny fluid, or is their fate sealed?

Writing is a form of communication that involves expressing language and emotions through the recording of signs and symbols, usually in a way that complements spoken language. But when did writing start? Which culture was the first to introduce writing?

406px-Narmer_Palette_serpopard_side

The Narmer Palette, one of the oldest examples of Egyptian writing. Credit: Public domain, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:Nicolas Perrault III

Exactly which culture first developed writing we do not know, and writing was invented by different cultures at different times. The earliest examples of writing that have been found so far are the Dispilio Tablet, found in Greece and dated to 5260 ± 40 BC, and, possibly, the Tărtăria tablets that were found in Romania. These tablets are dated to approximately 5300 BC, but the claim the the inscriptions on the tablets constitute writing is disputed, and there are recent claims that the tablets themselves are forgeries.

Conventionally, the first writing systems are credited to the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures, who both were practicing writing by 3200 BC. Whether Egypt developed writing independently or learned it from the Sumerians is debated. The Sumerians, who lived in what is now Iraq, would keep track of trade and industry by pressing marks into a clay tablet using a stylus. Originally, these styluses were round or sharp-edged, and engraved pictures of the items being recorded. Eventually, scribes started using a wedge-shaped stylus, and made simple marks into a tablet, rather than pictures, creating a writing script known as cuneiform.

Egyptian writing used a system of pictures known as hieroglyphs. Whereas Sumerian writing developed out of accounting and record keeping techniques, Egyptian writing emerged out of an artistic tradition. Writing in Egypt was an elite practice, and only select people were allowed to train to be scribes.

Some other writing systems that developed elsewhere independently are Chinese writing, the earliest examples of which are from 1200 BC during the late Shang dynasty, Mesoamerican writing, the earliest example of which is attributed to the Olmec/La Venta culture from the period 1200 BC to 900 BC, and, possibly, the Indus Valley Civilization (the earliest writing there dates to 2600 BC, but there is debate as to whether this culture learned writing from Mesopotamia).

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My graduate application process is almost over, so it’s high time that I got back into this series. Today, for St. Patrick’s Day, I will look at the Celts, since Ireland is one of the few places where Celtic languages are still spoken today.

Illumination from the Book of Kells

Illumination of the Book of Kells, an example of Celtic art. Credit: Public domain, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:PKM

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Hello, readers! My graduate application process is almost finished, so I am resuming my posts on here. Tomorrow (Friday the 17th) will be a History Weekend post.

Regarding my applications, I’ve been accepted into UMass Amherst, Boston University, and Columbia University, for a Master’s Degree in Preservation Studies/Historic Preservation. I’m also on the wait-list for University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies program, and I’m still waiting to here back from Marist College’s Museum Studies program at Florence, Italy. In April, I have to decide on the US school I will attend, and I will apply to a Master’s program in Preservation and Heritage Studies jointly taught at Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenburg in Germany and Helwan University in Egypt.
So, exciting things await!

Just as a general announcement, I will be suspending the weekly Thought for Thursday and History Weekend for the next few weeks, at least, while I work on graduate school applications.

These columns will return!

This week has seen some very cold weather, and a fair bit of snow, up here in Massachusetts. It is nothing particularly out of the ordinary, as winter up here is usually cold and snowy. But it made wonder – what is the worst storm that Massachusetts has gotten?

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Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. Micah 7:18-20

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Every year, during the Christmas season, millions of people decorate trees with lights, ornaments, and other assorted items. Often, presents are laid out underneath the trees. But when did people start doing this? Why do we decorate trees during Christmas?
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In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Ephesians 1:7-10

In this passage, Paul explains the great plan that God has revealed to us: The we Christians have been saved from our sin and granted the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. And why? That everything might be united to God. We are the people who bring in God’s Kingdom. We Christians, the Church of God, are the culmination of history. What does that mean for our lives?

December is the twelfth and final month of the 12-month Gregorian calendar. Yet its name comes from decem, the Latin word for ten. So why is the 12th month called “10?”

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