Category: History Weekend


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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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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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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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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Last week, I introduced the history of Thanksgiving in the United States. Since the first Thanksgiving has, retrospectively, been applied to the 1621 harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims, I’ve been exploring that history. Last week, I gave an overview of what is modern-day New England in the 1600s from the perspective of the Native Americans, particularly the Wampanoag. Today, I will look at the history of the Pilgrim Fathers, their intersection with the Wampanoag, and what is credited as the first Thanksgiving.

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It is the year 1620. Along the coasts of what are now Canada and New England, busy settlements sprawl across the beaches and estuaries. They, like the water that laps against them are fluid, ever changing, as villages ebb and flow like the tide. Borders are well-defined, but constantly in flux. It is a centuries old vibrant network of small communities bound in trade and cultural exchange, managed by capable leaders called sachems.
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Sorry, this post is a week overdue: My draft failed to publish for some reason.

The last Thursday of this month is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For the remainder of the month, my History Weekend series will explore the history of Thanksgiving. For this first post, I will look at the history of Thanksgiving as a Holiday. The next two weekends will delve into the famous harvest festival that the Pilgrims celebrated, along with the historical context of that event. So, here is the history of Thanksgiving:
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On Tuesday, November 8, millions of American will go to the polling stations to vote. Others have already voted. But all of them will vote in secret, either through a mailed-in ballot or else at a polling booth behind a curtain. But this is a relatively modern way of voting. Before the late 19th century, Americans, and pretty much everybody who lived in a country with a republican-style government, voted publicly, their vote known to those around them. What changed between then and today? You can thank the Australians.

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