Some People Ignored Writing for Thousands of Years

Ancient Assyrians still used clay markers, 2K years later

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 14, 2014 4:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – What if people still used typewriters in the year 4,000? Or wrote with a stone and chisel today? That's roughly the equivalent of what archaeologists discovered in Turkey, where a dig dating to 600 to 900 BC turned up clay tokens alongside cuneiform tablets, the Smithsonian reports. The find showed that ancient Assyrians were using the variously shaped tokens as part of a bookkeeping system centuries after writing was invented in around 3,000 BC. The researchers say that farmers trading grain or livestock likely handed the tokens over to officials who later translated them into cuneiform script, an ancient form of writing, Science 2.0 reports.

The system was practical, allowing illiterate farmers to use tokens, so stock could be moved and accounts "modified and updated without committing to writing," says lead researcher John MacGinnis. He believes the token-and-cuneiform system was used across the Assyrian empire, covering modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—then the world's largest ever. And it shouldn't seem so odd, he says: After all, "complex writing didn’t stop the use of the abacus, just as the digital age hasn’t wiped out pencils and pens." (Read about a stone tablet said to "confirm" the Noah's Ark story.)

An example of a cuneiform tablet.
An example of a cuneiform tablet.   (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
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