How Was Writing First Used?
It is now generally believed that the first use of writing was for keeping lists at temples of worship. In many of the ancient kingdoms, the priestly hierarchy was very powerful, and they collected a yearly tribute from all the subjects of the realm.
In order to keep track of thousands of items collected from the people yearly, clay tablets were inscribed with lists of the tribute. The other early use of writing was by merchants. Many of the tablets found in the ruins of the Sumerian empire contain lists of produce and items for sale.
Some are bills! This was the beginning. It would be a long time before man would use his newly found skill for setting down ideas, in addition to business lists. Once men found that they could make marks to signify syllables and sounds, there was no longer a need to draw pictures.
By 3000 B.C., the Sumerians, the Hittites, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians developed cuneiform writing, a system of wedge-shaped marks impressed in clay that was able to completely express the various languages.
By 17 00 B.C., the Minoan Empire had developed an actual script. The wedge shaped figures disappeared, and people began to write in flowing curves. But it still represented only items and ideas and, at the best, a few syllables. An alphabet was needed. It arrived a thousand years after the onset of the Minoan script, and it began a whole new era.
Various other known cases of cultural diffusion of writing exist, where the general concept of writing was transmitted from one culture to another but the specifics of the system were independently developed. Recent examples are the Cherokee syllabary, invented by Sequoyah, and the Pahawh Hmong system for writing the Hmong language.