Cuneiform writing is the oldest documented language that has been discovered on Earth. The language was originally comprised of pictographs that represented beings, events, and information. This form dates to the 4th century B.C. By the 3rd century, it became alphabetic with characters representing sounds and comprising words much like our alphabet does today. The writing, pictured on the right, is made up of wedge-shaped symbols pressed into wet clay with stylus instruments, then allowed to dry. The word “cuneiform” literally translated from the Latin means “wedge-shaped”. It is important to note that the Sumerian scribes did not name their language since no name was needed. There were no other written languages existing so there was no need to name it. It was simply “writing”.
What is extremely interesting about cuneiform is that it simply appeared in its earlier pictographic state. There is no evidence of its evolution from an earlier, more primitive language. It just came into existence and was used to document the age of the Anuna gods, their offspring, the development of the Sumerian civilization, Sumerian culture, commerce and the wars that may have ended the reign of the Anuna. While all written languages have continued to evolve from Sumerian into the languages of today, it is unknown how Cuneiform just appeared, already fully developed and used by the scribes. Many believe the written language was taught to Sumerian scribes by the Anuna, which explains why it was non-existent and then “just appeared” and was widely used. Sumerian clay tablets document the passing of knowledge from the Anuna to scribes. This imparting of written knowledge is found in the Sumerian texts.