Before paper and pens were invented, people wrote on portable clay tablets.
Cuneiform script was one way of writing on these clay tablets. A blunt reed called a stylus would be used to make wedge-shaped marks. The word ‘cuneiform’ comes from the Latin words ‘cuneus’ meaning ‘wedge’ and ‘forma’ meaning ‘shape’.
Cuneiform was invented by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago. It was used all the way up to Roman times when it was replaced by alphabetic writing.
Only about 5-10% of the cuneiform tablets discovered have been translated as there are only a few hundred people in the world who can translate it.
One of the surviving tablets (from the Middle Bronze Age) was recently translated and discovered to be a letter of complaint from a copper merchant to his supplier of copper ingots. An amazing discovery and fascinating glimpse of everyday life so many years ago.
Find out more about the world’s oldest complaint letter here.