Clay Tokens and the Origin of Writing

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Professor Mindy McAdams's presentation about the work of Dr. Denise Schmandt-Besserat.

Professor Mindy McAdams's presentation about the work of Dr. Denise Schmandt-Besserat.

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  • Hi Mindy, why do you think the tokens were invented at the first place? Was it for planning purposes, for barter, or to manage societal conflicts like social loafing?
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  • 1. Clay Tokens and the Origin of Writing Presentation by Mindy McAdams Week 2, Thursday MMC 2265
  • 2. What are they?
  • 3. What are they?
    • Small — most are 0.5 to 1.25 inches long
    • Made of (fired) clay
    • 16 main types, including cone, sphere, disk, cylinder, tetrahedron
    • For 4,000 years, they were very plain
    • Later tokens have markings and distinct meanings
  • 4. Simple vs. “complex”
  • 5. The cradle of civilization
    • People quit the nomadic life dependent on hunting and gathering
    • Crops planted and cultivated
    • Property ownership
    • Trading goods and services
    • Called the “agricultural revolution” (also the “Neolithic revolution”)
  • 6.
    • The first cities were built in what is now Iraq
    • Fertile agricultural land between two rivers
    • Mixed religion and government
  • 7.  
  • 8. From token to sign
  • 9. Impressions on “envelopes”
  • 10. Impressions on tablets
  • 11. Development and change
    • Plain tokens appeared when agriculture began (in Mesopotamia)
    • Complex tokens appeared about the same time as cities there (circa 4000 B.C.E.)
    • The first writing appeared about 3200 B.C.E.
    • Writing was used only for accounting until about 2700 B.C.E.
  • 12. “ Before 2700 … writing is only accounting . To recall what comes in the temple or the palace, and what comes out. So-and-so much gold, so-and-so many sheep, so-and-so many bushels of grain. It’s only numbers and the thing counted . And then, at some point, the name of who it belongs to . That’s it.” — Interview with Denise Schmandt-Besserat http:// www.kenyonreview.org/interviews/schmandt.php
  • 13. When they were in use
    • Earliest clay tokens date from about
    • 8000 B.C.E.
    • Clay tokens were used for five millennia (5,000 years)
    • 3500 - 3200 B.C.E. Tokens start to be enclosed in clay “envelopes”
    • 3100 - 3000 B.C.E. Tokens decline, decrease, disappear
  • 14. Clay Tokens and the Origin of Writing Presentation by Mindy McAdams University of Florida