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Clay Tokens and the Origin of Writing


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

Published in: Business, Technology

Clay Tokens and the Origin of Writing

  1. 1. Clay Tokens and the Origin of Writing Presentation by Mindy McAdams Week 2, Thursday MMC 2265
  2. 2. What are they?
  3. 3. What are they? <ul><li>Small — most are 0.5 to 1.25 inches long </li></ul><ul><li>Made of (fired) clay </li></ul><ul><li>16 main types, including cone, sphere, disk, cylinder, tetrahedron </li></ul><ul><li>For 4,000 years, they were very plain </li></ul><ul><li>Later tokens have markings and distinct meanings </li></ul>
  4. 4. Simple vs. “complex”
  5. 5. The cradle of civilization <ul><li>People quit the nomadic life dependent on hunting and gathering </li></ul><ul><li>Crops planted and cultivated </li></ul><ul><li>Property ownership </li></ul><ul><li>Trading goods and services </li></ul><ul><li>Called the “agricultural revolution” (also the “Neolithic revolution”) </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>The first cities were built in what is now Iraq </li></ul><ul><li>Fertile agricultural land between two rivers </li></ul><ul><li>Mixed religion and government </li></ul>
  7. 8. From token to sign
  8. 9. Impressions on “envelopes”
  9. 10. Impressions on tablets
  10. 11. Development and change <ul><li>Plain tokens appeared when agriculture began (in Mesopotamia) </li></ul><ul><li>Complex tokens appeared about the same time as cities there (circa 4000 B.C.E.) </li></ul><ul><li>The first writing appeared about 3200 B.C.E. </li></ul><ul><li>Writing was used only for accounting until about 2700 B.C.E. </li></ul>
  11. 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://
  12. 13. When they were in use <ul><li>Earliest clay tokens date from about </li></ul><ul><li>8000 B.C.E. </li></ul><ul><li>Clay tokens were used for five millennia (5,000 years) </li></ul><ul><li>3500 - 3200 B.C.E. Tokens start to be enclosed in clay “envelopes” </li></ul><ul><li>3100 - 3000 B.C.E. Tokens decline, decrease, disappear </li></ul>
  13. 14. Clay Tokens and the Origin of Writing Presentation by Mindy McAdams University of Florida