Writing in the West

4. Pictograms

Clay pictographic tablet

Pictographic tablet, 2011-3763


This Sumerian clay tablet dates from around 2900 BC and offers an example of pictographic writing. Among others, there are pictograms for barley, ox, cow, and orchard An indication of the number of items (indicated by lines and dots) is visible, and this suggests that the tablet may have been a record of goods owned, or deposited, or exchanged. This form of writing was slowly replaced in Sumeria by the introduction of more formalised signs composed of impressed lines and wedges – cuneiform.