Invention of Writing Exhibition

Early writing developed independently at four spots around the ancient world: Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, and Mesoamerica.  For the first time in 25 years, examples of writing from all four civilizations are on display together at the Oriental Institute’s new exhibition Visible Language, viewable now through March, 2011 at the University of Chicago.  

The highlights of the exhibition are the earliest known cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, dated to 3200 B.C., which have never before been shown in America.  The Oriental Institute has the tablets on loan from the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin.  Other items on display include ancient labels from the tombs of the first Egyptian kings, inscribed oracle bones from China, and a miniature altar with Mayan hieroglyphics.  

Christopher Woods, the exhibit curator and Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute, said, “It appears likely that all other writing systems evolved from the four systems we have in our exhibition.”  As such, the exhibition provides a fascinating, and humbling, opportunity for comparative analysis.

Watch a video of Professor Theo van den Hout discuss early Mesopotamian scribes:


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