Proto-cuneiform was a pictographic communication which grew from the accounting tokens we learnt about last week. The Mesopotamians began to denote certain information using, first, stamps and then accounting tokens which finally developed into proto-cuneiform tags and pictographic tablets.
Pin this post to bookmark it for later!
Also, do check out my MEGA Mesopotamia Unit Study post to find out just where Proto-cuneiform fit into the history of Mesopotamia. This huge post has lots of printable, videos, science experiments and, as always, stacks of suggestions for easy hands on activities you can do with your children! I am always adding new stuff to this post so do go and check it out.
Accounting Tokens to Proto-cuneiform Tags
Proto-cuneiform tags were preceded by a simple token based system which evolved into more elaborate tokens. Eventually, to increase security, these tokens were contained within a clay envelope. This stopped people from cheating the system and altering the accounting. In time, these tokens were pushed into the clay envelope, leaving indents which showed what the envelope contained.
These indents, which communicated a specific idea, developed into tags and tablets. At first, these tags and tablets only contained numerical data, but over time simple drawings were included. The tags below show the item they represent (in this case a goat or sheep) and the amount of them (it is thought this is the number ten):
The invention of these tags did not stop the production of the tokens, which continued to be in use even after the development of pictographs.
From Tags to Tablets
This use of simple line pictures to represent something quickly developed into their use on tablets. Tablets, being much larger, could contain much more information. Further pictographs were created to record this information. The tablet below is thought to contain the name of the master (in the top left hand corner) and all of his slaves:
These tablets begun as simple accounting tablets. But as we shall see in our next lesson, this morphed into a complex picture language. And it was this picture language which gradually became the cuneiform the Mesopotamians are so well known for. That’s a lesson for another day!
I have made some notepages to go along with this lesson. You are more than welcome to download them below:
How To Make Mesopotamian Tags and Tablets
If you’d like to make your own Proto-cuneiform tags and a pictograph tablet, please do check out my video below. If you watch it and like what you see, please consider liking the video and subscribing to my channel. Every little helps with the YouTube algorithm. Thank you!
And just in case you’d like to make some museum tags to go along with your Mesopotamia artefacts, I’ve made some to download:
Hopefully, you’ve got everything you need to have a wonderful lesson learning about Mesopotamian Proto-cuneiform!
Don’t forget to pin!