Initial Writing Systems. Thought of the Day 84.0


The discovery of the Sumerian civilization marks the culmination of the systematical exploration of the subsoil in the Near East, which got started in the late nineteenth-century. In the middle of that century, it was possible to spell and read the documents made with clay and covered with strange cuneiform or wedge-shaped signs, which had been found in the territory of Iraq a long time ago. This fact brought about the proliferation of excavations in the ancient Mesopotamia, just as it occurred in the Valley of Kings when the hieroglyphics were deciphered. Since these excavations were made in depth, they caused the vestiges or traces arranged in parallel layers to outcrop.

After having gone through layers with Arabian, Greek and Persian traces, the excavations got to testimonies dating from the middle of the first millennium B.C. The exploration thus reached the layer that stored the vast majority of the cuneiform documents. Consequently, were discovered the palaces, statues, treasures and weapons of the great Assyrian kings, who are mentioned in the Old Testament due to their conquests. In this way, the Assyriology was born as a scientific discipline from the cuneiform texts and the archeology of Mesopotamia.

Under that layer, other layers were discovered, which led to conclude that the apogee of the bellicose Assyrians proceeding from the north had been preceded in about one millennium by a people possessing a higher culture. These people originating from southern Mesopotamia were based on the Babylonians, whose code of laws (Hammurabi) symbolized their great cultural development and political equilibrium.

It was found out that the aforesaid code along with documents of that time were identical with the Assyrian annals and tablets, but with differences which determined that the Assyrian and Babylonian dialects came from an only language known as Akkadian. The Akkadian language is related to the Arabian, Aramean and Hebrew languages, and it is classified as a Semitic one. Then, the conclusion was that the empires of Babylon (in the early second millennium B.C.) and Nineveh (in the early first millennium B.C.) were of Semitic origin.

At the time that those archeological excavations were made, the cuneiform writing represented an enigma. This writing is composed of a large quantity of signs or characters (300 at its height), consisting of wedge-like strokes engraved on raw clay.

Initially, these linear drawings stood for concrete specific objects. In a second stage, each of the signs of this writing can be read in a text in two different ways:

  1. As the name of the object which originally was represented by that character.
  2. As the mark of a sound (syllable), but never an elemental irreducible sound like, for instance, those of the Latin alphabet.

Therefore, the cuneiform writing is ambivalent (both ideographic and phonetic). Thus, the drawing of a spike (e.g. a spike of wheat) within a cuneiform text can be read, according to the context, as the names of “grains” or the syllable “she”. In the same way, the engraving of a bird was ideographically interpreted as “volatile”, o else phonetically as the syllable “hu”.

The cuneiform signs were initially just a reproduction of objetcs. With time, they noticed that by means of such a rudimentary procedure as this, just a limited quantity of all that is possible to express in articulate language could be expressed. Only concrete typical objects could be depicted, but not actions or abstractions. For that reason, the solution was to disassociate in the character its reference to the object which reproduced, on one hand, and its pronunciation (phonetic value), on the other hand. So, the creators of this writing could write all that the spoken language expressed.

For example, the abstract word “vision” in Akkadian language is “shehu”, which could be represented by the drawing of a spike (i.e. a spike of a grain) followed by that of a bird (she + hu), but neither characters is related to a grain or something volatile in this case. Notwithstanding, in a different part of the text, those two characters might be directly translated as cereal and bird. This fact causes the decipherment of the cuneiform signs to be greatly difficult.

Because the Akkadian and Semitic name of the objects indicated by the cuneiform signs never corresponded to the phonetic value of those characters, it was inferred that the people who invented the cuneiform writing could not be Semites. The existence of another different and more ancient civilization prior to the Semitic Akkadians was then presumed.

The archeological excavations offered new cuneiform inscriptions, which, unlike the Babylonian and Assyrian texts, were written with ideograms only used due to their objective value, without any possibility of representing direct phonetic reading in either Akkadian or Semitic languages. Finally, the people who lived in southern Mesopotamia, whose monuments and cities underlying the Babylonian traces (2000 B.C.), were identified with the people who invented the cuneiform script.

As the ancient texts designated that zone of Mesopotamia adjacent to the Persian Gulf by the name of “Country of Sumer” (from the Akkadian term “shumerum”), it was agreed to call the predecessors of the Semitic Babylonians “Sumerians”. In the course of time, the investigations advanced until it was possible to reconstruct the Sumerian language, which had been lost for thousands years. Besides, this language had never could be classified within the well-known linguistic families.

The Sumerian language is really strange as far as its vocabulary (mostly monosyllabic) and even more its grammar (reconstructed in the most part) are concerned. In it, a big portion of the linguistic categories, which are indispensable according to our own way of viewing and expressing the things, is absent. As it was above mentioned, the Sumerian world is a finding of the nineteenth-century. It is the first civilization of the world, with the complexities this fact implies, namely: social and political organization, foundation of cities and states, creation of institutions, laws, organized production of assets, regulation of commerce, monumental artistic manifestations, and the invention of a writing system that would let knowledge be fixed and propagated. The appearance of this civilization dates from the fourth millennium B.C., in low Mesopotamia, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, to the south of Baghdad.

Two very ancient civilizations such as the Egyptian one and the Protoindian civilization of the Indus valley, are several centuries later than that of Sumer. Unlike Egypt and its pyramids, which reminds us of the glories of that civilization, or Israel and Greece, which built monuments that reminds us of their golden ages, in Sumer no testimonies of its past splendor were left. All that we know about Sumer at present, comes from the archeological excavations. All knowledge about this civilization has been extracted from clay tablets containing plenty of tiny cuneiform characters. These texts that are so difficult of being deciphered and understood, have been extracted by the hundreds of thousands, and they cover all aspects related to the writers’ lives: government, justice administration, economy, everyday life, science, history, literature and religion.

13 thoughts on “Initial Writing Systems. Thought of the Day 84.0

  1. Hello!
    That is very interesting. Thanks for that.

    I have an question-request for your mathematical mind that does not have to do with this post. If you don’t object.

    Is there a manner of graphing outliers?

    15 years ago I tried very hard and pulled a B+ in lower level stats in college. I am mathematically limited in my simple mind so please bare with me.

    A statistical curve, say, plots data and we can define a correlation within certain percentages, like 5%, say. So we have outliers in that 5%. Where statistical relevancy is defined by the 95% in the middle of the curve.

    Is there a way to graph the outliers?

    For example: it is possible to mathematically develop a picture of the galaxy with the Earth at its center, even thought the simplest way is to put the sun at the center.

    Do you follow what I saying? and can you describe to be what such a graph would represent, or how it would look, or something of that sort.

    I have hypothesized that the graph of the outliers would be the inverse of the associated inclusive curve of the statistical relevant material. So that the graph of the outliers would show singularities arising to the sides, the middle near or at zero.

    Does that make sense, and it is it totally incorrect?

    If you don’t want to answer, please just tell me so, and its ok.

      • Hmmm. Maybe: A plot of frequency. Shows a positive correlation. The bell curve graph of distribution. Is 95% confidence.

        Is there a graph that shows only the outliers ? The 5%? A probability curve that graphs outliers. As not outliers. As what we are concerned with ? So the 95% would then technically be, for that particular representation,outliers.

        Does that make more sense? 😁

      • I’m thinking the curve would be like a ‘U’. Instead of a hill shape. The extremities would curve upwards to singularities, and the bottom middle middle would be zero or close to zero .


      • Perhaps: Given the set of data. Plotted. Graphed. Turn the graph into the correlation of Those outliers, like the confidence is then as to the ‘outlaying’.

      • Maybe I’m making it too complicated. Maybe I’m saying or attempting to think is the inverse of say a sine wave, such that it’s just that U instead of a hill shaped. Isn’t there something to be said about these two types of curves or something if were representing it as a hill shaped sine. Or as a U-shaped with singularities at the ends?

      • Do you know and Can you tell me how physicists dealt with the wave function collapse? If observing effects the outcome, how did they deal with that?

      • Referring to the unitary evolution of a quantum state vector (basically Schrodinger’s Equation which provide the rate of change with respect to time of the quantum state or wave function) as U. Let the state vector reduction (collapse of the wave function) be R. It is important to note that these two processes are separate and distinct. U is understood well and can be modelled accurately with the equations of QM, R is not well understood and it is some physicist’s thoughts that QM will need to be modified to incorporate this state vector reduction process. There is much to say about the R process. Basically “is it consciousness that reduces the state vector/collaspes the wave function?”. Among those who take this explanation seriously as a description of the physical world, there are those who would argue that – as some alternative to trusting U at all scale and believing in a many-world type view point – that something of the nature of this R process occurs whenever the consciousness of an observer becomes involved. E. Wigner once sketched a theory of this kind in Nature in the 60s. The general idea was that unconscious matter or inanimate matter, would evolve according to U, but as soon as a conscious entity becomes physically entangled with the state, then something new comes in and actually reduces the state (some R process). The posit that it is consciousness that causes this collapse is very hard to debunk, due to the very nature of this type of argument. However, if you consider the following example, it should be clear that this picture is far from complete; and that this argument for consciousness causing the R process is not sufficient. Consider the weather, the detailed weather patterns that occur on any planet, being dependent of chaotic processes, which much be sensitive to numerous individual quantum events. if the R process does not actually take place in the absence of consciousness, then no particular weather pattern could ever establish itself out of the morass of quantum-superposed alternatives. Can we really believe that the weather on these planets remain in complex-number superpositions of innumerable distinct possibilities – just some total hazy mess quite different from actual weather – until some conscious being becomes aware of it and then at that point, and only that point the superposed weather becomes actual weather? We can expect some amendment to QM if this process R is ever going to be sufficiently explained. One candidate model to explain this reduction process is the gravitationally induced state-vector (and its decedents). There are strong reasons for suspecting that the modification of quantum theory (QT) that will be needed, if some form of R is to be made into a real physical process, must involve the effect of gravity in a serious way. Some of these reasons have to do with the fact that the very framework of standard QT fit uncomfortably with the curved-space-time that GR demands. Yet most physicists seem reluctant to accept that it maybe QT that needs adjustment to facilitate a successful union with GR. Roger Penrose describe a new model (based on other candidates) in his book The Shadows of the Mind that uses a quantum gravity model to explain the elusive quantum process R – this is well worth a read for a better understanding of this mysterious process and it implication on human consciousness.

      • Thank you so much.

        The work I do, though it is far from mathematically based, may yet allow for some kind of conceptual alteration whereby a necessary and concordat mathematical adjustment to QM will be able to be made.

        I think the problem may have to do with categories that are taken to inform a consistency across a whole. For example, when we say “consciousness”. It is a particular unitary version of what consciousness is, as a kind of automatic default, even as we might conceptually alter definitions to accommodate difference, that may be the culprit. Likewise, it may be that the idea of ‘multiple universes’ actually derive from the fixity (limits posed) of such a unitary consciousness. That multiple universes, as one kind of solution, may be an incorrect result that arises within the fixity of concepts as a kind of ‘theological dogma’, to further confirm the ‘gap’ between U and R.

        Reality, as a default concept, likewise may hinder a discovery of what occurs with R. And further, the idea that a ‘concept’ holds within itself a potential to be communicated across singular (fixed) categories may also prevent the needed QT adjustment.

        My work concerns an opening that presently appears, not closed off, but more non-existent and contradictory to most ‘rational’ reckoning.

        Your help with these quite particular and precise functions and their ideas is much appreciated.

  2. An outlier is an observation that appears to deviate markedly from other observations in the sample An outlier may indicate bad data. For example, the data may have been coded incorrectly or an experiment may not have been run correctly. 

    If it can be determined that an outlying point is in fact erroneous, then the outlying value should be deleted from the analysis (or corrected if possible). In some cases, it may not be possible to determine if an outlying point is bad data. Outliers may be due to random variation or may indicate something scientifically interesting. In any event, we should not  simply delete the outlying observation before a through investigation. In  running experimdnts , we may repeat the experiment. If the data contains significant outliers, we may need to consider the use of robust statistical techniques.

    Extreme outliers will affect the mean a lot, but will not affect the median.  So you can include outliers (if there is no other compelling reason to remove them) if you are computing a median, or a mode. If an outlier is too extreme to be believable, such as being likely due to measurement error, then it is best to exclude it.   If the outlier is plausible, it may be best to analyze the data both with and without the outliers. In logistic regression, it can be useful to show the risk factors that predict them.  But including outliers in the data may also mask the effect of predictors on less-extreme data that are not outliers. In linear regression, outliers can greatly affect the regression (the slope, r-value, and r-squared).  It may be best to remove them from linear regression, and then explain and describe them separately in some other way. The best way to achieve this would be through scatter-plots rather than an inverse of a sine curve. Though, I’d have to think about it. so, excuse for this hurried through response. Will get back.

  3. Its wonderful as your other posts : D, thankyou for putting up. “Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.'” by Kahlil Gibran.

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