How come Egyptian hieroglyphics are recognizable to us, but Sumerian cuneiform isn’t?
Two words: art supplies.
The Sumerian scribes used a stylus to make marks in soft clay. A stylus pokes indentations into clay, but not strokes. They were limited to wedge-shapes because if they’d tried to draw a curve there would be a build-up of clay on one side of the stroke, like when a snow plow clears a road.
The Egyptians wrote on paper—to be specific, papyrus (pah PIE roos). Papyrus is a reed that grows around the Nile River delta. They found that you can soak the pith (the insides) of the reeds until it becomes soft, then pound it flat. The flattened strips are woven into a sheet, pressed and left to dry. When the sheet’s dry you can write or draw on it.
(I was right—the papyrus reed is triangular in cross-section. I hadn’t lost my marbles after all.)
Here are two scribes, one writes in cuneiform and one writes in hieroglyphics.
Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.