Welcome, students!  SNFF!  I have got some . . . weird news.  KOFF!  I just found out I am allergic to the English alphabet.  If we keep using it in class, then I'll be sneezing all over your tests and blowing my nose with your stories.  This will not do.  So today, we'll be learning how to write cuneiform, an ancient form of writing that was made up of wedge-shaped pictures on clay tablets.  It was made over five thousand years ago in the Middle East.  Yes, it is a strange word, I know.  But do not be worried.  It should only take about twelve years to master. 

Don't be mad!  Twelve years is not so long when you think about it.  You should be honored to learn it.  A scribe is someone who writes or copies writings.  Back in the days when cuneiform was used, only men from rich families learned how to write.  Rich men were thought of as the most special for some reason.  Lucky for you, I think each and every one of YOU is special!  ACHOO! 

No!  Augh!  What are you doing?  A pencil and paper?  Those weren't around when cuneiform was written!  Here, class, break all of your pencils and put your paper in the shredder.  I've got something new for you to try.  Clay tablets were thick and flat pieces of soft clay that were one of the earliest surfaces on which people wrote.  They began as soft clay into which the scribe would carve cuneiform symbols.  Then they would wait for the clay to dry.  Unlike paper or even wood, these tablets last a very long time, which means we still get to read about what they wrote about today.  Lucky for us, this took a long time, so the writing is pretty interesting most of the time.  They didn't use clay tablets to write their grocery lists. 

What will you be using instead of a pencil?  Well, you will need something sharp to dig into that clay, won't you?  A stylus was a writing tool made out of a reed with a long body and a sharp point for digging into soft clay.  This will be a lot different than the English alphabet.  Instead of just a lines and circles, you will really have to dig into the clay using the slanted edge.  This is what gives cuneiform its "wedge shape."  Try it for a few minutes.  You can see how this is going to take twelve years. 

You just need to learn one more thing before we can start.  Writing began as drawing.  But it was not as if a picture of a dog meant the word dog. These pictures stood for letters and sounds. Pictographs are pictures that are used as letters.  You know those alphabet posters that wrap around the walls of some classes?  They show that A is for apple and B is for ball and C is for cookie.  Now imagine if those pictures no longer meant apple or ball, but stood for the sounds AH and BUH.  After a long time, these pictures became cuneiform, what you are working on now. You will see that they look less like pictures and more like the letters of today.  The biggest difference is I'm not allergic to them.  

Now you can start writing cuneiform!  You will use a stylus to carve lines in clay tablets in order to make things that at one point looked like pictures.  Only twelve more years of practice and you will all become great scribes.  What's that?  If I'm allergic to the English alphabet, how can I be writing with it right now, you ask?  My eyes are already watering, my nose is running, and my throat is closing up, but I had to find some way to teach you!  You are just lucky that I am not like the teachers of the past, who would beat their students until they became perfect in their studies.  Many of the cuneiform stories tell of these terrifying teachers.  So get carving! 


Mesopotamia.  "Writing"  Mesopotamia.co.uk, 2011.  <http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/writing/home_set.html>

History World.  "Cuneiform"  historyworld.org, 2013.  <http://history-world.org/cuneiform_writing.htm>