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a brief history of writing.....

Writing was still fairly new at the time Enheduana was writing. Her tablets are written in cuneiform- the first form of written language. A stylus was used on wet clay to make triangular shaped symbols. But there were a few stages of notation before cuneiform emerged as a sophisticated method of writing.

--The invention of writing dates to approximately 3200 B.C. when the first use of ideograms began: primarily numerical notations for recording administrative transactions of the temple eg. how many sheep, wool products etc.. were sold.

-- The Uruk IV Tablets found in the Eanna area of Uruk date to 3100 B.C. and are the first lexical lists containing the first appearance of personal names. They were simply lists of such names. It was a logographic system of writing whereby one sign was equal to one word as in chinese which began with 50,000 different signs that could be reduced to 500 simpler ideographic signs. Sumerian could be reduced to 500-600 signs at that time. Jumping ahead, briefly, to illustrate the development of writing, the use of written language became far more democratic with a total of 80-90 signs, thereby making it easier to learn.

--The Uruk III tablets, found at Jemdet Nasr, show that the signs have become simplified, less ornate.

--The Early Dynastic Period One, EDI, 2800 B.C., witnesses a new type of text. It is called proto-cuneiform and appears as a step backward from the archaic texts of Uruk III. Perhaps this came as a result from trying to use signs in a grammatical function for the first time.

--EDIIIa & b, 2600-2350 B.C., there is a clear use of Sumerian and Akkadian in the writing system.

--2250 B.C. is a rough estimate of when Enheduana was writing- approximately 100-350 years from the time writing was established- not a long tradition for her to draw upon. This in conjunction with her high status sheds more light as to why she was the first to attach her name to her writings. She may have been the first writer of royal lineage and thereby, entitled to reveal herself. In general, the writing tradition was anonymous. Perhaps scribes were not considered important enough to "sign" their writings. Perhaps, their writings were the property of their employers and so their identity was not acknowledged.

The above two tablets are copies made by Annette Zgoll (1997) and represent a copy of Enheduana's poem nin-me-sara , her most popular poem. Several tablet copies have been found in scribal schools and private collections at ancient Mesopotamian sites. This is fortunate because the tablets each have broken sections and having over a 100 copies to work with has allowed Annette Zgoll to piece the entire poem together. Very few Sumerian literary works have been pieced together in their entirety like nin-me-sara, which makes this poem very interesting to scholars. Why was this poem so popular in ancient times? What tradition was Enheduana influenced by? Did she add to it?
For a paper on the cycle of three hymns to the Goddess Inanna, please go to Enheduanna's Writings.

This information on the development of cuneiform came from a class I took with Dr. Robert Englund at UCLA . Amongst many other papers he has written with Hans J. Nissen and Peter Damerow A Short History of Proto-Cuneiform , taken from their book, Archaic Bookkeeping [University of Chicago Press: Chicago 1993].
Check out these websites for information on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.