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Courtesy Michael Carlos Museum
Cuneiform Clay Tablet, 2040 B.C.
The arrival of agriculture around 3000 B.C. heralded in two of the first civilizations--Mesopotamia and Egypt. The first Mesopotamians were the Sumerians who were successful in irrigation systems which led to fruitful harvests and small towns. Gradually, small cities emerged and developed commerce. It was the need to keep track of inventories and transactions that led the Sumerians to develop what is considered the first step towards a revolution in human communications, and the future domination of the left brain hemisphere over the right--around 3100 B.C., writing in the form of cuneiform was invented.

Cuneiform, which began as tiny wedge-shaped marks made with sharp sticks on clay tablets, became progressively more abstract with stylized symbols representing an idea, concept, object or action. Later, other neighboring countries adopted cuneiform into their cultures and altered it as well.

Writing introduced a whole new set of rules and laws that produced a revolution in culture. Scribes, highly trained in cuneiform, with all of its laws of grammar, transferred authority into the written word; civil laws were born with it and could not be avoided by the ordinary person. In 2350 B.C., the first written law code in history begins with an order to stone any woman who takes two husbands for herself. Then, in 1750 B.C., King Hammurabi, the most famous Mesopotamian king, wrote the first widely distributed code of laws that did not apply equally to all citizens. His laws clearly favored men over women, and restricted women's rights.

Unlike speech, writing is not genetically encoded, nor is reading. In fact, it can be said with ease that these skills are unnatural to the brain and its neurodesign. Michael Gazzaniga, neuroscientist and author of "The Mind's Past" puts it another way, "Brains are not built to read. Reading is a recent invention of human culture . . .our brains have no place dedicated to this new invention." Neuroscientist and author Leonard Shlain, takes this concept a step further in making a bold proclamation, "the process of reading itself fundamentally rewired the human brain with profound consequences for culture, history and religion."

Thus, reading and writing are a manmade invention alien to the brain and the purposes it was created for. Yet most all of the important developments in civilization can be pinpointed back to the rapid development of language, reading and writing.

Photo courtesy of the Carlos Museum

Information derived from:

The Mind's Past, Michael S. Gazzaniga,
University of California Press, 1998

The Alphabet vs. the Goddess, Leonard Shlain, M.D.
The Penguin Group, 1998