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The evidence for early writing: utilitarian or ceremonial?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

Nicholas Postgate
Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ, England
Tao Wang
School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, England
Toby Wilkinson
Christ's College, Cambridge CB2 3BU, England
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A comparison of the evidence for the earliest scripts in different parts of the world suggests that an apparent preponderance of ceremonial; and symbolic usage should not be interpreted too literally. It seems to have more to do with archaeological preservation–the better survival in archaeological contexts of the durable materials preferred as vehicles for ceremonial texts–than with any deep-seated differences in the function of the scripts. It may well be that the earliest Chinese, Egyptian or Mesoamerican texts were largely as utilitarian in their application as those of Mesopotamia.

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