Step 2 of 5

Why take the easy way?

Fig. 1 - Fine cuneiform writing – The British Museum – [42239](

Fig. 1 - Fine cuneiform writing – The British Museum – 42239

When we write something down, it’s usually on a flat surface. This hasn’t changed since 3200 BC, when writing was invented, perhaps for the first time in human history, in ancient Mesopotamia. Most clay objects that are inscribed with the cuneiform script are flat tablets that you can easily hold in your hand, like a smartphone. Fig. 1 shows a fragment of a typical tablet.

This cylinder is different. It shows us that humans don’t always take the easy path. Sometimes we put in the time and effort to make something that’s beautiful rather than just convenient. Just look at it! Imagine how difficult it is to make a shape like this from clay, and then to neatly cover its curved faces in text without using too much or too little of the available space. That’s the work of an artist!In case you’re wondering what the holes in cylinders such as this one are for, you’re not alone. Scholars have proposed theories, but ultimately we don’t know. Think of them as the holes in our knowledge of the past.