The Earliest Precursor of Writing.
Denise Schmandt-Besserat, a bold French archaeologist, was awarded a generous scholarship by a famous and well-endowed American university on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The aim of the scholarship was to research the origin of writing. It was assumed that the origin was to be found in the Middle East, around the broad basins of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, three or four thousand years B.C. The invention of writing was an effective means of conveying information, and its emergence changed our understanding of history. Here lies the importance of this archaeological research.
Schmandt-Besserat visited the lands of present day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel about the ‘60s and ‘70s and worked hard. It is known that the alphabetic writing appeared much later, about 1500 to 1000 years B.C. Before this, we find a syllabic script, and even earlier, a picture representation called ideographic, because it reduced to a more or less stylized graphic image an idea or ideas similar among them. This type of writing seems to be the oldest of all and can already be found between the years 4000 and 3000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. However, the eminent French archaeologist shows us, as a surprising result of her excavations, a picture pushing back the origin of rudimentary writing as far as the years 8000 -7000 B.C.
Archaeologists who preceded her had accepted small geometric pieces of clay, pierced through to be able to string them as beads to adorn the neck, wrists or ankles of primitive women. They were triangles, circles, spheres, beads, cones, pieces for stringing. She, however, offers us a convincing equivalence between the various clay figures and the goods being traded: sheep, goats, oxen, wheat, oil, wine, etc., and suggest the hypothesis that these simple clay figurines represent the first currency in history. That that currency is a «note», a «bookkeeping entry», and that this opens the way to writing.
Towards 6000-5000 B.C., we already find some large hollow clay balls, closed and sealed, inside of which there were coins of various goods. These balls were the «invoices» that the caravan leaders transported from one city to the other, while transporting the goods «invoiced» in the ball and delivering them to the recipient on reaching their destination. The recipient checked the correlation between the currency and the goods received by breaking the ball in front of witness scribes in the public square, at the gates of the temple. Often the ball showed on the outside the signed description of what it held inside. Denise Schmandt-Besserat found a significant amount of such balls.
Later balls were no longer used. Clay was flattened and the first classical bricks of the first cuneiform writing (in the form of a wedge) appeared. This researcher shows, without solution of continuity, the evolution from the early geometric shapes, through primitive ideograms to graphics in the form of a wedge made with punches, of the writing of the Chaldeans. Therefore, the French scholar fulfilled the American task of discovering the origin of writing, but surprised the world by discovering at the same time the origin of currency.
Until the Neolithic, 8500-8000 B.C., the sale and purchase of goods was made by way of barter or exchange: I give you two sacks of wheat and you give me a lamb. This is called bartering and makes trade really difficult. I can only combine an operation if at the same time I find: a) somebody who needs what I have in excess; b) that this somebody has that what I need; and c) that both consider the value of the two goods to be equivalent in the just amount to suit both of us. This is really difficult and hindered the development of market for millennia. Currency introduces «mercantilism» which, by applying a generic value, abstract and symbolic, accepted by all and backed by the authority, allows all sorts of exchanges at any time.
Lluís Maria Xirinacs i Damians.
Translation: Loto Perrella.