Skip to main content

Writing - Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization

Writing - Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization

Barry B. Powell

ISBN: 978-1-118-25532-2 February 2012 Wiley-Blackwell 296 Pages


In Stock



Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization offers a coherent system of terms and categories for the study of the complex phenomena in the world’s writing systems.

Tracing the origins of writing tied to speech from ancient Sumer through the Greek alphabet and beyond, the book examines the earliest evidence for writing in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BC, the relations of these systems to Egyptian and Chinese writing, the origins of purely phonographic systems, and the mystery of alphabetic writing.

With examples from contemporary and historical writing systems, and many illustrations, Writing shows how the structures of writing served and do serve certain social needs and in turn create deep patterns of social behavior.

List of Illustrations ix

Maps xiv

Preface xv

Chronology xvii

Introduction: A Difficult Topic, Little Studied, Poorly Understood 1

1 What Is Writing? 11

2 Writing with Signs 19

3 Categories and Features of Writing 38

4 Some General Issues in the Study of Writing 51

5 Protocuneiform and Counting Tokens 60

6 Origin of Lexigraphic Writing in Mesopotamia 70

7 Plato's Ideas and Champollion’s Decipherment of the

Egyptian Hieroglyphs 85

8 Egyptian Writing and Egyptian Speech 100

9 The Origin and Nature of Egyptian Writing 108

10 “The House of Life”: Scribes and Writing in Ancient Egypt 120

11 Syllabic Scripts of the Aegean 128

12 The West Semitic Revolution 148

13 What Kind of Writing Was West Semitic? 163

14 The Origins of West Semitic Writing 175

15 Chinese Logography 187

16 Lexigraphic Writing in Mesoamerica 206

17 The Greek Alphabet: A Writing That Changed the World 227

18 Summary and Conclusions 245

Glossary 255

Bibliography 263

Index 270