Kish tablet – world’s oldest known written document

The Kish tablet is a limestone tablet found at the site of the ancient Sumerian city of Kish in modern-day Tell al-Uhaymir, Babil Governorate, Iraq. A plaster-cast of the artifact is today in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum.

The Kish tablet is inscribed with proto-cuneiform signs. It has been dated to the Uruk IV period (ca. 3350–3200 BC). Several thousand proto-cuneiform documents dating to Uruk IV and III periods (ca. 3350–3000 BC) have been found in Uruk. It is considered the world’s oldest known written document.

The writing is still purely pictographic, and represents a transitional stage between proto-writing and the emergence of the partly syllabic writing of the cuneiform script proper. The “proto-literate period” of Egypt and Mesopotamia is taken to span about 3500 to 2900 BC. The administrative texts of the Jemdet Nasr period (3100–2900 BC), found among other places at Jemdet Nasr and Tell Uqair represent a further stage in the development from proto-cuneiform to cuneiform, but can still not be identified with certainty as being written in Sumerian, although it is likely.

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