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How Writing Came about


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Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction: Tokens, a New Theory
    • The Myths
    • The Pictographic Theory
    • Tokens
  • Part One: The Evidence
    1. What Are Tokens?
      • Types and Subtypes
      • Evolution from Plain to Complex Materials
      • Manufacture
      • The Token Collection under Study
    2. Where Tokens Were Handled and Who Used Them
      • Types of Settlements
      • Distribution within Settlements
      • Structures
      • Token Clusters
      • Containers Holding Tokens
      • Associated Assemblages
      • Tokens as Funerary Offerings
    3. Strings of Tokens and Envelopes
      • Strings of Tokens
      • Envelopes
    4. Impressed Tablets
      • Number
      • Context
      • Chronology
      • Description
      • The Signs
      • Beyond the Impressed Tablets: Pictography
      • The Meaning of Signs and Their Corresponding Tokens
      • The Place of Impressed Tablets in the Evolution of Writing
  • Part Two: The Interpretation
    1. The Evolution of Symbols in Prehistory
      • Symbols and Signs
      • Lower and Middle Paleolithic Symbols
      • Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Symbols
      • Neolithic Symbols
      • A Turning Point in Communication and Data Storage
    2. Tokens: The Socioeconomic Implications
      • Reckoning Technology and Economy
      • Reckoning Technology and Social Organization
    3. Counting and the Emergence of Writing
      • The Various Modes of Counting
      • The Sumerian Philological Evidence
      • The Near Eastern Archaeological Data
    4. Conclusions: Tokens, Their Role in Prehistory and Their Contribution to Archaeology
      • Economy
      • Political Structure
      • Mathematics
      • Communication
  • Part Three: The Artifacts
    • Cones
    • Spheres
    • Disks
    • Cylinders
    • Tetrahedrons
    • Ovoids
    • Quadrangles
    • Triangles
    • Biconoids
    • Paraboloids
    • Bent Coils
    • Ovals/Rhomboids
    • Vessels
    • Tools
    • Animals
    • Miscellaneous
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Index

About the Author

Denise Schmandt-Besserat is Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


"Discoveries in the history of writing are rare, but Denise Schmandt-Besserat made one in realizing that phonetic writing in the West descends not from pictography, a view repeated everywhere, but from abstract, nonphonetic, mostly noniconographic accounting tokens used in Neolithic farming communities of the Near East beginning from about 8000 B.C. A condensation of volume I of ...this book is a perfect production, utterly lucid, thoughtfully illustrated, and thoroughly convincing." * American Journal of Archaeology *

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