The Japan Times, December 17, 1998
Egyptian writing dating to 3300 B.C. discovered
CAIRO (AP) A German archaeologist said Tuesday that he has found what could be the earliest known human writing - records of linen and oil deliveries made about 5,300 years ago during the reign of a king named Scorpion in southern Egypt.
The discovery throws open for debate a widely held belief among historians that the first people to write were the Sumerians of the Mesopotamian civilization sometime before 3000 B.C.
While the exact date of the development of Sumerian writing remains in doubt, the Egyptian discoveries are carbon dated with certainty to between 3300 B.C. and 3200 B.C., said Gunter Dreyer, head of the German Archaeological Institute.
The writings - line drawings of animals, plants and mountains - are the first evidence that hieroglyphics used later by Pharaonic dynasties did not "rise as phoenix from the ashes" but developed gradually, Dreyer said. "Linguists now have a larger history to regard."
"This would be one of the greatest discoveries in history of writing and ancient Egyptian culture," said Kent Weeks, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.
Describing Dreyer as a "very meticulous scholar," Weeks said the archaeologist would not have disclosed his findings without being "absolutely certain."
CLAY TABLETS UNEARTHED in southern Egypt's Suhag Province are described as possibly the oldest known samples of writing. Found in the tomb of a king called Scorpion, the tablets include records of oil and linen deliveries. Those shown represent "mountains of darkness," or west (left), and "mountains of light," east. Tuesday's announcement of the find, carbon dated to be about 5300 years old, challenges the theory that Mesopotamians were the first to write, about 5000 years ago. AP PHOTO