An early kind of writing developed in Mesopotamia during the height of Sumerian power (c.2100–2000 BCE) and impressed on tablets of clay. It used stereotyped pictures (‘pictographic’), but from representing things and actions, it later represented sounds and concepts. The symbols were wedge‐shaped marks.

The earliest texts were aides‐memoire for scribes working on accounts and were practical, but later there were religious items and narratives which had existed before they were written down. The tablets from Tell el‐Amarna consisting of correspondence between Palestine and Egypt in the 14th cent. BCE are written in cuneiform script.