Winner, Top 100 Books on Science, American Scientist, 2001
In 1992, the University of Texas Press published Before Writing, Volume I: From Counting to Cuneiform and Before Writing, Volume II: A Catalog of Near Eastern Tokens. In these two volumes, Denise Schmandt-Besserat set forth her groundbreaking theory that the cuneiform script invented in the Near East in the late fourth millennium B.C.-the world's oldest known system of writing-derived from an archaic counting device.
How Writing Came About draws material from both volumes to present Schmandt-Besserat's theory for a wide public and classroom audience. Based on the analysis and interpretation of a selection of 8,000 tokens or counters from 116 sites in Iran, Iraq, the Levant, and Turkey, it documents the immediate precursor of the cuneiform script.
Preface Introduction: Tokens, a New Theory The Myths The Pictographic Theory Tokens Part One: The Evidence What Are Tokens? Types and Subtypes Evolution from Plain to Complex Materials Manufacture The Token Collection under Study 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 Strings of Tokens and Envelopes Strings of Tokens Envelopes 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 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 Tokens: The Socioeconomic Implications Reckoning Technology and Economy Reckoning Technology and Social Organization Counting and the Emergence of Writing The Various Modes of Counting The Sumerian Philological Evidence The Near Eastern Archaeological Data 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