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Red clay with signs carved into it.

Cuneiform tablet, made by kids at Laurelhurst School, Portland Oregon

About 3500 BC, people in West Asia began to use writing. Because nobody had invented paper yet, these people wrote on clay tablets, scratching the words in with a reed pen. You can use clay and a stick (or a reed) to make your own cuneiform tablet, either copying a real cuneiform inscription, or making up your own symbols.

Red clay tablet with signs carved into it.

Another cuneiform tablet from Laurelhurst School. This one represents the use of numbers for tax accounts

As you work, think about how writing on a clay tablet is different from or the same as writing on paper. Is it harder or easier? What do you do about erasing mistakes? What would happen to it in a fire? Can you write as small as you can on paper? Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of paper and clay tablets.

More about cuneiform writing
More about Sumerian mathematics

Bibliography and further reading about cuneiform and clay:

Molding clay bricks
Bicycle racing
Backgammon project
West Asian games
A day in West Asia home