Could early man write?

The earliest existing writings

The oldest surviving writings are inscriptions on a stone tablet from the Uruk period (3300 – 3100 BC). The original is from Kish and was in the Irak Museum. [i]

But what about before that date? Could early man write?

Exaggerated stories around a camp fire?

Just tales told around a bonfire or could early man write?
Just tales told around a bonfire or could early man write?

We are told by ‘popular history’ that mankind spent thousands of years passing on historical stories by word of mouth.

This by implication would include exaggeration and legend.

The first part of the Bible is included in this assumption.

The writer of Genesis had a written account

I don’t believe that those early stories were passed only by word of mouth, because by looking at Genesis we see something very interesting. It states:

This is the written account of Adam’s line…”

Genesis 5:1

‘Written account’ is a written document.
The Hebrew is ‘ceper’ סֵפֶר, meaning “book; document; writing.” [ii]

There is every possibility that Adam from the very beginning kept records of passing days, years, life story and other things.

What could Adam have written on?

The Mangyan tribe in the Philippines used bamboo shoots to carve their script on [iii].
The ancient Tamils of South India used palm leaves [iv].

Here is a list of materials that have been used for writing on:
Plant based written materials:

  • Palm leaf (Borassus),
  • Ola leaf (Corypha umbraculifera),
  • Birch bark (Betula),
  • Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus),
  • Bamboo and wooden slips,
  • Paper,
  • Amate Trema micrantha,
  • Ficus aurea,
  • Parabaik (Streblus asper),
  • Samut khoi (S. asper),
  • Kraing (Morus bark).

Other written materials:

  • Clay tablet,
  • Wax tablet,
  • Intaglio,
  • Stone,
  • Animal skin Parchment,
  • Vellum,
  • Oracle bone,
  • Silk text,
  • Geoglyph (large drawing on the ground). [v]

But how long do these written materials survive for?

Surprisingly, palm leaf manuscripts can be kept for up to 400 or 500 years in a dry environment, [vi] but nowhere near as long where there was any humidity.

Ink on Egyptian Papyrus about 1961–1917 B.C.
Ink on Egyptian Papyrus about 1961–1917 B.C. Heqanakht Account VII Period: Middle Kingdom. Dynasty 12 reign of Senwosret I. [vii]

The above papyrus written document is nearly 4000 years old!

Had Adam, Cain and others written on palm leaves, or something similar?

Did Moses have a stack of these deteriorating records and did he copy them to form Genesis 1 to 5?

Had Noah, Abraham and others written down their stories onto parchments that were deteriorating by Moses’ time?

I believe that Moses had lots of ageing, deteriorating documents that he was able to read and then from those, write what we now know as Genesis.

[i] Babylonian Culture and Tablets (opens in a new window)
[ii] Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Vol. 1, p. 21). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.
[iii] The Culture and Art of the Mangyan by: Jericho Paul Santos (opens in a new window)
[iv] Palm manuscript image (opens in a new window)
[v] Wikipedia (opens in a new window)
[vi] Endangered Archives Programme, British Library (opens in a new window).
[vii] From Upper Egypt, Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, Tomb of Ipy (TT 315, MMA 516B), Tomb of Meseh, MMA excavations, The Met Museum opens in a new window. Credit Line: Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1922

By Peter Reason

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