Game research : pottery, writing, alphabet

I have a few more words to add to the yesterday’s post “History of the world through a game“.  Something that bothered me in several games, but something that never annoyed me enough to look up or express – the connection between pottery, writing, and alphabet.

Pottery, writing, alphabet
Pottery, writing, alphabet

First of all, why is pottery a required research before writing and alphabet?  They seem to have nothing in common.  But yet in many history-related strategy games it is so.  I never thought much about it, but it just felt wrong.  Until today, when I was speaking about this with my wife and she mentioned pottery shards.  I’ve heard about them a few times, but never associated pottery with writing.  Here is a quote from the almighty Wikipedia for you:

Unglazed pottery shards were used almost as a kind of scratch paper, as ostraka, for tax receipts and, in Athens, to record the individual nominations of Greek leaders for ostracism.

This one is clear and out of the way.

The second thing that bothers me always is the order of research for writing and alphabet.  In my silly head, you need the alphabet to write.  Alphabet is what separates writing from drawing.  Here is the Wikipedia definition of “writing”:

Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols (known as a writing system). It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and the recording of language via a non-textual medium such as magnetic tape audio.

And here is the Wikipedia definition of “alphabet”:

An alphabet is a standardized set of letters — basic written symbols — each of which roughly represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past.

Which one comes first – alphabet or writing?  I don’t know, but it seems that the alphabet is a required research for writing and not the other way around.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Game research : pottery, writing, alphabet”

  1. Cool thing about the pottery shards, hadn’t known that. Obviously, the Civ people have put a lot of thought into the tech trees…

    As for the alphabet vs writing thing… I’d have to say they have it the right way around. Compared with writing, the alphabet is a pretty new invention. It all comes down to the alphabet being defined as a set of symbols representing *phonemes*. Even today, many types of writing exist that aren’t based on, nor have ever been based on, alphabets (Japanese syllabaries, and Chinese/Japanese logograms come to mind). On the other hand, many alphabets originated from pictographs – the Latin/Greek/Hebrew/Arabic/Cyrillic/etc. alphabets being the best example here. Our letter M owes its wavy shape to the ancient word “mem”, which meant water, A is a bull’s (“‘alp”) head originally turned 90 degrees, then 180, and the eye (“‘en”) gave its shape to O.

    So, yeah, writing was necessary for the development of the alphabet, but the alphabet was certainly not necessary (though for most of us, it’s definitely very welcome! ;-)) for the invention of writing.

    That said, I do wonder what animal husbandry has to do with writing…

  2. Come to think, though, did mathematics really need writing to develop? I mean, I imagine the abacus in itself would’ve sparked a few brilliant ideas… but maybe it depends on what your definition of mathematics is.

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