Cuneiform vs. Hieroglypics

An informative guide


Before I start, I want to clarify that this is not really cuneiform versus hieroglyphics. More, it's a comparison of the two.

Cuneiform and hieroglyphics are two of the oldest forms of written communication known today. This was written with the intent of educating anybody who's curious about these ancient writing systems.



The origins of cuneiform start in Sumer, a civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. The Sumerians were the earliest known civilization, starting around 40th century BC. Sumer, also known as the "cradle of civilization," was home to many advances in agriculture, science, math, and language. Cuneiform started in the 34th century BC, and died out about 2nd century AD. Cuneiform is thought to have been created (mainly) for the purpose of making it easier to record business transactions. Mind you, they didn't have currency. All business was done through barter.

How it was written:

Cuneiform was written using a wedge-shaped or blunted reed. It was written by pressing the aforementioned reed into soft clay. This clay was hardened through sun baking, to make it permanent. Because of this the tablets were fragile, and broke easily. It could also be written with other tools into stone. Below is a stone tablet engraved with cuneiform.

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Cuneiform is important for many reasons. It was used in Sumerian schools, to record important information, and to communicate. It is also the oldest language. The pictures it contained made it eventually evolve into a phonetic system.



Hieroglyphics started in ancient Egypt, around the 38th century BC. The idea of communicating through writing is thought to be sparked by the Sumerians. The Egyptians used them for communicating, recording events, marking tombs, and religious writings.

How it was written:

Hieroglyphics were written on stone using mallets and chisels, then painted. They were written on papyrus using pointed stems of the rush plant. A rush is the plant below. Generally, only scribes could read and write.

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Hieroglyphics were important because, although they were pictures or symbols, it was a phonetic form of writing. This means that each picture stood for a certain sound. Hieroglyphics weren't a public writing form, they were only for the elite - and the gods. Because of this, not many people could read or write them, and once they were gone it was lost forever. Or, at least until the 18th century AD when the French figured them out. Below is a picture of hieroglyphics carved into stone.

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- Both began as pictographs.

- Both started around the same time.

- Both died out and couldn't be read.

- Both were discovered by language geniuses.

- Both are very complicated and hard to decipher.


- Cuneiform evolved many times; hieroglyphics stayed the same.

- Cuneiform was made for everyone; hieroglyphics was only for the elite.

- Hieroglyphics were pictures; cuneiform was just complex symbols.

- Cuneiform started in Sumer; hieroglyphics started in Egypt.