2a--Clay Tablets
Before the development of the codex book format, which is used today throughout the Western world, various cultures
used other media and formats, one of which was clay. The abundance of clay in Sumer, where “history” (that is, writing)
began, made it the logical material to use when creating records and eventually entire books, which required a series of
tablets. The use of clay was adopted by the Assyrians and many others in the region. A “stylus,” initially a reed sharpened
to a point, was used to create pictographs in soft clay that had been fashioned into a tablet. A scribe would hold the soft
clay tablet in his left hand and scratch pictographs in carefully fashioned vertical columns beginning in the top, right-hand
corner. The clay tablets, which varied widely in size, were then dried in the hot sun or baked rock-hard in a kiln. The
original writing techniques evolved through the centuries, and their evolution had an important effect on the appearance
of the resulting script (see “Writing and Calligraphy” in Gallery Section 4).
    Please CLICK on an image for an ENLARGED version.
This stamp is one of six values
depicting the “History of Writing” that
was issued on 4 June 1965 in
connection with the Vienna
International Philatelic Exhibition
(WIPA). Besides a man’s head from an
Assyrian palace, the stamp depicts  a
clay tablet with cuneiform writing on it.
Note that the writing style is much
more developed than the pictographic
writing on the Venda Scott #62 stamp
to the left (Austria Scott #B316).
In the 1980s, Venda, an enclave within
the Republic of South Africa, issued a
series of stamps philatelically
documenting the ‘History of Writing.”
This stamp is part of a set of four
issued on 15 June 1982. It shows a
clay tablet from southern Mesopotamia
(4th millennium B.C.E.) with
pictographs for trees, sacks of grain,
and farming implements. The image is
actually a mirror image of the original
tablet in the Louvre (Venda Scott #62).
To commemorate the Ebla
International Symposium on the
Archaeology of Idlib, a province in the
north of the country, on 28 August
1988 Syria issued a set of three
stamps, the first of which depicts a
clay tablet with early cuneiform writing
(Syria Scott #1138).
Currently in the British Museum, the
Proclamation of Cyrus the Great (Cyrus
II of Persia) pictured on this stamp is
dated 538 B.C.E. The language written in
cuneiform on the clay cylinder is
Akkadian. Because in one section of the
text Cyrus promoted respect for all
humanity and advocated a form of
religious tolerance and freedom, the
Cyrus Cylinder has been described by
some scholars as the world’s first
charter of human rights, predating the
Magna Carta by more than one
millennium. The stamp was issued on 8
November 1973 at the 22nd
International Red Cross Conference in
Tehran (Iran Scott #1742).
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