Writing was born in Sumer and Elam out of the need to record the wealth of the towns which were gradually being established through out the 4th millennium.
Slowly, as the centuries which followed wore on, the scribes, who had at the outset been more draughtsmen than writers, improved the new invention. By around 2600 BC., writing was sufficiently developed to be used for authoring in our modern understanding of the term. This in turn was to spawn the first known examples of "bureaucracy".
A school of scribes worked at Shuruppak, an ancient "antediluvian" town which was the birthplace of Neo-Sumerian. Their techniques were still rather rudimentary, and the documents they produced were simply a kind of memorandum of accounting operations.
The example presented here is an act for the sale of a male slave and a house in the town. The scribe has carefully recorded the surface area of the property (equivalent to 54m²) and has listed the six witnesses, all young people, attesting to the sale. The word "witness" is a good example of the language and writing of the Sumerians during this era, It is represented by three symbols:
1. LU "man", in which the silhouette of a man is recognisable
2. KI "land" represented by a diam ond-shaped parcel
3. INIM "word", where the abstract notion is expressed by the image of the head, which already has a geometrical shape, with a beard to emphasise the mouth and the words emerging from it.
The pictographical symbols used are beginning to become schematised, with each line assuming the shape of a nail. This phenomenon is the precursor of "cuneiform".