Cuneiform Tablet

The World’s First Notaries

How far back into the history of the world must we travel to find the beginning of the lineage of the notary profession?

While it would be easy to look at current technology and think notaries are a modern world creation, the truth digs much deeper into the history of man.

Starting in Ancient History

The first of what we may call notarial functions begins with the beginnings of civilization. The first are commonly known today as scribes, who were more recorders of transactions or events than what we could consider a notary’s job today.

The more archaeologists discover and comb through recent discoveries, though, the further into history can ancient notaries can be found.

While ancient Rome was long thought to have the first notaries, and had the first ones we would say performed more modern services, examples of scribes have been found in Ancient Egypt and Jerusalem.

Mesopotamian Notaries

Most of us, at one time or another, have heard of Ancient Mesopotamia, and it is believed they created the first known writing system, a language called cuneiform.

Originally created by the Sumerians, the earliest known civilization in Mesopotamia. They developed writing on clay tablets, where they used a pointy end of a reed to mark a series of wedge shaped marks, which was saved as writing as the clay tablet was heated at a low temperature, until it dried out and hardened.

Why develop cuneiform?

To keep records. And for decades scientists deciphered all the tablets they could, finding things such as stories and sagas, as well as tales and recordings of historical events.

But, there were more, and when they were finally deciphered it brought the need for cuneiform into focus.

Mesopotamian Record Keeping

Sumerian Clay Tokens and Envelope

Further research revealed a ground breaking usage for cuneiform tablets. A series of tablets was found and deciphered. They were discovered to be tablets related to individual commodities.

They were receipts, or more centrally located records.

It was later found that these records were called tokens, and were used as early as 8,oooBC.

The first usages were small, short and sweet. But, as trade developed and more property was developed or changed hands, the clay tokens became more detailed.

And Thus Modern Language Was Born

As token usage increased, new ways to convey information was needed to keep up with the times, as society was flourishing. Clay envelopes were made to hold and transfer tokens, which led to the first abstract forms of pictographic writing.

This developed into individual symbols representing sounds, and the language became auditory. The language was not just simple symbols anymore. They were writing that could be spoken in a consistent manner.

Eventually these tokens led to a development of what we commonly call cuneiform, where writing was structured and written linearly.

Writing Was Developed to Keep Records

Amazingly, token usage started about 5,000 years before what we now know as the ancient language of cuneiform.

The tokens, the record keeping of ancient transactions, from property sales to produce, literally was the beginning of known human writing.

Scribes kept track of many transactions to ensure fairness in trade and title. And those scribes are the world’s first notaries, or at least the first of its lineage.

And they didn’t just use writing and language to convey information. The Sumerian and then Mesopotamian scribes actually created written language.

All to keep fair records of transactions.

Sound familiar?

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