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December 14, 2012

Mohawk sixth-graders learn cuneiform, an ancient form of written communication

NEW CASTLE — Mastering modern handwriting skills can prove challenging enough for elementary school students.

Mohawk sixth-graders, though, tried their hand at a written form of communication dating back 5,000 years.

The pupils in David Caughey’s social studies class have been studying ancient civilizations for the past two weeks, specifically an area known as the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The southern region of this area was known as Sumer.

“The Sumerians created one of the earliest-known writing systems in the world,” Caughey said. “Their laws, letters, and records were written in a form of writing called cuneiform (kyoo-KNEE-uh-form).

“The writing was done on wet clay tablets with a pen made from sharpened reeds.  The oldest tablets discovered date from 3,500 B.C.”

For a literally hands-on history lesson, Caughey’s students were given a piece of wet clay and a cuneiform symbol list.  The Sumerians had about 500 symbols they used regularly in cuneiform, Caughey explained.

Students were asked to create a word or phrase using the symbols. They were given a small tree branch twig as a substitute for the sharpened reeds in order to write.

While the students practiced their cuneiform, they also snacked on pomegranates, a fruit grown and harvested by ancient farmers of the Fertile Crescent.  In addition, traditional music of the area was played on the computer.

“It was fun and felt like we were back in time,” student Carter Yost noted.

Fellow student Jacob Ponziani added, “It made me very thankful for pencil and paper.”

When completed, the tablets were left to dry and harden, as was done more than five millennia ago.

Finally, students were asked to explain their cuneiform meaning after the other students attempted to translate its meaning.

Caughey stressed the importance of experiencing some aspect of ancient peoples’ lives in order to make a connection.

“Reading about an ancient civilization is history,” he said. “Walking in these peoples’ shoes for a moment is true personal experience and reinforces that these people, in many ways, were like us today.”

 

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