Cuneiform writing was used by most ancient Mesopotamian societies, including the Babylonians, Hittites and Assyrians. It was developed by the Sumerians, who lived between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Cuneiform is one of the oldest known systems of writing, tracing back to about 3500 B.C.E. It was initially based on simple pictures that were representative of the objects being described. However, as the culture grew larger and more complex, ancient Sumerians needed to find a way to write down more abstract ideas. They used their simple representative writing system to do so, making it more complex and detailed. As the written language became more abstract, the letters did too and evolved away from simple pictures.
Although it was often used to communicate concrete ideas, such as transaction records and written laws, it was eventually also used to write poetry. Most ancient Mesopotamian tales were written in cuneiform, including "The Epic of Gilgamesh." It was often written on clay tablets, but it was also used to decorate other items, including jewelry.
Cuneiform probably developed earlier than the Egyptian system of writing in hieroglyphs. Although hieroglyphs had similar roots as pictographs, the two languages apparently developed separately. Other cultures that used cuneiform writing include the Hurrians, Utartians, Elamites and Akkadians. Old Persian also used this form of writing.