3,300BC and the Taxman's First Load of Hieroglyphics
Byline: DAVID DERBYSHIRE
AND it was written, that an ancient king of Egypt must keep his receipts up to date so that no one could rip him off.
About 5,300 years ago a series of symbols and squiggles were scratched on fragments of clay and ivory to be presented to the taxman.
They represent nothing more exotic than quantities of linen or oil delivered as tax payments. But they are such an important find that linguists say they may be forced to rewrite the history of the written word.
Archaeologists revealed last night that they believe the hieroglyphics represent the earliest form of writing in history.
Until now, it was thought that writing was invented by the Sume-rians of Mesopotamia. But carbon dating reveals that the tax receipts were made for a king called Scorpion between 3,300BC and 3,200BC - 400 years before the Great Pyramid was built and 150 years before the Sumerians are thought to have put pen to papyrus.
Although they show symbols of plants, animals and mountains rather than an alphabet, archaeologists say they are definitely part of a complex written language.
Gunter Dreyer, head of the German Archaeological Institute said the exact date of the first Sumerian writing was still not clear. But he believed the Egyptian writings were older.
They were found in the tomb of King Scorpion, 300 miles south of Cairo. Mr Dreyer's team has unearthed 300 fragments of writing on tablets barely bigger than postage stamps. …