Official 46 Passage 1


The Origin of Writing


What can be inferred from paragraph 2 about clay as a writing material?

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  • A
    It had to be baked before it could be written on.
  • B
    Its good points outweighed its bad points.
  • C
    Its durability was its most important feature for its users.
  • D
    It was not available in Egypt.
正确答案: B

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  • It was in Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that civilization arose, and it is there that we find the earliest examples of that key feature of civilization, writing. These examples, in the form of inscribed clay tablets that date to shortly before 3000 B.C.E., have been discovered among the archaeological remains of the Sumerians, a gifted people settled in southern Mesopotamia.

    The Egyptians were not far behind in developing writing, but we cannot follow the history of their writing in detail because they used a perishable writing material. In ancient times the banks of the Nile were lined with papyrus plants, and from the papyrus reeds the Egyptians made a form of paper; it was excellent in quality but, like any paper, fragile. Mesopotamia's rivers boasted no such useful reeds, but its land did provide good clay, and as a consequence the clay tablet became the standard material. Though clumsy and bulky it has a virtue dear to archaeologists: it is durable. Fire, for example, which is death to papyrus paper or other writing materials such as leather and wood, simply bakes it hard, thereby making it even more durable. So when a conqueror set a Mesopotamian palace ablaze, he helped ensure the survival of any clay tablets in it. Clay, moreover, is cheap, and forming it into tablets is easy, factors that helped the clay tablet become the preferred writing material not only throughout Mesopotamia but far outside it as well, in Syria, Asia Minor, Persia, and even for a while in Crete and Greece. Excavators have unearthed clay tablets in all these lands. In the Near East they remained in use for more than two and a half millennia, and in certain areas they lasted down to the beginning of the common era until finally yielding, once and for all, to more convenient alternatives.

    The Sumerians perfected a style of writing suited to clay. This script consists of simple shapes, basically just wedge shapes and lines that could easily be incised in soft clay with a reed or wooden stylus; scholars have dubbed it cuneiform from the wedge-shaped marks (cunei in Latin) that are its hallmark. Although the ingredients are merely wedges and lines, there are hundreds of combinations of these basic forms that stand for different sounds or words. Learning these complex signs required long training and much practice; inevitably, literacy was largely limited to a small professional class, the scribes.

    The Akkadians conquered the Sumerians around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E.,and they took over the various cuneiform signs used for writing Sumerian and gave them sound and word values that fit their own language. The Babylonians and Assyrians did the same, and so did peoples in Syria and Asia Minor. The literature of the Sumerians was treasured throughout the Near East, and long after Sumerian ceased to be spoken, the Babylonians and Assyrians and others kept it alive as a literary language, the way Europeans kept Latin alive after the fall of Rome. For the scribes of these non-Sumerian languages, training was doubly demanding since they had to know the values of the various cuneiform signs for Sumerian as well as for their own language.

    The contents of the earliest clay tablets are simple notations of numbers of commodities-animals, jars, baskets, etc. Writing, it would appear, started as a primitive form of bookkeeping. Its use soon widened to document the multitudinous things and acts that are involved in daily life, from simple inventories of commodities to complicated governmental rules and regulations.

    Archaeologists frequently find clay tablets in batches. The batches, some of which contain thousands of tablets, consist for the most part of documents of the types just mentioned: bills, deliveries, receipts, inventories, loans, marriage contracts, divorce settlements, court judgments, and so on. These records of factual matters were kept in storage to be available for reference-they were, in effect, files, or, to use the term preferred by specialists in the ancient Near East, archives. Now and then these files include pieces of writing that are of a distinctly different order, writings that do not merely record some matter of fact but involve creative intellectual activity. They range from simple textbook material to literature-and they make an appearance very early, even from the third millennium B.C.E.

  • 文明诞生于埃及和美索不达米亚(今伊拉克)地区,那里也出现了代表文明主要特征的最早的例证——文字。 这些刻在泥板的文字可以追溯到公元前3000年,是在苏美尔人的考古遗迹中发现的,苏美尔人曾居住在美索不达米亚南部的一个有天赋的民族。

    埃及人在形成文字上并不落后,但我们不能详细了解到他们的文字发展历史,因为他们使用的书写材料很容易腐烂。 当时尼罗河两岸长满了纸莎草,埃及人就利用这种草造了一种纸;这种纸质量很好,但是像普通的纸一样脆弱。 美索不达米亚的河边并没有纸莎草,但当地确实有不错的粘土,所以泥板成为了标准的书写材料。 虽然泥板很笨重,但对于考古学家来说它有一个珍贵的优点:保存持久。 比如说,火对纸莎草或其它书写材料,如皮革和木材是致命的,但是对于泥板来说,火只会把它烧得更坚硬,从而使其能保存更持久。 所以当征服者把美索不达米亚宫殿烧为灰烬时,反而使得其中的泥板保存了下来。 此外,粘土比较廉价,而且容易成型,这使得泥板不仅在美索不达米亚成为首选的写作材料,而且在遥远的叙利亚、小亚细亚和波斯也很受青睐,甚至在克里特岛和希腊也流行过一段时间。 发掘者都曾在这些地方都出土过泥板。 在近东地区泥板一直使用了2500多年,在有些地方一直持续使用到公元后,直到最终让位于更方便、更合适的替代品。

    苏美尔人创造出了更完善的适合泥板的书写方式。 这些文字由一些简单的形状组成,基本上只含有楔形和线条,可以很容易地用苇杆或木制尖笔刻在那些软粘土上;学者将这些以楔形符号(拉丁文意为楔叶)为特点的文字称之为楔形文。 虽然楔形文只是由楔形笔画和线条构成,但是这些基本的形式可以组合成几百种不同的发音或单词。 学习这些复杂的符号需要长期训练和大量的实践,不可避免地,有读写能力的人局限于很小的职业阶层,即写字匠。

    在公元前3000年,阿卡德人攻克了苏美尔,他们沿用了书写苏美尔语的楔形文字写法,并赋予了这些文字适合自己语言的发音和意义。 巴比伦人、亚述人、叙利亚人和小亚细亚人也是如此。 整个近东地区都很重视苏美尔人的文字,即使是在没有人说苏美尔语之后很久一段时间内,巴比伦人和亚述人依然把它当作一种文学语言,就像欧洲人在罗马沦陷后,依然把拉丁语作为文学语言一样。 那些不说苏美尔语的写字匠需要加倍地刻苦训练,因为他们需要知道楔形文字在苏美尔语中以及他们自己的语言中的不同意义。

    最早的泥板上简单标着各种商品(动物、陶土罐、篮子等)的数量。 文字的出现最开始是作为一种原始的记账手段。 很快它就被扩展到用来记录日常生活中的各种事件和行为,从简单的商品清单到复杂的政府规章制度。

    考古学家经常能发现成批的泥板。 一批泥板可能有数千块,大多数是关于方才提到的几类事物的记录:账单、交付单据、收据、库存清单、贷款、婚姻证书、离婚协议、法院判决等等。 这些事实的记录被储存起来供参考使用,事实上,它们就是文件,或者用古代近东专家的术语叫“档案”。 在这些文件中,时而会出现一些另类的文件:它们不仅仅记录事实,还记录下了一些富有创造性的智力活动。 这些另类文件既有简单的教科书材料,也有文学著作,早在公元前三千年就出现了。
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    题干分析:关键信息:clay as a writing material

    选项分析:从第二段中Though clumsy and bulky it has a virtue dear to archaeologists: it is durable.Clay, moreover, is cheap, and forming it into tablets is easy...”可知,尽管粘土比较笨重,但其优点是耐用。而且,粘土价格便宜,容易塑形。由此我们可以得知,粘土的优点大于缺点,因此,选项B正确。