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Cuneiform: The First System of Writing
A Reading Comprehension Passage by Common Core Texts

I believe that writing is the most important invention in history. It is the most important for two reasons. First, it helped governments and businesses become more effective. Second, it helped ideas to spread.

Writing was invented by the Sumerians. They invented it around 5,000 years ago. They used writing to make their government work better. One example is Hammurabi’s Code. It was a list of laws written on a huge stone block for all to see. The law was written down, so every person knew what the law was. They knew what would happen if they broke it.

The Sumerians also wrote down rules about their government. The rules described how the government should work. One rule told what would happen if a government worker didn’t do his job well. The rule said that the worker would have to pay a fine. This made the government act more responsibly. That is why writing made government more effective.

The Sumerians also wrote down business contracts. Most people today would not hire someone to do a big job without writing a contract first. That’s because a contract explains what both sides promise to do. Written contracts helped Sumerians run better businesses. This helped their civilization to grow.

The Sumerians also created the world’s first written story. It was an epic poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is the story of a man named Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. Together, they defeat a terrible giant called Humbaba. But when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh becomes sad. He decides to find the gods themselves so that he can learn the secret to eternal life.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is about more than just two friends on an adventure. It is also about life and death, gods and humans, joy and sadness. It’s full of big ideas about the world. When the Sumerians wrote these ideas down, they spread. Now Sumerians could study these big ideas. They could talk about and critique them. They could improve these ideas. Writing helped the Sumerians become great thinkers.

Some people take writing for granted. But that’s because like the oxygen we breath, it’s so important to us that we hardly think about it. As you have read, writing helped the Sumerians become a great civilization. Writing continues to improve our lives today. That is why writing is the most important invention in human history.

Symbol: a simple picture that stands for a sound, an object, or an idea
Tablet: a flat piece of stone, clay, or wood, usually used for writing
Reed: a tall, thin, grass-like plant that grows in water
Preserved: kept in its original state
Durable: strong and sturdy; able to withstand damage

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