The invention of writing is one of the most significant and far-reaching achievements of mankind. Writing puts a visible face on language, enabling speech and thoughts to be recorded and transported. In a way, writing is the first form of data storage. Writing is one of many sign systems that we use every day. Other sign systems include, for example, traffic signs, coats of arms and flag signals. Memory aids, such as knots in handker-chiefs, are one of the forerunners of our present phonographic alphabet. Cave paintings depicting certain events are also early forms of written communication. However, they cannot be regarded as a script in the true sense as they are not governed by broadly accepted conventions.
Realistic pictorial characters were the origin of the first writing systems. Writing began to evolve in Mesopotamia and Egypt in about 3100 BC. The Phoenicians were the first people to use a consonant alphabet, thus reducing script to just a few characters. This system was easy to master and was adopted by the Greeks in the 8th century BC. The Greeks added the use of vowel characters to it and thus provided the basis for the phonographic Roman alphabet that we use today. From then on, writing changed in terms of style but not in its function.
The exhibition shows that the shape of characters always depended on the medium and on the instrument used to write on it. A wedge-shaped stylus pressed into clay resulted in different shapes from those that occurred when writing on papyrus with a brush or on parchment with a quill. More efficient forms of writing brought about different characters, for instance shorthand and machine-generated scripts. For a long time writing was the privilege of a few people. In the Middle Ages, the church and monasteries took charge of writing. Books were produced in a writing room that was called a scriptorium. Gutenberg's invention of letterpress printing with movable type in about 1450 made it possible to duplicate books to almost any extent. In technical terms, nothing changed for centuries. Not until the 19th century - with its metalnib pens, mechanical paper production processes, mechanical typesetting, high-speed and rotary printing processes - was there a marked increase in the use of written information in day-to-day life.