Archaeology Odyssey 2:4, September/October 1999

Origins: A Codex Moment

2,000 years ago, a new writing surface and a renegade religion joined forces to create the modern book.

By Timothy Rogers

Archaeology Odyssey

My 15-month-old daughter, Delia, is mastering language at a frightening rate. She understands the word “two,” and when our dogs bark, she looks up and says “mailman.” She also uses language to categorize objects: “Duck,” for instance, refers to anything resembling a bird, and “choo-choo” refers to all large vehicles and to the laundry baskets we sometimes use as wagons.

Delia has recently learned the word “book,” and like most of us, she uses it to designate any materials that appear in the form of a codex (a collection of leaves or pages bound at one side). Such bound volumes have come to represent everyone’s image of a book. But codices were not, and are not, the only form a text can take.

In the 18th century B.C., Hammurabi’s law code was inscribed on a 7-foot-high chunk of basalt. More than a thousand years earlier, the Sumerians were keeping financial records on clay tablets and inscribing text on small seals made of seashell or gemstones.

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