Notes on the Origin and Development of Writing
It is generally thought that writing gradually developed from
the human, animal and other figures that prehistoric artists had
been depicting on rocks for thousands of years before the first
alphabets. Thousands of petroglyphs are located all over the Arabian
Peninsula. To many observers, the various phases of rock art suggest
that such images were initially created as an aesthetic activity,
but they later became increasingly symbolic and semantic.
Writing was an important means of communication between the Arabian
Peninsula and the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt.
Writing is thought to have originated around 3500 BC in Mesopotamia
and perhaps originated independently in Egypt as well. The oldest
scripts are known as Cuneiform in Mesopotamia and Hieroglyphic
in Egypt. These writing systems had developed over time from the
use of pictographs, signs and symbols. The available evidence
suggests that writing might have developed in the Arabian Peninsula
from the early Sinatic script around 2000 - 1500 BC.
By around 1000 BC two families of ancient writings had developed
in the Arabian Peninsula. The one in the north (the North Arabic
family) was called Musnad al-Shamali and the one in southern Arabia
(the South Arabic family) was called Musnad al-Janubi.
Musnad al-Shamali (North Arabic) spread out around the first
millennium BC through northern Arabia, and from this developed
the Lihyanite, Safaitic and Aramaic writing systems, which flourished
in the north of Arabia around the middle of the first millennium
BC. From Aramaic Nabataean script and from Nabataean, Arabic writing
Meanwhile the use of South Arabic forms of writing also expanded,
and developed into the Sabaean, Qatabani, Hadrami, and Hassanean
With the rise of Islam, Arabic spread all over the region, both
north and south, and the more ancient writing forms vanished.
Thus none of these other writing systems has been in common use
in Arabia for around 1,400 years.