The alphabet was invented around 1800 BCE in the vicinity of Serabit el-Khadim in Sinai and decisively influenced the development of human culture. Surprisingly, it was created by Canaanite miners employed in the Egyptian turquoise mines at the site. The scripts that preceded it – Mesopotamian cuneiforms and Egyptian hieroglyphs – were exceedingly complex and consisted of hundreds of signs. Consequently, few individuals could master them. The alphabetical system, by contrast, based on less than thirty signs, simplified reading and writing greatly and eventually became accessible to all. The ancient alphabet (Proto-Sinaitic script) was a pictorial script in which each pictogram symbolized the first consonant of the object it depicted; for instance, the pictogram of a fish (dag in Canaanite) represented the consonant d. The first alphabetic inscriptions were short, written in various directions, and contained private names, titles, and votive expressions. Two centuries later, a similar script began to be used in Canaan (Proto-Canaanite script), but it was only around 1000 BCE that these pictograms completed their development into abstract linear forms. The Phoenicians adopted the alphabet and disseminated it throughout the Greek world. From there it spread to all the peoples of the West.

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