One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform was (probably) invented in Uruk, Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. The word is from the Latin, meaning "wedge shaped"; we don't know what the script was actually called by its users. The symbols are formed from wedge-shaped objects pressed into soft clay tablets which are then fired (accidentally or intentionally).
Originally created to communicate in Sumerian, cuneiform proved very useful for the Mesopotamians, such that by 2000 BC, the characters were used to write other languages used throughout Mesopotamia such as Akkadian, Hurrian, Elamite, and Urartian.
Cuneiform writing was deciphered when 19th century explorer Henry Rawlinson scaled the cliff to copy the Behistun inscription, a clay tablet from the Persian king Darius I (522-486 BC) bragging about his exploits in three languages (Akkadian, Elamite, and Old Persian).
This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Dictionary of Archaeology.
Powell, Marvin A 1996. Cuneiform. In B. Fagan, editor, Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. 1981. Decipherment of the Earliest Tablets. Science 211(4479)283-285
Tinney, Steve 1998 Texts, tablets, and teaching: Scribal education in Nippur and Ur. Expedition 40(2):40-50.
Yuval, Goren, Shlomo Bunimovitz, Israel Finkelstein, and Na'aman. Nadav 2003 The Location of Alashiya: New Evidence from Petrographic Investigation of Alashiyan Tablets. American Journal of Archaeology 107(2):233-255.