|Denise Schmandt-Besserat (born August 10, 1933) is a French-American archaeologist and retired professor of art and archaeology of the ancient Near East.
Schmandt-Besserat has worked on the origin of writing and counting, and the nature of information management systems in oral societies. Her publications on these subjects include:
- Before Writing (2 vols), University of Texas Press 1992;
- How Writing Came About, University of Texas Press 1996;
- The History of Counting, Morrow Jr. 1999;
- When Writing Met Art (University of Texas Press, 2007); and
- numerous articles in major scholarly and popular journals among them Science, Scientific American, Archaeology, American Journal of Archaeology, and Archaeology Odyssey.
Her work has been widely reported in the public media (Scientific American, Time, Life, New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor.) She was featured in several television programs such as Out of the Past (Discovery Channel), Discover (Disney Channel); The Nature of Things (CBC), Search for Solutions (PBS), and Tell the Truth (NBC).
In her most recent book, When Writing Met Art (2007), Schmandt-Besserat investigated the impact of literacy on visual art. She showed that, before writing, art of the ancient Near East mostly consisted of repetitive motifs. But, after writing, conventions of the Mesopotamian script, such as the semantic use of form, size, order and placement of signs on a tablet was applied to images resulting in complex visual narratives. She also shows how, reciprocally, art played a crucial role in the evolution of writing from a mere accounting system to literature when funerary and votive inscriptions started to be featured on art monuments.