Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Writing May Be Oldest in Western Hemisphere

By Aussiegirl

Here are Wikipedia's links on writing systems, the history of writing, and the Olmec civilization.

Writing May Be Oldest in Western Hemisphere - New York Times


A stone slab bearing 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars has been found in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and archaeologists say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.

Sixty-two distinct signs are inscribed on the stone slab, which was discovered in the state of Veracruz in Mexico.

The Mexican discoverers and their colleagues from the United States reported yesterday that the order and pattern of carved symbols appeared to be that of a true writing system and that it had characteristics strikingly similar to imagery of the Olmec civilization, considered the earliest in the Americas.

Finding a heretofore unknown writing system is rare. One of the last major ones to come to light, scholars say, was the Indus Valley script, recognized from excavations in 1924.

Now, scholars are tantalized by a message in stone in a script unlike any other and a text they cannot read. They are excited by the prospect of finding more of this writing, and eventually deciphering it, to crack open a window on one of the most enigmatic ancient civilizations.

The inscription on the Mexican stone, with 28 distinct signs, some of which are repeated, for a total of 62, has been tentatively dated from at least 900 B.C., possibly earlier. That is 400 or more years before writing was known to have existed in Mesoamerica, the region from central Mexico through much of Central America, and by extension, anywhere in the hemisphere.

Previously, no script had been associated unambiguously with the Olmec culture, which flourished along the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz and Tabasco well before the Zapotec and Maya people rose to prominence elsewhere in the region. Until now, the Olmec were known mainly for the colossal stone heads they sculptured and displayed at monumental buildings in their ruling cities. [....]

The signs incised on the 26-pound stone, the researchers said in the report, “link the Olmec to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system and reveal a new complexity to this civilization.”

Noting that the text “conforms to all expectations of writing,” the researchers wrote that the sequences of signs reflected “patterns of language, with the probable presence of syntax and language-dependent word orders.”

Several paired sequences of signs, scholars said, have even prompted speculation that the text contained poetic couplets. [....]


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