The History of Writing


Note: That which has so-far-been-found, is not the same as the oldest or first of anything. It is simply the first or oldest of that which has been found so far.

So far, the oldest example of early writing is with Black Europeans, who were likely the descendants of the Koisan-like Grimaldi man, who first entered Europe at Gibraltar circa 45,000 B.C. This is not surprising, their genius is apparent when considered in the context of the extraordinary artwork that these people produced from very early times.



Grimaldi Cave Painting: Lascaux, France - 15,000 B.C. (Others to 35,000 B.C.)







The Vinča culture

The Vinča culture was an early culture (between the 6th and 3rd millennium B.C.), stretching around the course of the Danube in what is today Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Republic of Macedonia - although traces of it can be found all around the Balkans, as well as parts of Central Europe and Asia Minor (Anatolia).

In the older Starčevo settlement, located in the deepest layers of Vinča sites; mud huts with tent roofs were discovered in which the settlers of the Starčevo-culture lived and were also buried. During the period of the Vinča Culture, houses were erected above ground, with complex architectural layouts, and several rooms built of wood that were covered in mud. The houses in the settlement are facing northeast and southwest, with streets between them. Other settlements include Divostin, Potporanj, Selevac, Pločnik, Predionica Liobcova and Ujvar.

Recent excavations at the site of the Pločnik settlement, have shed considerable light on the Vinča culture. The Pločnik settlement flourished from 5,500 B.C. until it was destroyed by a fire in 4700 B.C. The findings suggest an advanced division of labor and central organization.

Vinča houses had stoves, and special holes specifically for rubbish. The dead were buried in cemeteries. People slept on woolen and fur mats, and made clothes of wool, flax and leather. The figurines found not only represent deities but many show the daily life of the inhabitants. Women are depicted in short tops and skirts and wearing jewelry. A thermal well found near the settlement might be evidence of Europe's oldest spa.

The preliminary dating of a Pločnik metal workshop, with a furnace and copper tools, date to 5,500 B.C. If correct, that indicates that the Copper Age, could have started in Europe, 500 years or more earlier than previously thought. The sophisticated furnace and smelter, featured earthen pipe-like air vents, with hundreds of tiny holes in them and a chimney to ensure air goes into the furnace to feed the fire, and smoke comes out away from the workers. Copper workshops found elsewhere, and from later periods, once thought to indicate the beginnings of the Copper Age, were less advanced, and didn't have chimneys, and workers there, had to blow air on the fire with bellows. The Vinča people left little signs of their languages, which may be isolated from any languages existing today. Their writings, the Vinča symbols, might be pictograms.



The Vinča symbols, or signs, also known as the Vinča alphabet, Vinča-Turdaş script, or Old European script, are a set of symbols found on prehistoric artifacts from southeastern Europe. A few scholars believe they constitute a writing system of the Vinča culture.

In 1875, archaeological excavations led by the archeologist Zsófia Torma (1840–1899) at Tordos (today Turdaş, Romania) unearthed a cache of objects inscribed with previously unknown symbols. In 1908, a similar cache was found during excavations conducted by Miloje Vasich (1869-1956) in Vinča, a suburb of Belgrade (Serbia), some 120 km from Tordos. Later, more such fragments were found in Banjica, another part of Belgrade. Since then, over one hundred and fifty Vinča sites have been identified in Serbia alone, but many, including Vinča itself, have not been fully excavated. Thus, the culture of the whole area is called the Vinča culture, and the script is often called the Vinča-Tordos script.

The discovery of the Tartaria tablets in Romania by Nicolae Vlassa in 1961 reignited the debate. Vlassa believed the inscriptions to be pictograms and the finds were subsequently carbon-dated to before 4000 B.C, thirteen hundred years earlier than the date he expected, and earlier even, than the writing systems of the Sumerians and Minoan's. To date, more than a thousand fragments with similar inscriptions have been found on various archaeological sites throughout south-eastern Europe, notably in Greece (Dispilio Tablet), Bulgaria, former Yugoslavia, Romania, eastern Hungary, Moldova, and southern Ukraine.

Chinese scholars have suggested that such signs were produced by a convergent development, of what might be called a precursor to writing, which evolved independently in a number of societies. Indeed, there are some similarities between Sumerian cuneiform script, and stone markings from Çatalhöyük in Turkey, and Kamyana Mohyla in Southern Ukraine: both predating the Vinča culture by several millennia. These people are likely Haplogroup I (Celts/Gauls), who may also have formed the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture. They were conquered and kurganized by the horse riding Indo-European (White Nomadic) tribes from Asia.


Dispilio Tablet



True writing

True writing, in which the entire content of a linguistic utterance is encoded so that another reader can reconstruct, with a fair degree of accuracy, the exact utterance written down, is a later development, and is distinguished from proto-writing in that the latter typically avoids encoding grammatical words and affixes, making it difficult or impossible to confidently reconstruct the exact meaning intended by the writer unless a great deal of context is already known in advance.

It is generally agreed that true writing was invented independently between two and five times in the ancient world. It is universally agreed that writing was developed independently in at least two places: Mesopotamia (specifically, ancient Sumer) and Mesoamerica. It is debated whether writing was developed completely independently in Egypt and China, or whether the appearance of writing in either or both places was due to cultural diffusion (i.e. the concept of representing language using writing, if not the specifics of how such a system worked, was brought by traders from an already-literate civilization). Similar debate surrounds the script of the Bronze Age Indus Valley civilization in Ancient India, with the additional provisos that the script is still undeciphered and that there is debate over whether the script is true writing at all, or some kind of proto-writing or non-linguistic sign system. An additional possibility is the undeciphered rongorongo script of Easter Island; again, however, it is debated whether this system is true writing at all, and if it is, whether it is yet another case of cultural diffusion of writing.



The Sumerians


Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. Emerging in Sumer around the 3,000 B.C, with predecessors reaching into the late 4th millennium (the Uruk IV period), cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. In the three millennia the script spanned, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use also grew gradually smaller, from about 1,000 unique characters in the Early Bronze Age to about 400 unique characters in Late Bronze Age.

The original Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Akkadian, Egyptian, Eblaite, Elamite, Hittite, Luwian, Hattic, Hurrian, and Urartian languages, and it inspired the Ugaritic and Old Persian alphabets. Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by the Phoenician alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and by the 2nd century A.D, the script had become extinct.

Cuneiform documents were written on wet clay tablets, by means of a blunt reed for a stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge shaped, thus giving rise to the name cuneiform ("wedge shaped," from the Latin cuneus, meaning "wedge").



Sumerian Pictographs













The Shang (China)




Chinese written characters began as little pictures representing objects. Later representations of abstract thoughts appeared and later still they were modified into phonetic characters. As time went on the characters themselves became more simplified and abstract so that today they are now symbols and bear little resemblance to the original objects they represented.

Markings that may be writing have been found on objects dated to 7000 B.C. at the Jiahu neolthic site. Unusual black markings on pottery produced by the Dadiwans—a stone-age culture that resided in what is now Gansu Province beginning at least 5000 B.C.—are regarded by some archeologist as primitive pictographic characters.




Jiahu symbols















The first examples of what are universally recognized as Chinese characters—inscriptions on oracle bones and bronze vessels—were produced during the Shang Dynasty (1700-1100 B.C.) Some 2000 different characters were already in use in the Shang dynasty. Some of the earliest writing was done on perishable bamboo and wood, nearly all of which has been lost to time.



Shang Oracle Bones

Shang priests practiced an unusual form of divination that involved placing heated rods in grooves carved into specially-prepared ox scapulae (shoulder bones) and turtle plastrons (the undesides of turtle shells). The ensuing cracks were read by fortunetellers for "auspicious" and "inauspicious signs" and messages from natural spirits and ancestors. The predictions, were often made by the king rather than the diviner, and the answers were engraved on the bones. Over 100,000 "oracle bones" have been found, mostly in storage pits in Xiaotun in Henan. Oracle bones appear to have held a high place in Shang culture and this would lead one to conclude that superstition and written language held very high places in the lives of the ancient Chinese.




Users of oracle bone divinations sought advice and predictions on matters such as raising of crops, the outcome of battles, illness, and childbirth. They also sought advise from the dead, the meaning of dreams, and suggestions on how many people to sacrifice. One inscription proposed sacrificing prisoners to an ancestor. Possibly after a divination, was another inscription that recommended five prisoners. The oracle bones unearthed in Xiaotun also provided some of the earliest evidence of Chinese writing and the first examples of writing in East Asia. They recorded harvests, childbirths and wars, detailed accomplishments of kings, described human sacrifices, plagues, natural disasters, enemy tribes and the ailments of kings. Some 3000 different Chinese characters—most of them pictograms—were used during the Shang dynasty.

Messages recorded on the oracle bones included: “Lady Hao’s childbearing will be good”; “After 31 days” Lady Hao “gave birth, it was not good, it was a girl”; “In the next ten days there will be no disasters;” “If we raise 3,000 men and call on them to attack the Gofang, we will receive abundant assistance.” Some of the messages could even be poetic. One goes: “In the afternoon a rainbow also came out of the north and drank in the Yellow River.”



The Egyptians


Egyptian writing emerged from the preliterate artistic traditions of Egypt. For example, symbols on Gerzean pottery from ca. 4000 BC resemble hieroglyphic writing. For many years the earliest known hieroglyphic inscription was the Narmer Palette, found during excavations at Hierakonpolis (modern Kawm al-Ahmar) in the 1890s, which has been dated to ca. 3200 BCE. However, in 1998, a German archaeological team under Günter Dreyer excavating at Abydos (modern Umm el-Qa'ab) uncovered tomb U-j of a Predynastic ruler, and recovered three hundred clay labels inscribed with proto-hieroglyphs, dating to the Naqada IIIA period of the 33rd century BC. The first full sentence written in hieroglyphs so far discovered was found on a seal impression found in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen at Umm el-Qa'ab, which dates from the Second Dynasty. In the era of the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, about 800 hieroglyphs existed. By the Greco-Roman period, they numbered more than 5,000.







Hieroglyphs consist of three kinds of glyphs: phonetic glyphs, including single-consonant characters that function like an alphabet; logographs, representing morphemes; and determinatives, which narrow down the meaning of logographic or phonetic words.








A section of the Papyrus of Ani showing cursive Hieroglyphs.



As writing developed and became more widespread among the Egyptian people, simplified glyph forms developed, resulting in the hieratic (priestly) and demotic (popular) scripts. These variants were also more suited than hieroglyphs for use on papyrus. Hieroglyphic writing was not, however eclipsed, but existed alongside the other forms, especially in monumental and other formal writing. The Rosetta Stone contains three parallel scripts - hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek.



Edwin Smith Papyrus (written in Hieratic)

Authorship of the Edwin Smith Papyrus is debated. The majority of the papyrus was written by one scribe, with only small sections written by a second scribe. The papyrus ends abruptly in the middle of a line, without any inclusion of an author. It is believed that the papyrus is based upon an earlier text from the Old Kingdom. Form and commentary included in the papyrus give evidence to the existence of an earlier document. The text is attributed by some to Imhotep, an architect, high priest, and physician of the Old Kingdom, 3000-2500 B.C.

The rational and practical nature of the papyrus is illustrated in the 48 cases. The papyrus begins by addressing injuries to the head, and continues with treatments for injuries to neck, arms and torso. The title of each case details the nature of trauma, such as “Practices for a gaping wound in his head, which has penetrated to the bone and split the skull”. Next, the examination provides further details of the trauma. The diagnosis and prognosis follow the examination. Last, treatment options are offered. In many of the cases, explanations of trauma are included to provide further clarity.

Among the treatments are closing wounds with sutures (for wounds of the lip, throat, and shoulder), preventing and curing infection with honey, and stopping bleeding with raw meat. Immobilization is advised for head and spinal cord injuries, as well as other lower body fractures. The papyrus also describes anatomical observations. It contains the first known descriptions of the cranial sutures, the meninges, the external surface of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the intracranial pulsations. The procedures of this papyrus demonstrate an Egyptian level of knowledge of medicines that surpassed that of Hippocrates, who lived 1000 years later. Due to its practical nature and the types of trauma investigated, it is believed that the papyrus served as a textbook for the trauma that resulted from military battles



Demotic Script



A Scribes Palette 18th Dynasty



Hieroglyphs continued to be used under Persian rule (intermittent in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE), and after Alexander the Great's conquest of Egypt, during the ensuing Macedonian and Roman periods. It appears that the misleading quality of comments from Greek and Roman writers about hieroglyphs came about, at least in part, as a response to the changed political situation. Some believe that hieroglyphs may have functioned as a way to distinguish 'true Egyptians' from some of the foreign conquerors. Another reason may be the refusal to tackle a foreign culture on its own terms which characterized Greco-Roman approaches to Egyptian culture generally. Having learned that hieroglyphs were sacred writing, Greco-Roman authors imagined the complex but rational system as an allegorical, even magical, system transmitting secret, mystical knowledge. By the 4th century, few Egyptians were capable of reading hieroglyphs, and the myth of allegorical hieroglyphs was ascendant. Monumental use of hieroglyphs ceased after the closing of all non-Christian temples in 391 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, the last known inscription is from Philae, known as The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, from 396 A.D.



The Indus Valley Civilization


The first Indian script, developed in the Indus Valley around 2600 B.C. is still not fully deciphered. Thus, it is still not possible to fully understand this civilization, as we have no readable records of their Later Indian scripts, like Brahmi and Kharosthi, which were developed to write both official and local languages. Great epics, royal inscriptions, religious texts and administrative documents were all written using these scripts. Through these sources we are able to learn about the literature, mythology, history and beliefs of ancient India.



The Indus seals are amulets addressed to the gods and were worn on the body. In the Seal below, we have a depiction of the Deity (in this case Maal/Mal) as a Unicorn, and then the votive inscription was written above the Deity (in Harappan script).

The manger, under the head of Maal is made up of several Indus signs. It reads Puu-i- Paa, or " A flourishing Condition, Thou distribute it".





The Cretans (Minoans)



Cretan hieroglyphs are hieroglyphs found on artifacts of Bronze Age Minoan Crete (2nd millennium B.C, MM I to MM III, overlapping with Linear A from MM IIA).

The Phaistos Disc is a disk of fired clay from the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the Greek island of Crete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (2nd millennium B.C.). Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology.



The Phaistos Disc



Linear A is one of two scripts used in ancient Crete before Mycenaean Greek Linear B, the second being Cretan hieroglyphs. In Minoan times, before the Mycenaean Greek dominion, Linear A was the official script for the palaces and cults and hieroglyphs were mainly used on seals. In 1952, Michael Ventris discovered that Linear B was being used to write the early form of Greek now known as Mycenaean. He and others used this information to achieve a significant and now well accepted decipherment of Linear B, although many points remain to be elucidated. A failure to discover the language of Linear A has prevented the same sort of progress being made in its decipherment.

Though the two scripts – Linear A and B – share some of the same symbols, using the syllables associated with Linear B in Linear A writings produces words that are unrelated to any known language. This language has been dubbed Minoan and corresponds to a period in Cretan history prior to a series of invasions by Mycenaean Greeks around 1450 BC.

Linear A seems to have been used as a complete syllabary around 1900–1800 BC, although several signs appear as mason marks earlier. It is possible that the Trojan Linear A scripts discovered by Heinrich Schliemann and one inscription from central Crete, as well as a few similar potters' marks from Lahun, Egypt (12th dynasty) come from an earlier period, ca. 2100–1900 BC, which is the period of the construction of the first palaces.



linear A tablet



linear A alphabet



Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries (ca. 13th but perhaps as early as 17th century B.C, and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization. Most clay tablets inscribed in Linear B were found in Knossos, Cydonia, Pylos, Thebes and Mycenae. The succeeding period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, provides no evidence of the use of writing.


Linear B syllabary
Linear B logograms




The Etruscans



Etruscan, the great ancient language of culture in Italy, does not survive in any great literary works (An Etruscan religious literature did exist, and evidence suggests that there was a body of historical literature and drama as well. Known, for example, is the name of a playwright, Volnius, of obscure date, who wrote "Tuscan tragedies". Although there is no evidence of notation, it is possible that Etruscan music was in written form. (In the process of creating their "False" history, Whites, as usual, destroyed the writings of the ancients (the last being the Etrusca Disciplina, the Etruscan books of cult and divination, collected and burned in the 5th century A.D.)

The Etruscan language is universally accepted as an isolated case. It cannot be shown conclusively to be related to any other language, living or dead, except for a couple of sparsely attested extinct languages. Raetic, recorded in the Alps, was clearly related to Etruscan judging by the few inscriptions found. Lemnian, recorded on the island of Lemnos, also appears to have been related to Etruscan. A third language, Camunic, sparsely recorded in NW Italy and written in the Etruscan alphabet, may possibly also have been related, but the evidence is too sparse to allow any safe conclusions.





Etruscan had ceased to be spoken in the time of imperial Rome, though it continued to be studied by priests and scholars. The emperor Claudius wrote a history of the Etruscans in 20 books, now lost, which was based on sources still preserved in his day. The language continued to be used in a religious context until late antiquity; the final record of such use relates to the invasion of Rome by Alaric, chief of the Visigoths, in 410 A.D. when Etruscan priests were summoned to conjure lightning against the barbarians.



There is a corpus of over 10,000 known Etruscan inscriptions, with new ones being discovered each year. These are mainly short funerary or dedicatory inscriptions, found on funerary urns, in tombs or on objects dedicated in sanctuaries. Others are found on engraved bronze Etruscan mirrors, where they label mythological figures or give the name of the owner, and on coins, dice, and pottery. Finally, there are graffiti scratched on pottery; though their function is little understood, they seem to include owners' names as well as numbers, abbreviations, and non alphabetic signs.





The Phoenicians


The Phoenician script (1100 B.C. to 300 A.D.) is an important "trunk" in the alphabet tree, in that many modern scripts can be traced through it. Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek scripts are all descended from Phoenician. Phoenician itself remained in use, in the form of Punic (more cursive), until about 200 AD.

Phoenician is a direct descendent of the Proto-Sinaitic script. Like Proto-Sinaitic, Phoenician is a "consonantal alphabet", also known as "abjad", and only contains letters representing consonants. Vowels are generally omitted in this phase of the writing system.

The major change between Proto-Sinaitic and Phoenician is graphical. The Phoenician letter shapes grew to be more abstract and linear, in comparison to the more "pictographic" shape of Proto-Sinaitic signs.






The White Greeks


The first Albino people entered Europe as illiterate Horse Nomads, they could not, and did not, begin to record their own history until they had absorbed the knowledge of the conquered Blacks in Europe; who were the creators of the original European civilizations.

After the Whites invaded (circa 1,200 B.C.), all writing STOPPED! This period is commonly called "The Greek Dark Ages" it was obviously a time of Great Wars and social upheaval; the biggest upheaval being the Exodus of the Sea people. Click here for more on the Sea Peoples flight: Click >>>

When writing reappeared, at about 750 B.C, Whites had adopted an alphabet that came from the Phoenician script.

The first actual White writings were by Aesculus 525-456 B.C. These were tragedies including the Orestia Trilogy.
* Agamemnon
* Choephoroe
* Eumenides

The Greeks were then the first White Europeans to learn to write with an alphabet, and from them, writing was brought to the rest of Europe, eventually leading down to all modern European alphabets. From the shape of the letters, it is clear that the Greeks adopted the alphabet of Phoenician script, in fact, Greek historian Herotodus (5th century B.C.) called the Greek letters "phoinikeia grammata" which means Phoenician letters. Unlike Greek, the Phoenician alphabet only had letters for consonants. When the Greeks adopted the alphabet, they found letters representing sounds not found in Greek. Instead of throwing them away, they modified the extraneous letters to represent vowels. For example, the Phoenician letter 'aleph (which stood for a glottal stop) became the Greek letter alpha (which stands for [a] sound).

There were many variants of the early Greek alphabet, each suited to a local dialect. Eventually the Ionian alphabet was adopted in all Greek-speaking states, but before that happened, the Euboean variant was carried to the Italic peninsula and adopted by Etruscans and eventually Latins. The following chart compare various early variants, the modern alphabet, and pronunciations.


Greek alphabet



The Romans


Latin-speaking citizens learned writing from the Etruscans. A few hundred years later, the Romans brought their alphabet to wherever they went (more specifically, conquered). Because of the prestige of Roman culture, many non-Roman "barbarian" nations embraced Latin for court use, and adopted the Latin alphabet to write their own language. Consequently, Western European nations all wrote using the Latin alphabet, and with European imperialism in the last 500 years, the Latin alphabet (with local modifications) is probably the most ubiquitous writing system in the world.

Even though the Latin alphabet is essentially what you're seeing in front of you, the original version was quite different. As Latium (the region where Latin is spoken and Rome is located) and Etruria (the region where Etruscan is spoken) are adjacent to each other, the very first examples of the Latin alphabet resemble the undefined alphabet. Nearly all the letters were adopted with the same phonetic values and graphical shapes. Also, the direction of writing was like Etruscan, either right-to-left, boustrophedon, or even left-to-right for about a hundred years during the 6th century BCE (once again influenced by Etruscan fads). On the other hand, the Latins did modify the Etruscan alphabet to suit their language. They threw away several signs because Latin didn't have those sounds. On the flip side, Latin also had sounds not present in Etruscan. One solution was to invent the letter G by adding a vertical stroke to the letter C. Similarly, the Latins "resurrected" the letters O and D, which were not used in Etruscan but kept for tradition. The letter F, which in Etruscan represented the sound [v], was eventually reused for [f]. Etruscan wrote the [f] sound with the digraph HF, a convention also used in the earliest Latin inscriptions. The Latins also took Q and used it for their [kw] sound most likely since it already appears in front of V in Etruscan.

Slowly the Latin alphabet became increasingly standardized. Writing direction settled on left-to-right toward the 5th or 4th century B.C, and letter shapes became more or less the same in Latium. And by Rome's Republican period (3rd century B.C.), the Latin alphabet has evolved to the "modern" form:





The Olmec




A stone block discovered in the Olmec heartland of Veracruz, Mexico, contains the oldest writing in the New World, says an international team of archaeologists, including Stephen D. Houston of Brown University. The team determined that the block dates to the early first millennium B.C. At least 400 years earlier than scholars previously thought writing existed in the Western hemisphere.



Cascajal block




Epi-Olmec script


One of the most important Olmec finds was the discovery of an inscribed slab found under the waters of the Acula River near the village of La Mojarra in 1986 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Dubbed Stela 1 of La Mojarra, this monument was inscribed with 465 glyphs arranged in 21 columns, and the image of a ruler. The writing on it is nothing like any other writing system in Mesoamerica, such as Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, or Aztec, although like the Maya it also used the Long Count.

However, Stela 1 of La Mojarra is not the only example of its writing system. Most of the monuments that bear glyphs in the same (or similar) writing system are also found near the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the thin stretch of land that separates the majority of Mexico from its south-eastern states and from Central America, although none has texts as long as the Stela. The famous Tuxtla Statuette, a hand-length nephrite figurine of an almost comedic man dressed in a duck's outfit, bears a Long Count date of 162 CE as well as non-calendric glyphs. Other famous inscriptions include Stela C of Tres Zapotes, with a Long Count date of 32 BCE, and Stela 1 of Chiapa de Corzo (located in Chiapas, Mexico), with an incomplete date conjectured to be 36 BCE. In the site of Cerro de las Mesas, Veracruz, highly erroded monuments also bear Long Count dates, but from the early Classic period at around 450 CE, as well as a large stone version of the Tuxtla Statuette devoid of any text.

Scholars have given this script many names, epi-Olmec was chosen since it is more common in scientific literature. Some have called this script the "La Mojarra script" after the location where the Stela was found. Another name, also based on a geographical name, is the "Isthmian Script", named after the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. You would find all three names used in publications, and websites. Yet another name is the "Tuxtla Script", named after the Tuxtla Statuette as well as the Tuxtla Mountains near which many of the texts have been found.



Left side image of La Mojarra Stela 1, showing a person identified as "Harvester Mountain Lord". Inscriptions in the Isthmian or Epi-Olmec script on the right side of La Mojarra Stela 1  



The Epi-Olmec script turned out to be structurally similar to the Maya. It is logophonetic, meaning that one set of the signs, the phonograms, have phonetic values, while the other glyphs, called logograms, represents morpheme. A morpheme is a word or part of a word that cannot be broken further into smaller units with relevant meaning. For instance, the English word beautiful can be broken down into beauty and -ful, neither of which can be broken down further. Beauty is a morpheme because it is a word. Furthermore, -ful carries the meaning of "a lot of", and can also be used with other words, like bountiful, faithful, and others. Hence it is not a unique derivation of beauty, but a morpheme in its own right.

In a logophonetic system, both logograms and phonograms are used. Frequently logograms make up the root of a word whereas phonograms spell out the prefixes and suffixes that modify the root.


The vowel u ("u" with a line through the middle) is a strange vowel. It is a central high vowel, meaning that it's like the common vowel [i] but the position of the peak of the tongue is halfway between the throat and the teeth. You can check out Phonetics for details on how to pronounce it.

All phonograms in the Epi-Olmec script represent syllables. So we call the set of phonograms the syllabary:




The Epi-Olmec culture was a cultural area in the central region of the present-day Mexican state of Veracruz, concentrated in the Papaloapan River basin, a culture that existed during the Late Formative period, from roughly 300 BCE to roughly 250 CE. Epi-Olmec was a successor culture to the Olmec, hence the prefix "epi-" or "post-". Although Epi-Olmec did not attain the far-reaching achievements of that earlier culture, it did realize, with its sophisticated calendrics and writing system, a level of cultural complexity unknown to the Olmecs.




The Maya


The Maya writing system was a combination of logograms and phonetic symbols. It’s similarity to Egyptian Hieroglyphs is superficial, since the systems are based on different rules and principles. The Mayan glyph has more than a thousand different sumbols created, but the maximum number used at any time never exceeded 500.

The earliest insciptions in the Maya script date back to 200-300 B.C. and it was in use right up to the Spanish Conquest, although its widepsread utilization as a public medium ended during the Classical period between 200-900 A.D.