Earliest writing in New World discovered
Frontal view of Cascajal block
Also In The News
V2 Records, out September 18th.
Friday, 15, Sep 2006 01:32
A stone discovered in Veracruz, Mexico is believed to have the oldest system of writing in the New World.
Known as the "Cascajal block", the stone dates back to the early first millennium BC and has features that indicate it comes from the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica.
As one of the first civilizations in the Americas, the Olmec civilization were an ancient pre-Columbian people living in south-central Mexico from about 1200 BC to 400 BC. They are said to have had a huge influence on later civilizations living in the area stretching from Mexico down to El Salvador.
Writing in this week's Science journal, the international team of archaeologists who made the discovery said that the stone and its ancient script "link the Olmec civilization to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system, and reveal a new complexity to this civilization".
The Cascajal block is carved from the mineral Serpentine, weighs about 26 pounds and measures 36cm in length, 21cm in width and 13cm in depth.
Text on the block consists of 62 signs, some of which are repeated up to four times. The way the signs are arranged have led the team behind the find to claim that the text "conforms to all expectations of writing".
One of the team behind the discovery, Stephen Houston of Brown University, said: "It's a tantalising discovery. I think it could be the beginning of a new era of focus on Olmec civilization.
"It's telling us that these records probably exist and that many remain to be found. If we can decode their content, these earliest voices of Mesoamerican civilization will speak to us today."