Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers Find Evidence Of The Earliest Writing In The New World

Date:
September 15, 2006
Source:
Brown University
Summary:
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.E. -- at least 400 years earlier than scholars previously thought writing existed in the Western hemisphere. The findings are published in Science.

Frontal view of Cascajal block, Veracruz, Mexico.
Credit: Image (c) Science

New research published this week in Science details the discovery of a stone (serpentine) block in Veracruz, Mexico, containing a previously unknown system of writing, thought to be the earliest in the New World.

An international team of archaeologists, including Brown University’s Stephen D. Houston, determined that the slab – named the “Cascajal block” – dates to the early first millennium B.C.E. and has features that indicate it comes from the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica. They say the block and its ancient script “link the Olmec civilization to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system, and reveal a new complexity to this civilization.”

“It’s a tantalizing discovery. I think it could be the beginning of a new era of focus on Olmec civilization,” said Houston, an expert on ancient writing systems and corresponding author for the Science article. “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.”

Road builders first discovered the Cascajal block in a pile of debris heaped to the side of a destroyed area in the community of Lomas de Tacamichapa in the late 1990s. Mexican archaeologists Carmen Rodríguez and Ponciano Ortíz, lead authors of the article in Science, were the first to recognize the importance of the find and to register it officially with the Goverment authority, the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia of Mexico. Surrounding the piece were ceramic sherds, clay figurine fragments, and broken artifacts of ground stone, which, in addition to “internal clues” and “regional archaeology,” have helped the team date the block and its text to the San Lorenzo phase, ending about 900 B.C.E. That’s approximately 400 years before writing was thought to have first appeared in the Western hemisphere.

Carved of the mineral serpentine, the block weighs about 26 pounds and measures 36 cm long, 21 cm wude, and 13 cm thick. The incised text consists of 62 signs, some of which are repeated up to four times. Because of its distinct elements, patterns of sequencing, and consistent reading order, the team says the text “conforms to all expectations of writing.”

“As products of a writing system, the sequences would, by definition, reflect patterns of language, with the probable presence of syntax and language-dependent word order,” the article states.

Five sides on the block are convex, while the remaining surface containing the text appears concave; hence, the team believes the block has been carved repeatedly and erased – a discovery Houston calls “unprecedented.” Several paired sequences of signs also lead the researchers to believe the text contains poetic couplets which would be the earliest known examples of this expression in Mesoamerica.

In addition to Houston, the research team includes some of the world’s top experts on Olmec civilization, ceramics, and imagery: Ma. del Carmen Rodríguez Martínez and Alfredo Delgado Calderón of the Centro del Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia of Mexico; Ponciano Ortíz Ceballos of the Instituto de Antropología de La Universidad Veracruzana; Michael D. Coe of Yale University; Richard A. Diehl of University of Alabama; and Karl A. Taube of University of California-Riverside.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brown University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Brown University. "Researchers Find Evidence Of The Earliest Writing In The New World." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 September 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060914154552.htm>.
Brown University. (2006, September 15). Researchers Find Evidence Of The Earliest Writing In The New World. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060914154552.htm
Brown University. "Researchers Find Evidence Of The Earliest Writing In The New World." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060914154552.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) — A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) — With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) — Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 14, 2014) — A hoard of Viking artifacts dating back over 1,000 years is discovered by a treasure hunter with a metal detector in Scotland. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins