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Olmec figures, Museum of Xalapa

IN THE NEWS: earliest writing

Ancient civilisations in Mexico developed a writing system as early as 900 BC(E), new evidence suggests, according to a BBC News report (14/9/06). (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Picture from BBC report: click on BBC story below to see enlarged image
Picture from BBC report: click on BBC story below to see enlarged image

The discovery in the state of Veracruz of a block inscribed with 62 symbolic shapes has astounded anthropologists. Researchers tell Science magazine that they consider it to be the oldest example of writing in the New World. The inscriptions are thought to have been made by the Olmecs, an ancient pre-Colombian people known for creating large statues of heads.

News report in the Feb/Mar 2007 issue of ‘Current World Archaeology’
News report in the Feb/Mar 2007 issue of ‘Current World Archaeology’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The stone slab, known as the ‘Cascajal Block’ was originally unearthed from a gravel pit by road builders. ‘We dated the stone on the basis of the pottery that the people who dug it fouind nearby. Though this is not a water-tight method of dating, it is the best we have. Moreover, certain of the symbols occur on Olmec monuments at San Lorenzo, located a mere 2km away - and those monuments are known to have been carved and buried prior to 900BC’ said research team-member Professor Richard A. Diehl, who confirmed that the symbols appear to be some 400 years earlier than any other known writing from the Americas.

Main picture: Olmec stone altar or throne; the upper part of the sculpture contains reliefs showing symmetrical water drips. Photo: Ian Mursell, Xalapa Museum of Anthropology

More on ancient Mexican glyphs

BBC News feature on ‘Oldest New World writing’
Archaeology.co.uk
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