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Archive for Friday, December 6, 2002

Researchers find new evidence of early Americas writing

December 6, 2002

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— Symbols carved on stones 2,600 years ago in Mexico suggest that the Olmecs, an early North American people, invented the first writing system in the Americas and that the symbols were adopted by later native cultures such as the Mayas.

The symbols were found on chips from a stone plaque and on a cylinder stone used for printing. They were unearthed in an archaeological dig at the site of an ancient Olmec city near La Venta on the Gulf of Mexico coast of southern Mexico.

"These symbols have a very close resemblance to symbols that were found from a later era among Mayan artifacts," said Kevin O. Pope, a co-author of the study. "We think the writing was developed by the Olmecs and then adopted later by the Mayans."

Age dating of the artifacts suggests they were deposited on the site around 650 B.C., about 350 years before the date of specimens previously thought to be the earliest examples of such writing.

The Olmecs are thought to have established a large and complex culture starting in about 1300 B.C. They build massive pyramids, carved intricate and detailed sculpture and built large cities with thousands of people.

The most complete specimen is a cylinder with raised carvings on the outside. The researchers believe it was used as a rolling imprinting device, probably to apply the symbols to cloth or even to human skin, Pope said.

Symbols carved on stones 2,600 years ago in Mexico may be the
earliest evidence of a writing system in the New World. This glyph
shows the word "3 Ajaw," the name of a day in the Mesomerican
calendar.

Symbols carved on stones 2,600 years ago in Mexico may be the earliest evidence of a writing system in the New World. This glyph shows the word "3 Ajaw," the name of a day in the Mesomerican calendar.

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