Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Deciphering the past - 8 writings still unknown

Writing is considered today as one of the greatest inventions of humanity. Perhaps the biggest. Without writing there would be no knowledge or science historical notes. Not to mention books, journals and the Internet today. Without writing, humanity would probably still be living in the stone age. Thousands or tens of thousands of languages ​​and dialects came to be written on the skin, bone, clay or paper leading human species to what it is today, but they survived a few. As few have come to be deciphered in time. The mystery behind the old scripts and decipher them still persist equates to a real window into a past we do not know anything yet.

Writing first appeared in the world after almost six millennia and is known as the Sumerian cuneiform writing. Egyptians invented hieroglyphics system shortly afterward, later writing separately developing in China, Europe and Central America. It was as if writing was found in our genes, he appeared around the same time all over the planet. Some written languages ​​have evolved and survived time, as the one you are reading right now. Most but disappeared, taking with them the secrets of hundreds of generations of people. We can see remains of them today, but what do they tell us?

When Egyptian hieroglyphics have been deciphered, specifically in 1823, known history of the world has expanded to over 2000 years and allowed us all to read the words of Ramses the Great or the other monarchs of ancient Egypt. Deciphering Mayan glyphs in the twentieth century led to the discovery of a world contemporary with the Roman Empire and at least as impressive as this, further fueling the curiosity of those who are still waiting interpretation of writings is unknown but .cat difficult to decipher such a writing ?


maya writing
Linguists say there are two major requirements, without which the interpretation of unknown texts is almost impossible. The first is the existence of sufficient written material that can be analyzed. And second, the correlation with language indecipherable inscriptions known. Thus, the researchers in this field, we can 
classify unknown writings in three categories:

Writing in a language known unknown
known writing in a language unknown
Writing in a language unknown unknown


If in the first two categories there is a good chance that they are being interpreted - although this may take even decades - in the case of the third category, chances of success are near zero, a fact which did not prevent them the linguists try. In fact, a performance like this brings, besides huge contribution to science, and history to secure a ticket to immortality for any researcher. In this vein, I invite you to analyze together eight of the most mysterious and exciting challenges of linguists today.

1. Etruscan writing (writing known / unknown language)
For those passionate about the science of dead languages, Etruscan is perhaps the most frustrating of challenges. That's because decipher Etruscan is as if you try unravels from scratch a modern language, just reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. Etruscan writing is done in ancient Greek alphabet, but the meaning of words, with few exceptions, is a big enigma. So if Etruscan writings can be read, no one has any idea what they want to say. Exceptions are few proper nouns that refer to places or personalities already known.

The Etruscans were a people prehistoric origins still widely debated by historians, which were developed in the northern Italian Peninsula and were absorbed by the Roman Empire in the first century BC It is clear today that these people were literate, leaving behind thousands of written texts. Equally obvious is the fact that they borrowed letters from the Greek alphabet ancient Greek colonists who are appearing in northern Italy that time around 775 BC But if the Etruscans borrowed letters from the Greek, the language in which they used remains undeciphered. That and because Etruscans wrote from right to left, the opposite of Greek writing.




European linguists have tried for over a century to find a correspondent of Etruscan language in modern languages, including Basque. However, their attempts were doomed to failure. Etruscan is clearly a non-Indo-European language and is regarded as an idiom isolated language as Basques in northern Spain. The only achievements were the researchers decipher some words, especially proper names (Ruma - Rome, Clevsina - the name of a city Etruscan fufluns - Dionysus). Besides, they were identified about 250 words (see the terms but - three Avil - years), although disputes over the accuracy of these speculations are still far from being completed.

2. Meroitic writing (writing known / unknown language)

In the first millennium BC, the Sudan today, had developed a flourishing civilization. AUT Bible about United Kus, while scientists mentions Kusita Civilization (or Meroitic, after the capital Meroe), one of the great powers of the time in sub-Saharan Africa. Even managed to conquer in 712 BC Egypt great Pharaohs, giving birth to the 25th Dynasty, Dynasty pharaohs blacks. 70 years have led them destinies Egypt until 656 BC when the Assyrians conflict with forcing them to return to their country of origin.
Meroitic hieroglyphics dating mostly from the period that followed defeats. Kusiti pharaohs used Egyptian hieroglyphics but starting with the third century BC, the first signs of a writing new Meroitic writing. Like in Egypt, there were actually two types of writing: the official hieroglyphic, used on monuments, and cursive writing, everyday. Up to now it has been deciphered all 23 characters who formed this ancient writing, a genuine like the modern alphabet. At that led to this performance was the British Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith, in 1911. He managed at that time deciphering the writing of both phonetics using an artifact that were represented both Meroitic and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Like Etruscan writing, the Meroitic can be read. Frustrating is the fact that linguists have no clue about what they say kusite writings, and that's because Meroitic language is totally unknown. Few proper names can be recognized, just but a few common terms (TENK - west ato - water), but that's all. Despite efforts over the past century and a forecast of Griffith, has not identified any African language which find their counterpart in the ancient Meroitic.

3.  Olmeca Writing , Zapoteca and isthmic

(Olmec writing - write unknown / unknown language;
Zapoteca writing - write unknown / known language possible;
isthmic writing - write unknown / known possible language)


It is known today that the Maya civilization that flourished in Central America between centuries III - VIII AD, was extremely advanced and implicitly letters. In fact, the Mayan writing was deciphered in the twentieth century, specifically in 1952 by Russian linguist Yuri Knorosov, revealing evidence of the existence of a rival empire in all respects with ancient Rome. However, writing in the New World origins are much more ancient and mysterious. Three of them particularly attract the attention of linguists, as far as we can tell about them, we can only speculate.



Probably the oldest Central American writing, which we have reliable information is the Olmeca. Little is known today about the Olmec civilization that was flourishing after almost three and a half millennia today territory of Mexico (Veracruz and Tabasco states). The fact is that if we can talk Olmecs first great civilization of Mesoamerica. In fact, Olmec preceded by about a millennium more famous Azteca and Maya civilizations, and more, can be considered cultural their parents. Scientists were convinced that Olmec writing knows, that until 1990, when archaeologists were brought to light an artifact that were 62 characters Olmec. It was undeniable evidence of a lost ancient writings. Without the discovery of inscriptions, but there was no chance of deciphering the alphabet in the mists of time.

Zapoteca civilization developed in the Oaxaca region since 2500 years ago, was definitely an own writing system. In support of this claim more than 1,200 artifacts wine full of inscriptions discovered so far. The writings date from the years 600-400 i. Hr., And specialists who analyzed the Zapotec calendar, concluded that he was in the impressive Mayan calendar. Even if there are speakers of this language, deciphering the glyphs Zapotec proved far more difficult than anyone had expected.


Last and perhaps the most controversial of the writings is the Mesoamerican isthmus. Some scientists have called epi-Olmec, although debate on its origin are still very controversial. Evidence of its existence appeared for the first time in 1992. Then a jade statue representing a man dressed like a duck covered with 70 symbols unknown, was brought to light in an Olmec site. The statue, named Tuxtla, was transported to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and, until 1986, is now the only evidence of this mysterious writings. In 1986, however, many fishermen Mexicans out of the water of a river a huge plate of basalt, weighing about 4 tons, entirely covered with inscriptions in the same writing isthmus. Artifacts dating from the second century. AD., And the language in which they were written is probably the natives of Tehuantepec region. However, the two texts are considered insufficient to lead to decipher the writing isthmus.

4. Minoan (Writing partially known / unknown language)

In 1900, the famous British archaeologist, Arthur Evans discovered at Knossos, Crete, not one, but two unknown writings belonging to the ancient Minoan civilization. Both were played on clay plates, and were named: Writing Linear A and Linear B writing was deciphered last in 1952 by the British architect Michael Ventris, which brought to the world's oldest known writing in Europe. The other type of writing, Linear A, remained, but undeciphered to this day.




Linear B writing dates from 1450 BC It is an archaic form of Greek spoken by Greeks who conquered Crete in the period. The other script, Linear A, is much older and dates from the eighteenth century BC It is inscriptions in Minoan language and is, in fact, the only tangible result of the culture of this mysterious civilization. Today there are about 1500 in the Minoan texts, most discovered in Crete and other parts of Greece, Turkey and even Israel. Most of them are, however, short or affected by time.



The symbols of the two writings striking resemblance, but that does not mean they are the same thing, for the simple reason that the Greek and Minoan were different. Linguists can read linear writing using symbols of Linear B but can not be sure that all words are expressed correctly. Even through such an exercise, it is obvious that the sounds are different than those in Greek.

5. Rongo-Rongo (unknown writing / language probably known)


Easter Island was for centuries a place of mystery and writing ancient inhabitants of the island, Rongo Rongo-could not make an exception to this rule. No one knows when he appeared, although legends say that she would have been brought by boat to the first people who stepped Easter Island shore. When the Dutch discovered the island in 1722, they saw no trace of this writing. No 48 years later, in 1770, when the Spaniards ended the first treaties with the natives, the latter "signed" treaties, but nothing like writing them Rongo Rongo,. Neither Captain James Cook, who landed on Easter Island in 1774 does not mention it. 

The first reports of mysterious inscriptions appear in 1864, when a French missionary note the discovery of a scientist whose writings disappeared despite the efforts timp.In Bishop of Tahiti in 1870, it has not found any local who can read or interpret



Linguists have discovered similarities between-Rongo Rongo symbols and the ancient civilizations of the Indus writing, but how small a rapprochement between them two totally excluded. One thing is known for sure about Rongo Rongo-and that is how a document should be read in that language. The reader starts reading the text on the left, down the slate. Symbols are tracked from left to right to end the row. Then, the tablet is turned 180 degrees and the text continues with the next line, also from left to right. Once again come to an end, the reader is forced to turn back the tablet 180 degrees, which operation is repeated until the finalization of the text.

6. Indus civilization Writing  (write unknown / known possible language)

Ancient Indus civilization was developed about five and a half millennia ago in an area in which we find today a large part of Pakistan and northwestern India. Civilization is shrouded in mystery, the more higher the level of development or rival and even surpassed the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures with which it was contemporary. It has now reached its peak around 4500-3900 years, because since 1700 i.Hr, the imposing its cities to be strangely deserted. Writing left behind by these people is also a small piece of the puzzle mystery surrounding the Indus civilization.


Today there are about 5,000 inscriptions in that language, most of which were discovered on the walls of houses or, better said, the ruins of former cities. The documents have not more than five symbols, although the longest has 20 letters. A symbol that appears mostly is representing a mythological animal, like the unicorn. Language Indus civilization probably died, along with its inhabitants, although it is speculated that she might find a correspondent in Dravidian languages ​​that are spoken in southern India yet. If this hypothesis is correct, it would be possible for linguists to find similarities between the Indus civilization and ancient writing form Tamil, Dravidian idiom yet spoken in India.

For example, another common symbol is the fish. In ancient Tamil, "over" is pronounced "min". But the "min" has another meaning, that of "star" or "planet". In this situation, the fish can become an image to designate an astral body - just like using an icon. Interestingly, until now, there were more than 100 variants of deciphering this writing. None has been confirmed by specialists

7. Proto-Elamite (Writing partially known / unknown language)


Proto-Elamite is the oldest undeciphered writing of mankind - that if we suppose that the symbols that make up a writing are truly complete. It was used over 5 millennia ago Elam, biblical name of the western part of Iran. Writing is almost as elderly as the Sumerian cuneiform, and about those who invented it is know as little is known about how to write itself. These inscriptions preceded another partially deciphered writing, Linear Elamite, used in the same region about 750 years later. In turn, Linear Elam was followed by another writing, cuneiform one, used from the early thirteenth century BC The latter is one of the three completely deciphered writings.










There are three types of inscriptions so Elam each separated by about 800 years. Unfortunately there is no source that allows the creation of a link between them. Proto-Elamite rapprochement between Elam and Linear is again controversial one. When the first archeological evidence of Proto-Elamitei were unearthed in the twentieth century, scientists were convinced that it's two writings are based on the same language. There is not any evidence to support such a claim, or even a link between people who used both systems. Proto-Elamite was studied assiduously, but the meaning of symbols remained a mystery.

8. Phaistos disc (write unknown / unknown language)


Since its discovery in Crete in 1908, the disc Phaistos gained fame in the world of scientists, not only for the message might contain cat, especially due to suspicions aimed directly authenticity. In fact, many linguists call it Piltdown Man in the old writings hint that would not only be a false extremely well done. Therefore, few were those who tried to decipher its message symbols. Disc with a diameter of about 15 centimeters, consists of clay and covered with 241-242 symbols (one of them seems deleted), formed in turn of 45 engravings. It is all that can be said about this artifact without fear of exceeding the limits of science.






Suspicions starts from that disc, a site discovered in the eighteenth century BC, shows a writing that has no counterpart among ancient Greek writings. Then why have not discovered other written to support the hypothesis of a civilization still unknown? Why symbols are unique in the Greek world? One theory holds that the disc has been brought from Anatolia, and that's because one of the symbols found on an ancient tombstone in the area. If it would be true to this statement, it is possible to have proof against non-Greek language?


Unfortunately, linguists who have a reputation to uphold avoid talking about the Phaistos disc. At least until another similar enrolled will be found.

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