Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Xt'Tapalatakettle's Grocery List

An article in the latest issue of Science (and yes, I read it, smart guy) discusses the discovery in Cascaja, Veracruz, Mexico in 1999 of a small (36 x 21 x 13 cm) stone block from the Olmec civilization which they proclaim to be the "oldest writing in the New World". The glyphs are faint and difficult to discern in photographs, so instead of showing you this boring looking rock, you get to look at the cool giant stone head on the right. (Can you say Xt'Tapalatakettle?) The rock was discovered by workmen in a quarry with minor other artifacts - shards of pottery, fragments of figurines, etc. - and kept in the home of a local cultural expert. There is a bit of a dispute about the age of the artifacts as they were not unearthed in the proper archeological manner. Said one smart ass "Once I owned a home near to Lincoln's log cabin, but that proximity didn't date my house to the same period. Likewise, the literally mixed bag of shards kept by village authorities doesn't help at all to date the piece." Log Cabin Guy has a point, though of course the authors are optimistic that the stone is older than any other known piece of writing in the New World. Some are skeptical that it is writing at all, though it is hard not to imagine that this isn't at least some primitive form of it. There are 28 distinct characters and 62 in all forming six or seven meandering lines of text. Nobody's quite sure exactly what this is as it doesn't appear to be directly related to succeeding forms of writing, so the authors have suggested that it was possibly a local script that fell out of use, some form of secret shamanic writing, or a once widely used script that died off.

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