Friday, September 15, 2006

Writing on Stone May Be Oldest in the Americas
A stone slab found in the state of Veracruz in Mexico bears 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars, according to archaeologists who say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.

The order and pattern of carved symbols appeared to be that of a true writing system, according to the Mexican scientists who have studied the slab and colleagues from the United States. It had characteristics strikingly similar to imagery of the Olmec civilization, considered the earliest in pre-Columbian America, they said.

Finding a heretofore-unknown writing system is a rare event. One of the last such discoveries, scholars say, was the Indus Valley script, identified by archaeologists in 1924.

The dating may be a problem:
A few other researchers were skeptical of the dating of the inscription, noting that the stone was uncovered in a gravel quarry where it and other artifacts were jumbled and may have been out of their original context.

The discovery team said that ceramic shards, clay figurines and other broken artifacts accompanying the stone appeared to be from a particular phase of Olmec culture that ended about 900 B. C. But they acknowledged that the disarray at the site made it impossible to determine whether the stone had originally been in a place relating to the governing elite or to religious ceremony.

But from the info provided, unless there are other artifacts present that can be definitively shown to be of later date, the jumbling of the deposits may not be all that significant. WIll have to check the actual Science article for the dating criteria, but there don't appear to be too many red flags waving in the breeze. An added plus is that it wasn't trumpeted right when it was found (1999) so they appear to have a minimum taken their time with it.

Enlarge the image to see the scribblings, btw; the small preview doesn't really show anything.