History of Egyptian and Mayan Writing Egyptian Term Paper

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History Of Egyptian and Mayan Writing

Egyptian writing

The Egyptian language is one of the first languages to be put into written form. Some scholars have claimed that the earliest form of writing is the Sumerian language, but this contention has been put into doubt by more recent findings. Egyptian writing first appears on stone and pottery and dates back to 3,000 B.C. (Mysteries of Egypt) The earliest alphabetical writing was found in the Abydos-Luxor -Thebes region of Egypt dating to 1800 B.C.

Egyptologists have found limestone inscriptions that they say are the earliest known examples of alphabetic writing... carved in the cliffs of soft stone, the writing - in a Semitic script with Egyptian influences - has been dated to somewhere between 1900 and 1800 B.C., two or three centuries earlier than previously recognized uses of a nascent alphabet.

Smith, Tony)

Recently, Egyptian writing dating to 3,300 B.C. has been discovered. A German archaeologist has claimed that he has found what could be the earliest known human writing - records of linen and oil deliveries made about 5,300 years ago during the reign of a King named Scorpion in Southern Egypt. The discovery throws open for debate a widely held belief among historians that the first people to write were the Sumerians of the Mesopotamian civilization sometime before 3,000 B.C. (Egyptian writing dating to 3300 B.C. discovered)

Hieroglyphics are the most commonly known form of ancient Egyptian writing. Hieroglyphics refers to a form of communication where "a picture of an object symbolizes a word, idea or sound." (Ancient Egyptian Writing) The prevailing assumption about the reason for the development of the earliest forms of writing, both in Mesopotamia and Egypt, is that they were the result of a need to record events and were in fact attempts at an early accounting system. This theory refers to the evidence that "the excavated proto-hieroglyphics (claimed to be the earliest genuine writings) were inscribed on inventory tags, thus arising out of the need to convey some accounting information. (Mattessich, Richard)

2. Mesoamerica (MAYA)

The ancient writing systems of Mesoamerica can be traced back to the paintings of the North American Indians. The cliff paintings of Native Americans in the desert Southwest are usually called petroglyphs, due to the fact that they are written on stone. These petroglyphs provided information about trade routes, ritual information, and other socially significant aspects. (Tomlinson, Sue)

The Maya are the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Mayan culture originated in the Yucatan around 2,600 B.C and rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Northern Belize and Western Honduras. "Building on the inherited inventions and ideas of earlier civilizations such as the Olmec, the Maya developed astronomy, calendrical systems and hieroglyphic writing." (ibid)

The Ancient Maya)

On of the earliest examples of writing in the Americas are "a ceramic cylinder seal and greenstone plaque fragments found at San Andres -- in the state of Tabasco on the Gulf of Mexico -- date from 650 B.C. And were probably used for body decoration during a ceremonial feast." www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002004516" (Hardman. C. 5)

Before the arrival of the European explorers in the late 15th Century, the Americas were populated by 40-million people who amongst them spoke more than 1,000 different languages. These Indigenous cultures ranged from the "rudimentary and nomadic, in which basic survival was the primary goal, to sophisticated civilizations that had impressive architecture, advanced knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, and elaborate political and social institutions."

Realms of the Sacred)

One of the ways that we can study these early Mesoamerican cultures like the Maya is through evidence of their achievements that have survived over the centuries. The books that we have are known in Latin America as c dices. The singular term "codex" is Latin for "book" or "manuscript.") (ibid)

Numerous civilizations produced c dices, which were considered...
...They recorded history, genealogies, astronomical charts, divinatory tables, calendars, and religious ceremonies. C dices were consulted on a daily basis to determine advantageous times for planting crops, to perform religious ceremonies at the proper times and in the proper way, to trace the path of the stars, to recall the history of the people, and to predict the fate of individuals and entire cultures. These manuscripts, each one unique, provide a window into the beliefs and values of these early Americans. This exhibit focuses on the c dices of the Mesoamerican region, extending from central Mexico south to Guatemala. (ibid)

Development of scripts. Egyptian The earliest Egyptian writing system was called hieroglyphics. This writing system used pictures to symbolize ideas, objects, and sounds and was developed as early as 3250 BC (Dreyer 1998). (Parsons, Marie) Early Egyptian writing was difficult to decode and Archeologists and Language Specialists spent many years studying the symbols. These symbols, or hieroglyphs, were also known as "sacred inscriptions" and were adapted for use in everyday life in addition to their important religious or mystical implications. Hieroglyphics were constituted from ideograms and phonograms; two simpler forms of scripts that were derived from hieroglyphics were the Hieratic and Demotic scripts.

By the Late Period of Egyptian history, just before Alexander the Great came and left his Hellenistic influence and the Ptolemies to reign over the land of Kemet, the scribes of Egypt used three distinct scripts in their writing: hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic." (ibid)

The translation of Egyptian Hieroglyphics did not take place until the 19th Century when a black rock was found by Napoleon's soldiers near the Egyptian city of Rosetta. This rock, which became known as the Rosetta stone, was taken to Paris in 1826 and deciphered by Francois Champollion. This translation acted as a key to the interpretation of other Egyptian scripts.

The Hieratic script is an adaptation of the hieroglyphic script. The difference is that with Hieratic the signs are simplified to make their writing more rapid. The Hieratic script "was the administrative and business script throughout most of its history, and recorded documents of a literary, scientific and religious nature. It was most often used on papyrus rolls or sheets or on bits of pottery or stone ostraca." (ibid)

Hieratic script was replaced by Demotic Script - which means "popular script" in Greek - in the Late Period of ancient Egyptian history, about 600 BCE. After this time, Hieratic Script was used for religious documents. It should be noted that there is also another form of Hieratic Script, known as cursive hieroglyphic. This was a simpler form of hieroglyphic signs. By the time of the Hellenistic period, Demotic was the script that was in general use; it is a cursive script that was derived from the hieratic. The type of writing documents found in Demotic usually relate to commercial, legal and administrative subjects.

Hieroglyphics and Hieratic scripts can be translated today, while Demotic is usually transliterated directly into the letters of the English alphabet. Many texts can now be read to glimpse how the Egyptians spoke of themselves, their gods, and their history. After 400 A.D. The Egyptian language was written in the Greek alphabet. However, several extra letters were added to represent Egyptian sounds that didn't exist in the Greek language. This form of the Egyptian language is known as Coptic, which was eventually replaced by Arabic, the language spoken in Egypt today. The ancient Egyptian tongue died out - only the hieroglyphics remain to remind us that it ever existed.

Development of Scripts. Mayan The Maya developed a highly complex and sophisticated system of writing, using pictographs and phonetic or syllabic elements. Their language and writing progressed in a syllabic system that made each vowel and consonant combination into a separate and specific symbol. In a more advanced stage the writing combined syllables into complex pictographs, which are known as glyphs -a shorted term for hieroglyphics.

Essentially Mayan writing used a syllabary comprised of glyphs instead of a pure alphabet; this is known as a mixed system. Many of these glyphs are polyvalent and have more than one meaning. Glyphs have also been identified which correspond to verbs, nouns, adjectives, and particles." (ibid)

The writing is structured around these glyphs or pictures. It should be noted that the Mayan glyphs are considerably different to the Egyptian hieroglyphs. While the Mayan and Egyptian hieroglyphics are both non-alphabetic writing systems, they have little in common with one another. Egyptian hieroglyphics "represent sounds (consonants only, just like modern Semitic writing systems), while others represent words or concepts. Many hieroglyphs are strung together top to bottom to make a word." (Setting the Record Straight)

Mayan glyphs of the other hand are modular. This means that "one glyph contains several elements, including an element for gender and some for sound (both vowels and consonants). They resemble Chinese characters more than Egyptian hieroglyphics. (ibid)

Why are those two written languages no in use anymore?

Mayan culture reached its height in the second half of our first millennium and then mysteriously collapsed from the 9th to the 10th Century A.D.…

Sources Used in Documents:


Ancient Egyptian Writing. May 18, 2004. http://www.dragonstrike.com/egypt/write.htm

The Ancient Maya.

Digital Meesh. May 18, 2004. http://www.digitalmeesh.com/maya/history.htm

Egyptian writing dating to 3300 B.C. discovered. The Japan Times, December 17, 1998. Accessed: May 20, 2004. http://www.trussel.com/prehist/news95.htm

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