Origns of Writing symposium

Michael Rabe mrabe at ARTIC.EDU
Tue Apr 6 11:46:35 UTC 1999

[excerpts from an illustrated article w/ 1 _ekazringa-bull seal from
Who Began Writing? Many Theories, Few Answers
(April 6) A disagreement has erupted between certain scholars, who
believe the origins of writing lie in Mesopotamia, and some
archeologists, who say writing first appeared in Egypt.

PHILADELPHIA -- ...at a recent symposium on the origins or writing, held
here  at the University of Pennsylvania...

...the writing idea became more widespread at the beginning of the third
millennium B.C. The Elamites of southern Iran developed a proto-writing
system then, perhaps influenced by the proto-cuneiform of their Sumerian
neighbors, and before the millennium was out, writing appeared in the
Indus River Valley of what is now Pakistan and western India, then in
Syria and Crete and parts of Turkey. Writing in China dates back to the
Shang period toward the end of the second millennium B.C., and it dates
to the first millennium   B.C. in Mesoamerica.

Archeologists have thought that the undeciphered Indus script, which
seemed to appear first around 2500, may have been inspired in part from
trade contacts with Mesopotamia. But new excavations in the ruins of the
ancient city of Harappa suggest an earlier and presumably independent
origin of Indus writing.

In a report from the field, distributed on the Internet, Dr. Jonathan
Mark Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Richard H. Meadow of
Harvard University  showed pictures of marks incised on potshards that
they interpreted as evidence for the use of writing signs by
 Indus people as early as 3300 B.C. If these are indeed proto-writing
examples, the discovery indicates an independent origin of Indus writing
contemporary with the Sumerian and Egyptian inventions.

Dr. Meadow, using E-mail, the electronic age's version of the king of
Uruk's clay tablet, confirmed that the inscribed marks were "similar in
some respects to those later used in the Indus script." The current
excavations,  he added, were uncovering "very significant findings at
Harappa with respect to the Indus script."

At the symposium, though, Dr. Gregory L. Possehl, a Pennsylvania
archeologist who specializes in the Indus civilization and had examined
the pictures, cautioned against jumping to such conclusions. One had to
be careful, he said, not to confuse potter's marks, graffiti and
fingernail marks with symbols of nascent writing.

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