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4.1 EARLY WRITING & FIRST ALPHABETS (2)

4.1.4 CHINA

MS 3024/2 China, ca. 2200-1800 BC
MS 2103/1 China, 14th-12th c. BC
See also MS 2103/2, China, 14th-12th c. BC

4.1.5 EUROPE

MS 5237/2 Spain, 4000-3800 BC
MS 5238 France, 4000-3800 BC
MS 249 Crete, 16th c. BC

4.1.6 AMERICAS

MS 2961 Ecuador, 3500-1500 BC

4.1.7 FIRST ALPHABETS

MS 5180 Israel/Palestine, 18th - 17th c. BC
MS 1955/6 Ugarit, 13th c. BC
See also MS 715 Israel/Lebanon, 11th c.
See also MS 5235 Lebanon, ca. 539-532 BC
MS 108 Greece, ca. 800 BC

4. Palaeography

4.1 The Beginning of Writing and the First Alphabets

4.1.4. China

MS 3024/2 ms 3024
CHARACTER TIAN FOR "FIELD", A CROSS WITHIN A SQUARE, INSIDE A SWASTIKA, REPEATED 4 TIMES
MS in Chinese on red earthenware, Ganshu, China, ca. 2200-1800 BC, 1 funeral urn, h. 32 cm, diam. 26 to10 cm, wide, near spherical corpus with vertical ringlugs at the middle, tapering to a base which is a little wider than the mouth, decorations in dark brown and light violet.

Provenance: Cemetery, Ganshu, China (2200-1800 -); 2. Private collection, Ascona, Switzerland (1965-)

Commentary: From the Yangshao Neolitic period, representing the oldest Chinese pictograms/marks/characters next to the Banpo neolithic village pottery ca. 4000 BC, and about 700 years before the oracle bones (MSS 2103/1-7), which is the earliest Chinese continuos writing so far.

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MS 2103/1 src="firstalpha_files/ms2103s.jpg"
ORACLE BONE: CRACKING MADE ON THE RENZI (DAY 49); ON THE JIAYIN (DAY 51) A SHEEP SHOULD BE BURNED TO SACRIFICE ANCESTOR DA JIA, AND AN OX WILL BE CUT INTO PARTS. THIRD MONTH. - SHEN (DAY 53?), THERE WILL BE NO TROUBLE. ON THE WU (DAY 55?), WINTER(?), GOING OUT AND COMING IN, IT WILL RAIN
MS in Chinese on oxen scapula bone, Xiaotun, China, 14th-12th c. BC, 1 bone, 11x7 cm, (6x6 cm), 4+2 lines in Chinese book script, prepared and cracked with burned marks on reverse.

Context: Around 100,000 oracle bones are known, widely scattered in museums and collections around the world. 7 of these are in The Schøyen Collection.

Provenance: 1. Royal archive of oracular records, Late Shang Dynasty of Anyang (14th-12th c. BC -); 2. Excavated in Xiaotun (ca. 1945); 3. Philosophical Research Society library, Los Angeles, 5/858 (-1995); 4. Sam Fogg Rare Books Ltd., London.

Commentary: Nearly all known Chinese oracle bones derive from Xiaotun near the ancient capital of the Late Shang Dynasty of Anyang. The oracular use of the bones involved the interpretation of pattern of cracks which appeared on the bones after subjection to heat by the application of a heated metal rod. The text records the interpretation of the oracle and the date of its production.

The oracle bones are so far the first preserved evidence of Chinese script in complete meaningful sentences.

See also MS 2103/2, Oracle bone, China, 14th-12th c. BC

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4.1.5. Europe

MS 5237/2  
ATAL -TARTE (ATLAS/ATLANTIS - TARTESSOS?) MS 5237/2
MS in an unknown pre Indo-European language on stag bone, Bancal de la Coruna, Spain, ca. 4000-3800 BC, 1 bone, 2,2x7,1x1,2 cm, 1 line with 6 Ibero-Tartessian signs, paper label pasted on the back with 3 lines of cursive script: " Ostas grabades con texto? Bancal de la Coruna, Hallaisgode 1916 no 104".

Context: Similar bones are MSS 5237/1 and 5238.

Provenance: 1. Found Bancal de la Coruna, Hallaisgode, Spain, no. 104 (1916); 2. Private collection, Spain, no 104 (1916-); 3. Michel Bouvier, Paris, Cat. L'Art de l'Ècriture, 2003:4.

Commentary: Hans Jensen, in "Sign, symbol and script", pp. 37-39, dates the signs from Dolmen d'Alvao in Portugal to about 4000 BC, being attached to Iberian writing. Stephen Fisher in "A history of writing", pp. 22-24, mentions 210 symbols and signs engraved on objects of the Vincas culture, that have been radio-carbon dated to about 4000 BC. According to Michaël Guichard, in "A history of writing", 2001/2002, pp. 17-19, Vinca (not far from modern Beograd) has given its name to the late Neolithic period of Danubian culture (5000-3800 BC). Clay figurines have been found with marks echoing protopictographic and Uruk IV pictographic script from Syria, Sumer or Highland Iran. The contents of these figurines, the seals of Kotacpart, and the clay tablet found at Gradesnica, remains a mystery due to the paucity of material so far found. This raises the question of where the cradle of continuous writing really was. So far there has been a contest between Egypt and Syria/Sumer/Highland Iran, with overwhelming recent evidence for the latter, dated to around 3500 BC.

In an article by Georgeos Diaz-Montexano:" Atlantis in an Iberian inscription of more than 6000 years. The oldest writing of western Europe", in: Scientific Atlantology International Society, 2005, the text is tentatively read as ATal-TaRTe, commented as follows: "…It is impossible to deny that these words (Atal) look much like the root that appears in the name of Atlantis, that is an adjectival Atlas form, whereas Tarte adjusts to the root reconstructed by the Spanish specialists on the old name of Tartessos…". "Plato in his history of Atlantis tells that the Atlanteans knew the writing. Strabo affirms that the Turdetanean's towns, direct descendants of the Tartessians, conserved historical annals and laws written in a grammar that went back to more than 6000 years before its time. Academic archaeology does not yet accept that this has been certain, thinking that it is a mere invention of Strabo. Nevertheless, in Iberia there have appeared many testimonies of inscriptions recorded or painted in caves, dolmenes, and in diverse objects of bone and ceramics which date back to more than 4000 BC, although some findings reported by Walterman Fein, Georgeos Diaz-Montexano and Jorge Maria Ribero-Meneses show clear evidence of the use of characters of alphabetical linear writing in palaeolithic context."

Exhibited: The Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology (PHI), Oslo, 13.10.2003-06.2005.

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MS 5238  
ACCOUNT OF 3+11+5+9+7 MEASURES OF UNIDENTIFIED COMMODITIES MS 5238
MS in an unknown pre Indo-European language on bone, Narbonne, France, ca. 4000-3800 BC, 1 bone, diam. 1,5x8,1 cm, 4 lines with 5 different numbers consisting of single strokes, ca. 16 pictographs and signs, paper label pasted on with 7 lines in cursive script: " Cabeza de cervico y marcas, Cueva de cruzada en Narbona Francia".

Context: Similar bones are in MSS 5237/1-2.

Provenance: 1. Found Cueva de Croisade, Narbonne, France, (1910-1920); 2. Private collection, Spain, (1910/1920-); 3. Michel Bouvier, Paris, Cat. L'Art de l'Ècriture, 2003:2.

Commentary: Hans Jensen, in "Sign, symbol and script", pp. 37-39, dates the signs from Dolmen d'Alvao in Portugal to about 4000 BC, being attached to Iberian writing. Stephen Fisher in "A history of writing", pp. 22-24, mentions 210 symbols and signs engraved on objects of the Vincas culture, that have been radio-carbon dated to about 4000 BC.

According to Michaël Guichard, in "A history of writing", 2001/2002, pp. 17-19, Vinca (not far from modern Beograd) has given its name to the late Neolithic period of Danubian culture (5000-3800 BC). Clay figurines have been found with marks echoing protopictographic and Uruk IV pictographic script from Syria, Sumer or Highland Iran. The contents of these figurines, the seals of Kotacpart, and the clay tablet found at Gradesnica, remains a mystery due to the paucity of material so far found. This raises the question of where the cradle of continuous writing really was. So far there has been a contest between Egypt and Syria/Sumer/Highland Iran, with overwhelming recent evidence for the latter, dated to around 3500 BC.

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MS 249  
UNIDENTIFIED TEXT, POSSIBLY A TRANSACTION BETWEEN AN INDIVIDUAL AND THE "CENTRAL ADMINISTRATION", KNOSSOS MS 249

MS in Minoan on clay, Knossos, Crete, 16th c. BC, 1 black roundel, 3,0x2,7 cm, 4 characters of late Minoan I Linear A script, 2 impressions (1,6x1,0 cm) on opposite edges by an amygdaloid seal with head of papyrus plant.

Provenance: 1. Possibly the archive in the West Wing of the Knossos Palace (16th c. BC - ca. 1950); 2. Erlenmeyer Collection, Basel, CMS no. 120 (until 1981); 3. Erlenmeyer Foundation, Basel (1981-1988); 4. Christie's 5.6.1989:99.

Commentary: The famous Linear B script of the Mycenean kings, consisting of syllabic signs, ideograms and numerals, resisted decipherment for a generation. When Michael Ventris deciphered it in 1952, the achievement was called the "Everest" in classical archaeology. The language was archaic Greek. Linear A, the earliest script of Europe, has so far resisted all attempts of decipherment, partly because the language is unknown, and the material small, ca. 700 copies only, while Linear B is known in 12,000 - 13,000 examples. This roundel is the only one in private ownership. Outside the Greek museums, they are, in fact, represented in 2 Italian museums only. KN Wc 26 in Erik Hallager: The Knossos roundels, BSA 82(1987).

Exhibited: The Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology (PHI), Oslo, 13.10.2003-06.2005.

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4.1.6. Americas

MS 2961 MS 2961
ACCOUNT OF 3+11+5+9+7 MEASURES OF UNIDENTIFIED COMMODITIES

MS in an unknown pre Indo-European language on bone, Narbonne, France, ca. 4000-3800 BC, 1 bone, diam. 1,5x8,1 cm, 4 lines with 5 different numbers consisting of single strokes, ca. 16 pictographs and signs, paper label pasted on with 7 lines in cursive script: " Cabeza de cervico y marcas, Cueva de cruzada en Narbona Francia".

Context: From the Piguiga hoard. For similar examples see MS 2960 and Sotheby's New York 2.6.1999:26, and 22.11.1999:22, both dated to 2300-2000 BC.

Two more examples published by Alvaro Guillot-Munoz: Les Pierres gravées pré-valdivia. Bruxelles, May 1997, VAL 19-20, dated to 3800-2800 BC.

Provenance: 1. Private collection, USA (-2000); 2. Bruce Ferrini, Akron, Ohio

Commentary:The Valdivian or pre-Valdivian stone plaques or star charts are the earliest evidence of "writing" from the Americas.

The scholars disagree on their dates and meaning. The earliest dating is contemporary with the earliest writing of Sumer and Egypt. The latest dating is about contemporary with the earliest writing of Europe, Indus Valley and China. The Valdivian culture flourished along the central coast of Ecuador, beginning in the period 3000-2700 BC, persisting until about 1400 BC. Its pottery is one of the oldest in the Americas. Its resemblance to the Jomon ware from Japan has led some scholars to believe that it was introduced into Ecuador as a result of Trans-Pacific contacts.

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4.1.7. First Alphabets

MS 5180 ms 5180
PROTO-CAANANITE NAME: PUHIK OR PIHAK

MS in Canaanite West Semitic on bronze, Israel/Palestine/Lebanon, 18th-17th century BC, 1 Axe, 19x5 cm (2x3 cm), 1 line with the 3 letters P or G, H and K in Proto-Sinaitic/Proto-Canaanite consonantal alphabetic script.


Context: There are about 50 short inscriptions carved by miners at the turquoise mines at Serabit al-Khadim in Sinai, and less than 20 inscriptions found in Israel/Palestine (Shechem, Gezer, Lachish), all except 3 in public collections.

Provenance: 1. The Gil Chaya Collection, Jerusalem and Geneve.

Commentary: This is the earliest alphabetical writing known. There are less than 30 pictographs/letters. The invention might have come from knowledge of Egyptian hieroglyphs, which had signs for consonants, but the Egyptians never used these alphabetically. Since the language is Canaanite West Semitic and not Egyptian, the invention probably took place in Israel/Palestine/Lebanon. This might have been the only script and language available in Sinai (apart from Egyptian) when the 10 Commandments were written down 16th-13th c. BC. Phoenician alphabetical script, ca. 12th c. BC, is the direct descendant of the Proto-Sinaitic/Proto-Canaanite alphabetical script (see MS 715), which again, developed into the Greek alphabet around 800 BC (see MS 108), that was the basis of the Latin alphabet. The developments of 1. language (spoken communication), 2. writing, 3. the alphabet, and 4. printing, are among the highest achievements and milestones in the evolution of humanity.

Published: To be published by Andrè Lemaire.

Exhibited: The Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology (PHI), Oslo, 13.10.2003-06.2005.

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MS 1955/6 ms 5180
LAWSUIT AGAINST SHAMUMANU, OWNER AND TREASURER OF A MARZIH, A SOCIAL BANQUETING CLUB, FROM ITS MEMBERS, THAT HE SHALL REPAY 50 SHEKELS OF SILVER THAT HE HAS STOLEN. SHAMUMANU, ANGERED BY THE ACCUSATION, THREATENS TO THROW THE CLUB MEMBERS OUT OF HIS HOUSE AND RELEGATE THEM TO A STALL, TO TREAT THEM LIKE ANIMALS. WITNESSES: IHIRASHPU SON OF UDRNN AND ABDINU SON OF SIGILDA

MS in Ugaritic on clay, Ras Shamra, Ugarit, Syria, 13th c. BC, 1 tablet, 10,3x8,5x2,0 cm, single column, 10+11+3 lines in alphabetic cuneiform script.

Context: Another tablet in alphabetic Ugaritic is MS 1955/5. For a tablet in Akkadian from the same hoard, see MS 1955/1.

Provenance: 1. Excavated Ras Shamra, Syria (1957); 2. Prof. Claude Schaeffer, College de France, Zürich (1957-1970); 3. Claremont Graduate School, Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont, California, RS 1957.702 (1970-1994).

Commentary: The Ugaritic tablets represent the 2nd earliest alphabet known. It has 30 signs and a word divider.

Published: Analecta Orientalia, 48, Roma, Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1971: Loren R. Fisher, editor, The Claremont Ras Shamra Tablets, pp. 37-54. .

Exhibited: 1. The Claremont Ras Shamra Tablets, at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont, California 1970-1994. 2. The Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology (PHI), Oslo, 13.10.2003-06.2005.

See also MS 715 Phoenician alphabetical script, Israel/Lebanon, 11th c.

See also MS 5235 Phoenician alphabetical script, Lebanon, ca. 539-532 BC

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MS 108
THE EARLIEST GREEK ALPHABET
MS in Greek on copper, Cyprus, ca. 800 BC, 2 tablets, 21x13 cm, single column, (19x10 cm), 20-23 lines in archaic Greek capitals with some North Semitic (Phoenician) letter forms by 2 or more scribes.

Binding: Greece, ca. 800 BC, strung together on both sides so as to fold in concertina fashion with holes in all 4 corners of both tablets.

Context: This is the oldest European alphabet, the oldest writing tablets extant, and part of the world's oldest book in codex form. The other old writing tablets are 2 from Nimrod, one ivory, the other walnut wood, dated 707 - 705 BC., in addition to a 8th c. BC Neo-Hittite wood tablet. (Roberts/Skeat: The Birth of the Codex, pp. 11-12.) Apart from the present MS the oldest Greek inscription of any length is the Dipylon oinochoe from Athens, ca. 740 BC. The oldest short inscriptions are dated ca. mid 8th c. BC.

A third tablet originally bound with the present ones is: "The Würzburger Alphabettafel", published by A. Henbeck: Würzburger Jahrbücher für Altertumswissenschaft, 12, pp. 7-20, 1986 and housed at the University of Würzburg, Martin-von-Wagner-Museum; a fourth is owner by a private collector. The codex originally consisted of at least 5 tablets.

Provenance: 1. School archive, Cyprus (ca. 800 - ca. 2nd c. BC); 2. Excavated in Fayum, Egypt; 3. Professor Aziz Suryal Atiyah, Utah, U.S.A. (-ca. 1960); 4. H.P. Kraus Cat. 165(1983):25.

Commentary: The alphabet on the plaques is now called the Fayum alphabet. The earliest Greek MS extant. An ABECEDARY contemporary with Homer, an amazing preservation of students' learning of the Greek alphabet at the very inception of its use. The Alphabet is repeated over and over, and contains the North Semitic (Phoenician) number of letters (22), ayin/aleph to taw/tau in Phoenician and Greek order, written in continuous retrograde lines. It represents the earliest and most complete link between Greek letter forms and the North Semitic parent forms. Writing tablets were familiar to Homer. It was on a folded tablet Proitos scratched the "deadly marks" that were intended to send Bellerophon to his death. The Iliad VI:168-179.

Published: Papyrologica Florentina, vol. XXXV. Rosario Pintaudi: Papyri Graecae Schøyen. Firenze, Edizioni Gonnelli, 2005 (Manuscripts in The Schøyen Collection V: Greek papyri, vol. I), pp. 149-160, by R.D. Woodward, D.A. Scott, P.K. McCarter, B. Zuckerman, M. Lundberg

Exhibited: 1. Conference of European National Librarians, Oslo. Sept. 1994. 2. "Preservation for access: Originals and copies". On the occasion of the 1st International Memory of the World Conference, organized by the Norwegian Commission for UNESCO and the National Library of Norway, at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, 3 June - 14 July 1996. 3. The Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology (PHI), Oslo, 13.10.2003-06.2005.

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