by Ellen Lloyd
One of the most
mysterious ancient artifacts ever discovered is the
Cascajal Block that contains the
oldest known written language in the Americas.
The inscribed stone tablet was found by workmen in Veracruz, Mexico
in the late 1990s and at the time of the discovery no-one understood
the importance of the tablet.
In 2006, scientists revealed the significance of the inscription to
The Cascajal block weighs some 12 kilograms (26 lb) and measures
36×21×13 centimeters (14×8×5 in). It is inscribed with 62 symbols,
made up of some 28 individual markings.
Studies of the artifact revealed the tablet did not contain just
pretty picture, but was in fact evidence of a writing system in use
in the New World around 900 BC.
The Cascajal block was made by the mysterious
Olmec civilization and contains the
earliest example of written language ever found in the
Zapotec examples by several hundred
Scientists were familiar with the remarkable enormous sculpted Olmec
heads, but never before had there been any indication that they used
a written language.
The slab contains a previously
system of writing.
credit: S Houston
Of the 28 glyphs, several are repeated, including the insect
Several of the symbols
are known from other Olmec artifacts, but researchers are skeptical
about ever deciphering the script and do not know how it relates to
the Mixe-Zoquean languages the Olmecs may have spoken.
The Cascajal block has sparked a fierce scientific debate on many
occasions. Not all scholars are convinced the artifact is genuine.
Skeptics ask that if this
is evidence of a written language, why has no one found any other
The Cascajal block
is a very controversial artifact
could change history as we know it.
Other Mesoamerican writing systems tend to be written vertically,
whereas the Cascajal text forms broadly horizontal lines. In fact,
it has precious few similarities with any other known ancient
writing from the region, such as that of the Mayans.
In the absence of an Olmec 'Rosetta Stone’, the controversial
Cascajal block will be debated until someone finds a similar
artifact with the same glyphs.
Is the Cascajal block genuine or not? The jury is still out on that