Cylindrical cylinder seal (Photo: Christopher von Nagy)
Read aloud American researchers have found the oldest writing in the New World in Mexico. The anthropologists around Mary Pohl of the State University of Florida discovered the hieroglyphs on a cylindrical stone seal and on the fragments of a Jade plate, they report in the journal "Science" (vol.298, p. 1985). Scientists estimate that the artefacts unearthed in the Tabasco area date back to around 650 BC. They belong to the time of the Olmecs and are about 350 years older than the earliest known writings from Central America.

So far, experts thought that the oldest writing in the New World came from the Maya, whose high culture lasted from 400 BC to 800 AD. The new findings suggest that the Olmecs' way of communicating in writing led to the later writing of subsequent cultures.

However, it is still not entirely clear whether the signs on the seal and the plate actually represent spoken language and thus true writing, or whether the carvings only depict images of objects or persons. Some of the pictures are similar to those in a modern comic from the mouths of portrayed persons or animals. Therefore, Pohl and her colleagues argue that they are clearly spoken words. An additional argument for this assumption: "The Olmecs were the first people in Central America to have a political structure at the state level, and writing is a way to communicate power and influence, " explains the anthropologist.

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