Archaeologists working in the Veracruz lowlands in Mexico have come across a stone slab inscribed with what seems to be the oldest writing yet discovered in the New World. The writingon the slab dates back nearly 3000 years to the height of the Olmec culture that was the first Mesoamerican civilisation, Mexican archaeologists report.Now to be known as the Cascajal slab, it was found along with a number of other artefacts from a quarry at Lomas de Tacamichapa, in 1999, where it had been destined for use in road fill.
The slab weighs about 12 kilograms and is about the length and width of a laptop computer, but much deeper (36 centimetres by 21 cm by 12 cm). It is blank except for one side, which has been ground smooth and inscribed with 62 symbols of a hieroglyphic script. The symbols are arranged in rows and some are repeated, similar to other written languages.
Three of the 28 distinct symbols appear four times, six appear three times, and 12 appear twice. Some symbols resemble objects including an insect, an ear of corn and a throne.
Of course it is one thing finding and dating the slab, but it will be quite another working out what it means.
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