Chapter 8: THE SOPHISTICATION OF THE ALPHABET
The study of the alphabet shows us something of man's great sophistication in very early times, widespread travel, and interaction with distant lands and peoples.
After much study, Gordon concluded that at least some early alphabets served three functions simultaneously: arithmetic, calendric, and phonetic. Thus, depending on the context, the letter "a" stood for the number value of "1," the first day of a month, or the phonetic sound we associate with it. Only the last function is fully utilized in our culture today, although we do make minor use of the alphabet in placing things in order from A to Z. This three-way use of each letter in ancient times provided an infinite store of possibilities for memory devices to remember and transmit the culture orally. Such memory devices were used in navigation, world-wide travel, science, technology, mathematics, astronomy, time reckoning, land and marine architecture, cartography, principles of economics, law and religion, agriculture, animal husbandry, weaving, ceramics, metallurgy, and writing. We can assume that little rhymes or sayings could be accurately and quickly coded and decoded into formulas, procedures, laws, and the like. Traces of this ancient skill remain today. Illiterate Mayan peasants still retain the amazing skill and speed of their ancestors in making calendrical calculations. This skill deserves study which may reveal to us something of the sophistication of the ancients. The ancient Sea People had to have an alphabet for direction finding and time reckoning. They had to have a calendar for the solar year and for the seasons. They needed a system for calculating the lunar cycles, for their records, and for bookkeeping. The astonishing thing is that they only needed from twenty to thirty symbols for accomplishing all these tasks.
Our alphabet today, which retains only the sound values, is a shadow of the real miracle of this invention (Gordon, 1971, p. 105, 172).
Vere Gordon Childe notes that the hieroglyphic script comes from elements whose origin is clearly derived from the plants and animals of the Nile region. Yet its curious combination of phonetic signs with ideographs and determinants agrees so strikingly with the Babylonian that the two systems must be interrelated (Custance, 1961, p. 9).
One dialect of Indo-European Hittite was printed with movable stamps or type. The example found in Crete was the mysterious Phaistos disc, which must have been carried there from Asia Minor. The disc has not been deciphered. As one intriguing possibility, the Phaistos disc could be a highly sophisticated device to lead the mariner to a distant port, each symbol of the spiral being a significant astronomical or land checkpoint on the way. It is more likely that all the symbols are astral due to the spiral design of the disc. The ancients associated the spiral with the movements of the constellations in the heavens.
Carvings said to be Phoenician, other Mediterranean languages, or unknown
scripts have been reported in many parts of the world. Such carvings have
been observed in large numbers in the Amazon and Orinoco River tributary
systems. More evaluation is needed of these reports. Many inscriptions
have been found in past years in the Andean plateau which cannot yet be
translated and which are thus far unidentified as to origin. Among other
mysteries reported having to do with language is a recent find in the Well
of the Virgins at Chichen-Itza. Associated with 13th century A.D. artifacts
was a doll crudely made of wood and wax. A few Latin letters were carved
on it. The Spanish did not arrive there until the 16th century(Berlitz,
1972, p. 57, 158); Argosy, May 1968, p. 65-67). The mystery, however, fades
when one reads Fell (1976) where he has made an interesting but controversial
beginning in deciphering many old Inscriptions found in America which were
long written off as frauds or which were simply ignored. The brief Inscription
referred to above is only one of many evidences of transoceanic travel
long before Columbus. Some such Inscriptions are known to be fraudulent.
There is every reason to believe that others are genuine.
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