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Taube Confirms Early Olmec Writing


Researchers Find Evidence of the Earliest Writing in the New World

UC Riverside Anthropologist on team confirming that the Olmec wrote it down back in 900 BC

(September 14, 2006)

Frontal view of Cascajal block, Veracruz, Mexico. Credit: ScienceEnlarge

Frontal view of Cascajal block, Veracruz, Mexico. Credit: Science

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — UC Riverside Anthropologist Karl Taube helped confirm the earliest writing in the New World, carved into the flat surface of a stone block in a remote region in southern Veracruz, Mexico. The research will be published in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Science.

Taube, a professor at UC Riverside for 18 years, was part of a team of researchers who traveled in the Spring to examine 62 hieroglyphic signs, 28 of them distinct elements. The team determined that they were created by the Olmec people no later than 900 BC, based on nearby art.

“This is extremely important because we never recognized this writing system, until this discovery,” said Taube. “This is a whole new ball game when looking at the Olmec. We’ve known they have very elaborate art, and iconography, but this is the first strong indication that they had visually recorded speech.”

The initial discovery was made by two archeologists from Mexico, Maria del Carmen Rodríguez and Ponciano Ortíz, but there was some debate about the significance of the find. Taube was one of the experts brought in to make a positive identification.

A full copy of the report is available through the Office of Public Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Contact: (202) 326-6440 or scipak@aaas.org.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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