Subject:      Cherokee script
From: (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/06/18
Message-ID:   <5o8o52$n7b$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,sci.lang,soc.culture.native

Ross Clark ([21] wrote:
: Bart Torbert wrote:

[someone else:]
: > >: I have severe doubts that Maillard invented the Micmac hieroglyphs,
for : > the : > >: reasons given above, and also, what was his motive? Why
invent a : > cumbersome : > >: hieroglyphic script when he had a perfectly
good alphabet and far : > superior : > >: writing system already (Latin
letters, Arab numbers)???

: The Micmac hieroglyphic system, with over 5000 characters, is truly
: bizarre, but not entirely out of context.

So what was the context, Ross? Some European missionary just up and
decided to invent an extremely complex writing system out of the blue?

: Ideas of a "real character", a
: writing system that would directly represent thought, were common in
: Europe in the 17th-18th century. These ideas preceded (and perhaps even
: impeded) the ultimate correct decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Ideas
: like this could well have inspired the missionary.

Do we have any evidence that other Europeans were inventing hieroglyphs a
lot at the time?

: It would be good to
: hear from someone who has looked at the original sources on this.
: Needless to say, Barry Fell's attempts to show specific connections with
: Egyptian are quite unconvincing.
: All of what I've just said is quite independent of the question of
: whether the missionaries (or Sequoyah) took some of the forms of their
: characters from previously existing signs.

>From obscure ancient European scripts?

: All cultures that I've ever
: heard about make visible signs (by drawing, carving, tattooing, sand
: painting, or whatever) that have meaning. People will often point to
: these and say "That's our writing". But the arguments about the origin
: and diffusion of writing are based on a much narrower definition of the
: term. In "true writing", the visible signs piggyback on spoken language,
: which is already a highly sophisticated and complex system. With true
: writing, anything you can say can be converted into visible form once you
: have mastered a limited number of symbols. So it is quite possible that
: the Micmac, say, were making some of these pictures long before the white
: man arrived.

So now you're saying that Micmacs had something similar to writing but not

: But they were not writing. What the missionary did was to
: use them to construct a (highly impractical) writing system.

One very creative missionary...

: My impression from some reading of early European accounts of the peoples
: of North America and elsewhere is that most of these travellers would
: have been most interested in the existence of writing among any Native
: American people. The idea that they would go to great lengths to conceal
: the fact in order to protect their cultural prejudices seems to me a
: projection from the Age of X-Files onto a very different world. If we do
: not find any mention of writing in early records, the most obvious
: conclusion is that it wasn't there.

Well, Ross, not quite. I'm giving you two cases of clearly precolumbian
Native writing. (At least this is reasonably clear.) One is the Parejhara
system of the Andes, and the other is the Cuna system in Panama. In the
case of the latter, early observers said it was Native. Missionaries
didn't get any credit for this one... Nobody seems to be interested too
much in these systems... I wonder why not? So don't you think a similar
lack of interest on the part of mainstream scholars may be responsible for
a lack of effort to verify these Native claims that their systems were

: If someone says "Aha, but it was a
: secret, never revealed to outsiders"...well, I guess we'll never know for
: sure.

Again, not quite. In fact, not at all. A writing system speaks for itself.
_If_ it is ancient, just because our generation of scholars cannot figure
it out, it doesn't mean that future scholars will be equally as helpless
to determine its true history...

: Incidentally, my dismissal of the work of the late Barry Fell is based on
: more than 20 years' acquaintance with his writings.

Well, Barry was quite a character... Clearly there were problems with his
methodology. But you have to keep in mind that some quite respectable
epigraphic scholars gave him credit for some of the things he pointed out.
Even if 10% of his efforts were valid, this still will be quite

Broadsides against Fell are dime a dozen. But how many "respectable
scholars" really tried to sort out his claims in order to find out
something of value among his theories? Would you say _everything_ he
claimed is bunk?



Yuri Kuchinsky   | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
     -=-         | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient
 in Toronto      | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
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