Ancient African Writing (Part 1)

Ancient Africa has the world’s oldest and largest collection of ancient writing systems. Evidence of such dates to pre-historic times, and can be found in various regions of the continent. By contrast, continental Europe’s oldest writing, Greek, was not fully in use until c. 1400 BC (a clay tablet found in Iklaina, Greece) and is largely derived from an older African script called Proto-Sinaitic. The oldest Asian writing, Proto-Cuneiform, dates to around 3000 BC (clay texts found at Jemdet Nasr). However, the oldest known African writing systems are several centuries older. Proto Saharan (5000 – 3000 BC) Perhaps the world’s oldest known form of writing are inscriptions of what some archaeologists and linguists have termed, “Proto Saharan” near the Kharga oasis west of so-called “Nubia” that date to at least 5,000 BC. The writings under the image that looks like the Nilotic god Seth show similarities to later writing systems such as Tifinagh and Vai.

Nsibidi (5000 BC – present):

Nsibidi Writing

Nsibidi Writing

Nsibidi is an ancient script used to communicate in various languages in West Africa. It is mostly used by the Uguakima and Ejagham (Ekoi) people of Nigeria and Cameroon, the Ebe, Efik, Ibibio, Igbo, and Uyanga people. The script is believed to date back to 5000 BC, but the oldest archaeological evidence ever found dates it to 2000 BC (monoliths in Ikom, Nigeria). Similar to the Kemetic Medu Neter, Nsibidi is a system of standardized pictographs. Both Nsibidi and Medu Neter share several of the exact same characters.

Medu Neter or Ta Merrian “Hieroglyphs” (4000 BC – 600 AD):

Medu Neter on an excerpt from the "Papyrus of Ani" (1250 BC), a spriritual and metaphysical work of literature.

Medu Neter on an excerpt from the “Papyrus of Ani” (1250 BC), a spriritual and metaphysical work of literature.

The word Medu Neter means, “God’s words.” The English word, “hieroglyphs,” is derived from the Greek word, “hieroglyphikos,” which means “sacred engraving,” similar to the basic meaning of “Medu Neter.” This script is an elaborate, logosyllabic writing system in which symbols represent either words and consonal phoenetic sounds, or both, depending on the context. The oldest known evidence for this writing system comes from pre-dynastic pottery at Gerzeh (c. 4000 – 3500 BC), which is located about 100 miles south of Ha Ka Ptah (Giza), and from inscriptions found at Gebel Sheikh Suleiman in Nubia. The next oldest form of Medu Neter dates between 3300 and 3200 BC and found in Abdu (tomb of the so-called “Scorpion” suten in Abydos) on clay tablets that recorded oil and linen deliveries. During the dynastic period (3100 BC – 500 AD), Medu Neter was used on the oldest of all historical texts, the “Narmer Palette” (3100 BC), then widely used in the metaphysical/spiritual “Pyramid texts” (2400 – 2200 BC), coffin texts (2200-2000 BC), and the scientific, spiritual and administrative papyri (1825-600 BC).

Kemetic “Hieratic” (3200 BC – 600 AD):

An excerpt from the "Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus" (1500-1600 BC), housed by the New York Academy of Medicine.

An excerpt from the “Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus” (1500-1600 BC), housed by the New York Academy of Medicine.

The term, “Hieratic” was first coined by Saint Clement of Alexandria (c 200 AD), a Greek theologian who used the term “grammata hieratika” or priestly/sacerdotal writing. Although many scholars contend that “Hieratic” developed as an entirely distinct script from the Medu Neter, the obvious visual similarities prove that it is also a somewhat simplified form of the Medu Neter that was mainly used for more administrative and scientific documents throughout the dynastic history of both Kemet and Kush (3200 BC – 600 AD). However, linquists have also shown similaries between it and the alphabetic Proto-Saharan or Thinite writing.

Continue to Part 2

By: Ta


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