Ancient African Writing (Part 3)

Contunued from Part 2

“Meroitic” or Napatan (800 BC – 600 AD):

Meroitic Script

Meroitic Script

The so-called “Meroitic” script was developed sometime around 800 BC in Napata, the new capital of Ethiopia or Kush, and remained in use after the capital moved to Meroe until the 7th century AD. Thus a more appropriate name for the script would be “Napatan,” in reference to the first known place of use. Archaelogists have found countless stelae (such as the one shown at right), in addition to inscriptions on temple walls and statues which have the script, and few linguists have ever attempted to translate the text. Contrary to popular belief, the Napatan script has been deciphered and is found to be a wholly African language, with close similarities to modern languages of Taman (spoken in Darfur and Chad), Niyma (in Northern Sudan) and Nubian (Southern Egypt).

Ge’ez or “Ethiopic” (800 BC – present):

A bible excerpt written in Ge'ez script.

A bible excerpt written in Ge’ez script.

The Ge’ez script is an advanced syllabary script consisting of 231 characters used to communicate in several Ethiopic languages. It is unquestionably one of the oldest writing systems in continuous use anywhere in the world. Although the original Ge’ez language is only used in Ethiopian and Eritrean Tawahedo Orthodox churches and the Beta Israel churches, the Ge’ez script is mainly used by speakers of Amharic, Tigre and Tigrinya, among others. The oldest known evidence of Ge’ez writing can be found on the Hawulti stela, which dates to the pre-Aksumite-era or roughly 800 BC. Therefore, evidence suggests Ge’ez could be older than the “Old Ethiopian” script, even though the latter appears to be more primitive than the former.

“Old Ethiopian” or “Sabaean” (700 BC – 600 AD):

Old Ethiopian Inscription at the Temple of Yehu.

Old Ethiopian Inscription at the Temple of Yehu.

Sabean is another ancient African syllabary script that is similar to Ge’ez and a descendant of the Proto-Saharan system. The word “Sabaean” itself derives from the Western name, “Sheba” (from the Ge’ez word, Saba, whom modern Ethiopians call Makeda), the D’mt leader to whom the “Sabaean” or “Old Ethiopian” script is attributed. Sabaean is found all over Ethiopia and Yemen, a former colony of ancient Ethiopia’s D’mt empire. It is important to reiterate that the Arabian peninsula was first colonized by Ethiopians, not vice versa, as attested in ancient literature (see page on the history of Ethiopia/Kush). Secondly, the oldest examples of the “Sabaean” script are inscriptions at the Temple of Yeha in modern-day Ethiopia, which local historians generally date to 700 BC. There are also several inscriptions at Aksum, the principal city (perhaps not the only one) from which Queen Makeda reigned. Not only is the Old Ethiopian inscription at Yeha older than any others ever found on the Arabian peninsula, there are subtle differences, as clearly noted by some 19th century linguists such as James Theodore Bent, David Heinrich Mueller, and John George Garson. In other words, “Old Ethiopian” is older and somehwat different than the so-called “Old Arabian/Sabaean” script.

Continue to Part 4

By: Ta


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