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Ancient African writing, how did it look like?

Ancient African writing existed for many years even before well-known European writings emerged. Did you know what writing systems existed in Africa and how they developed with time? Keep reading to find out more.

African writing

Many people believed that black African population was illiterate for the most of its history. However, scientific evidence shows that African population had numerous writing systems that were found and investigated by the scientists.

The evolution theory adherents believe that the African writing goes as far as 100,000 years back. The researchers discovered remains of engravings. These carvings were found in the Blombos Cave in South Africa and according to the scientists depict the presence of intelligence back at those times.

Those engravings cannot yet be called a language; however, they are the first stage on the way to the language as we know it today. Those pictures were used as a way to communicate accurate information to a specific target audience. That is why scientists believe that those engravings can be considered to be the first stage on a way to language systems emerging.

african writing symbols

The adherents of the creationism theory state that those engravings cannot be dated as those that belong to the 100,000 BC. They refer to those engravings as to the first African symbols, though. Between 5000 – 3000 BC so-called Proto-Saharan African writing system emerged.

These writing attempts were found in Kharga oasis near “Nubia.” This shows that African writing traditions came into being earlier than those of European language systems. For instance, Greek writing found in Iklaina, Greece, is dated to 1400 BC, which is more than three thousand years later than the writings found in Africa.

african writing symbol

The other African writing system, Nsibidi, can be dated to 5000 BC. Basically, this system is a number of pictograms each of which has its meaning and definition. This system was used by two people in Nigeria region, namely, Uguakima and Ekoi. Moreover, this writing was used by well-known Igbo, Efik and Ibibio people.

Even though the historians date this writing back to 5000 BC, the evidence found that proves the existence of this system can only be dated back to 2000 BC.

african writing system

The next African writing is known as Medu Neter. It appeared as a “language God speaks”. The language became known as “hieroglyphs.” The meaning of the symbols depends on the context it is used in. One symbol of this African writing could mean either a single word or a concept. Therefore, you would not be able to understand the writing if you come from the outside of the context this writing is used in.

The first discovery of this system can be dated back to the 4000 BC in so known “Gerzean culture” that was one located in the Giza neighborhood as well as in Nubia that was already mentioned above.

The second discovery that proves the existence of Medu Neter African writing system was dated by the scientists back to the 3000 BC. This writing was discovered in a “Scorpion” tomb. For some reason, the tomb was chosen as a hiding place for clay tablets on which the reports on oil consumption was written.

The other discoveries of the Medu Neter show that this writing was used in different areas of everyday life of people that invented it. It was employed in the spiritual life activities as we;; administrative documents. This writing was also a language of science of the region, states the online resource Ta Neter. The latest sign of its usage is dated up to 600 AD.

african writing systems

The next African writing system is called Kemetic. It was used in the same period as Medu Neter. The most famous usage of it is that by Saint Clement of Alexandria. This man came up with the special writing for priesthood only.

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This writing is somehow different and still close to the Medu Neter writing system. It looks easier to work with, and this is not a surprise, as the writing was aiming to help advance writing in science and administration.

african writing styles

The other African writing is Thinite. It was used for approximately 500 years, and its remains were found on the pottery in Upper Kemet. The writing, however, is extremely close to the Proto-Saharan one.

african writing style

Algeria was a place where first signs of Tifinagh writing style were discovered. Interesting is that this writing is still widely popular among people from Niger, Chad, Algeria, Lybia and Burkina Faso. These people are known to have started using the writing back in 3000 BC and up till today.

african writing styles Vai

The oldest African writing is known to be Vai. It has been in use since 3000 BC and till now. Almost 200,000 people use it today to communicate their thoughts and feelings as well as in science and administrative work. People from Liberia and Sierra Leone are the main users of this African writing style.

The Vai is basically a set of more than two hundred characters that are both consonants and vowels. Though many people today believe that Vai was only invented in the 19th century, there is scientific proof that this writing existed for more than people can think of.

Another interesting African writing system is known as an Ethiopic one. It consists of more than two hundred symbols and is widely spread among the Ethiopic languages. Today the language can be heard in Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches as well as some churches in Israel. This writing system can be referred to as one of the oldest African writings as it has been in use for a long time.

Moreover, an interesting African writing is a Coptic one. It emerged in the 4th century in the Nile Delta. The name of the writing refers to the god known as Ptah. It unites two other writing systems among which is Proto-Saharan one.

This script also used certain parts of the famous Greek writing. The language emerged in the 4th century as an attempt of ancient descendants of people of Kemet and their Greek invaders to create a common language.

african writing styles Old Nubian

The latest known African writing system is known as Old Nubian. It emerged in the 9th century and was used up to the 16th century. Old Nubian language is a language that served as a source of Nubian language we know today.

Moreover, this writing is a mix of the mentioned above language of Copts and well-known Napatan writing. It was later used by people of the Christian kingdom of Makuria.

As you can see the African writings are diverse and have a long history of how each of them developed in a particular region for a specific purpose. The development of the African writing systems is exciting to learn as it reveals the lifestyle and way of thinking of people that populated African continent in the years far back in the history and today.

Unfortunately, there are not many pictures of the scientific evidence of each of these writing systems and styles in Africa. However, even those you can find are quite bright and together with the scientific evidence explanation can be of great value to the historians and regular people willing to learn more on this matter.

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