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12 Strangest Writing Systems Ever Used

By: Epic WildlifePublished: 1 year ago

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From the famous hieroglyphics of the Ancient Egyptians … to the mysterious Talking Knots of the Inca … Here are the 12 Strangest Writing Systems Ever Used!

Ogham (AH-mm)
This system was referred to as the Celtic Tree Alphabet. That’s because all the letters are named for assorted types of trees … and the symbols somewhat resemble trees as well. It was used primarily between the 4th and 8th centuries AD in medieval Ireland … some sources claim that Ogham dates to the 1st century BC. Ogham (AH-mm) consists of what appear to be tally marks or lines that were carved into stone or wood. Strictly speaking, Ogham (AH-mm) refers to the writing system as a whole. The individual letters are called ‘Beith Luis Nin’ (I hope I’m somewhat close on that).

Cuneiform (k’you-nih-form)
This is among the earliest forms of writing and was developed by the Sumerians in present-day Iraq … around the late 4th millennium BC. It’s notable for its wedge-shaped markings made on clay tablets with a stylus, usually a blunt reed. It started off using pictograms, which later became more simplified and abstract. The use of Cuneiform (k’you-nih-form) had several drawbacks … including complications from one symbol having multiple meanings. It was a difficult language to master, requiring years of intense study by dedicated scribes.

Ersu Shaba (Ur-sue sha-bah) Script
This writing system is largely pictographic -- that is, it conveys meaning through the pictorial resemblance to a physical object … And it’s used in religious written works of the Ersu (ur-sue) people of Tibet. They considered an endangered minority of around 20,000 speakers. But it’s believed that only ten are able to comprehend the Ersu Shaba script, and these are likely priests. Because the pictograms can’t fully render the Ersu language, the script was unlikely to be used for day to day written communication. Today, it is used primarily for religious purposes. Speakers of the language are more likely to use Chinese or Tibetan scripts for their daily concerns. Did you know that Ersu Shaba (Ur-sue sha-bah) script is the only known script that incorporates color into its structure?

Proto-Elamite (Proto Ell-uh-mite) Script
You can call this written language a mystery that spans several millennia. Written from right to left, the script was first used more than 5,000 years ago in what is now present-day Iran … and is unlike any other ancient script. The Proto-Elamites (Proto Ell-uh-mites) appear to have been influenced by the cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia … as they went on to invent their own unique symbols. Unfortunately, they didn’t keep accurate records of those symbols … resulting in some 1600 recovered tablets remaining undeciphered. In 2012, a group of Oxford scholars released high quality images of those tablets online in the hope that crowdsourcing might help decode the Proto-Elamite (Proto Ell-uh-mite) script. The project is ongoing.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs
It’s one of the world’s oldest writing systems, dating back to around 3300 BC. And it’s likely the most recognizable script on our list. Hieroglyphs are characters in any writing system in which symbols represent both objects and ideas. But this complex system of hieroglyphs represented both the sounds AND characters that symbolized words. Because these hieroglyphs appear so often in tombs, it’s more likely the script was employed mostly for religious and formal purposes. Egyptians had another simplified script called ‘Hieratic’ (hi-rattick), which was used for everyday purposes.
The ancient Egyptian script was written in the Greek alphabet in the 1st century. A form of that is used today by Egyptian Coptic Christians. Knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost in the 5th century. The symbols weren’t deciphered until the 1820s with the help of the Rosetta Stone.

Quipu (KEE-poo)
This is among the most unique ways of transmitting information -- it uses knots tied into string.. Hence the nickname, ‘Talking Knots.’ It dates back some 4,600 years … and was used by the Inca. Among other applications, Talking knots were used for taxation, historical information, astronomy and may have been used for maps. Only the numbers have been deciphered by experts … but archaeologists think the system contained both words and numbers. It’s not completely known whether the knots’ position, spacing or color may have held particular significance. Did you know Spanish conquistadores prohibited the use of Quipu to prevent secret messages being communicated. Less than 800 collections of the knotted string survive today, and are often found inside graves. Experts think they may contain the life story of the deceased.

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