25 Undeciphered Writing Systems That We Might Never Figure Out

There’s no doubt that without language our world would be a totally different place since most of us agree that language and the written word are the building blocks of human expression. The list of things that would not exist without writing is almost endless: there would be no books, no recorded history, no songs, no newspapers, no magazines, no films, no television programs, no comics, no Internet, and so on. Additionally, before the advent of the telephone people wouldn’t have been able to communicate over long distances through letters if there were no writing systems. Without language and writing we would not be able to fully express our thoughts and feelings, passions and desires. To make a long story short, writing systems are vital to a society and without them no civilization could ever be complete or remembered. However, throughout the years many writing systems have been discovered that we still can’t understand or interpret. The difficulty in deciphering these usually arises from the lack of known language descendants, from the languages being entirely isolated, from insufficient examples of discovered texts, or from whether the glyphs found actually constitute a writing system at all. These are 25 Undeciphered Writing Systems That We Might Never Figure Out.

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The Alekanovo inscription

The Alekanovo inscriptionSource: ancientscripts.com, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

The Alekanovo inscription is a group of undeciphered characters found in the fall of 1897 in the Russian village of Alekanovo by Russian archaeologist Vasily Gorodtsov. The characters were inscribed on a small clay pot fifteen centimeters high found at a Slavic burial site. Although the inscription has been authenticated, we’re not quite sure if this is an organized writing system people actually used or something else, perhaps art.


The Quipu “writing” system

The Quipu “writing” systemSource: ancientscripts.com, Image: Wikipedia

Even though there is still much to be learned about the Inca and their forebears, without a doubt one of the most intriguing mysteries is their writing system, or the apparent lack thereof. The quipu “writing” system is the only thing we inherited from them but have failed to interpret.


Mixtec writing

Mixtec writingSource: ancientscripts.com, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Mixtec writing is classified as logographic, meaning the characters and pictures used represent complete words and ideas instead of syllables or sounds. In Mixtec the relationships among pictorial elements denote the text’s meaning, whereas in other Mesoamerican writing the pictorial representations are not incorporated into the text. The characters used in Mixtec can be sorted into three types: pictographic, ideographic, and phonetic. The origin and accurate interpretation of the Mixtec writing system, however, remains unknown.


Zapotec Writing

Zapotec WritingSource: ancientscripts.com, Image: Wikipedia

Rising in the late preclassic era after the decline of the Olmec civilization, the Zapotecs of present-day Oaxaca built an empire around Monte Alban. On a few monuments at this site archaeologists have found extended text in a glyphic script. Some signs can be recognized as calendric information but the script as such remains undeciphered.


The Isthmian script

The Isthmian scriptSource: ancientscripts.com, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

The Isthmian script, also known as the La Mojarra script, is a very early Mesoamerican writing system that was in use around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec from 500 BCE to 500 CE, although there is disagreement concerning these dates. Isthmian script is similar in structure to the Maya script, and like the Maya uses one set of characters to represent logograms (word units) and a second to represent syllables.

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