“These pictographs are codified information that was either transmitted among the people, or it was an attempt to transmit information from the [human] societies to the gods.” – Volodya Popov, Director of Pleven Regional Museum of History
RIBEN, BULGARIA – Archaeologists working on the Roman site of Ad Putea, near the town of Riben in Bulgaria, have stumbled across an exciting find: a stone tablet that’s over 7,000 years old that may hold the earliest form of writing ever found on Earth.
The tablet was found beneath the ancient Roman road station called Ad Putea. It’s far older than any of the Roman archaeology going on at the site. Just this year, the archaeological digs there had gotten down into a Chalcolithic (Copper Age) settlement and managed to unearth a ceramic tablet. It’s a fragment from a clay vessel that dates all the way back to 5,000 BC, and it seems to have pre-alphabetic writing etched into its sides.
It’s an exciting find. The earliest known form of writing we have is found in Egypt and Mesopotamia. This tablet would predate those forms of communication by over 2,000 years. Bulgarian archaeologists believe it could prove to be the first ever instance of written communication in the world – though that is yet to be determined.Since they have no language to compare it to, the archaeologists have no surefire way of deciphering the meaning of the text. Until they can, they can’t be sure what it was for. Popov did say that they recognized a few of the symbols, though. One was a swastika – a symbol that, until the Nazis adopted it in the 20th century – was a common symbol for good luck.
Popov speculates, due to the nature of some of the symbols on the ceramic, that it was probably used to communicate to the gods in some religious rite or ritual. If it was that special, it explains how the fragment would have survived all these years. It’s been remarkably well-preserved.
The writing does resemble other pictographic writing around the world. Societies like ancient Mesopotamia and Sumer are famous for etching their pictographs into wet clay with wedge-shaped tools. It’s possible that the practice originated here, in the Balkans. Popov is convinced he can prove the “discovery of a century” if only more research is done on pictographic writing in Northern Bulgaria.
Since the find, the excavations at the Ancient Roman road station, Ad Putea, have been paused. A new investigation will start next year, in 2017, refocusing from the Roman occupation to the Chalcolithic settlement to whom the tablet belongs. It’ll be headed by prehistory experts from the National Institute of Archaeology in Sofia.
It’s not the first prehistoric artifact to be discovered in Bulgaria that might have pre-alphabetic writing on it. A few artifacts found near Karanovo sported some possibly pictographic writing, and, recently, the Bulgarian government unveiled a 7,000-year-old prism etched with what might be pre-alphabetic writing to the public. It’s currently housed in the Regional Museum of History in Burgas. It’s artifacts like this that lead Popov to want to dig deeper into Bulgaria’s prehistory.
So far, they haven’t released the tablet for public viewing. The fragment will be open to be viewed by the public in early 2017, at a conference at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
In the coming years, Volodya and his team of researchers and the experts with the National Institute of Archaeology in Sofia intend to do a little more intensive research on Northern Bulgaria. They’re hoping that more research will finally uncover whether or not writing really did begin here. Either way, Popov seems pretty confident.
“The first pictographic writing emerged here, in the Balkans, and, more precisely in this region of Northwest Bulgaria. All this information suggests that the proto-writing that developed into the linear writing of Sumer and the hieroglyphs of Egypt 2,000 years later started here.” – Volodya Popov.