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No. 76: Jul-Aug 1991

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The mexican sellos: possible evidence for early european contacts

Mexican sello with stylized heron
Mexican sello with stylized heron incorporating Libyan characters, such as those listed at the right.
Thousands of Mexican sellos (seals), both of the cylinder and flat types, have been collected in the world's archeological museums. Many bear striking designs, like that of the heron shown below. For too many years, archeologists have considered these designs to be only designs. But with more discerning examination, bolstered by knowledge of ancient Old World alphabets, it now appears that these seals incorporate many letters from Libyan, Iberian, Punic, and other alphabets.

Since many of the Mexican sellos date back to 1200 BC, the implication is that Old World-New World contacts occurred long before the Christian era.

But, asks G.F. Carter in his long article on the sellos, if the ancient peoples of Mexico and Central America did absorb Old World symbols, "Why was the alphabet not developed instead of the clumsy hieroglyphics?"

(Carter, George F.; "Mexican Sellos: Writing in America, or the Growth of an Idea?" Epigraphic Society, Occasional Papers, 19:159, 1990.)

Comment. Hieroglyphics do appear clumsy to us, but perhaps it is because we do not fully appreciate them. There may be nuances of shape and rendition that convey more than the bare translation of the glyph, just as a sonnet is more than the sum of its words.

From Science Frontiers #76, JUL-AUG 1991. 1991-2000 William R. Corliss