Semitic Script Symbols in Early Egypt - Part II

Evidence from the Balkans

Following are examples of two objects with markings from a Balkan-Danube script. This script dates from 5,000 BC.

Inscription on a spindle whorl from a
Vinca site in Serbia, c. 5000-4500 BC.
Stamp seal from Karanovo VI,
c. 4800 BC, same general area.

The following table shows an incomplete catalog of script symbols from this geographical area and time. I am indebted to the people of the Global Prehistory Consortium at Euro Innovanet for providing this table. See their discussion at  http://www.prehistory.it/

I selected individual signs to show how they relate to later Egyptian and Semitic script symbols. I did not attempt to be exhaustive. See below.

Evidence from Portugal Dolmens

These signs are not in isolation. Similar signs are found in Portugal, some 900 miles to the west, but from the same time frame.

Here is a sketch of symbols that appear on a dolmen at Alvao in northern Portugal, c. 4000 BC. This is from Sign, Symbol and Script, Hans Jensen, G. P. Putnam and Sons, New York, 1969.

This dolman has symbols with a definite similarity to the Balkan-Danube script, Egyptian script, and Semitic script symbols. I selected symbols that are easily identified.

Semitic Script Symbols

I next compared the above two sources with Semitic script symbols. Refer to the Table provided by Hans Jensen, his Figure 248 on page 291, and Figure 237 on page 285. Click on the link. These are found in the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician languages.

Balkan-Danube Script

Semitic Phonetic

w t b * kh * h * h s

Cursive Punic
sh or z

Note the "arrow" sign we saw on the lion bone from the Isturitz, Basses-Pyrenees.

Alvao Dolmen

Semitic Phonetic

h n r k q sh h w b or g * h

We should note that:

(Jensen struggled with the form of the Iberian script. He admitted that the evidence suggested it was borrowed from the Phoenician. It was found on coins and a large number of short inscriptions on the Iberian peninsula. These were in northern, north-eastern, and southern Spain and also from the Balearics, and southern France. This showed that the Iberians had penetrated those regions and, according to tradition, had arrived there from Anatolia. Unfortunately, the short inscriptions were undecipherable, not in any recognizable language, and therefore, certainly not Semitic. Importantly, special letters appeared for vowels, but the Semitic languages did not have such letters, although they had letters for the guttural "a" and "o." The transformation of the aleph into a, h into e, j into i, and the ayin into o, all show a development I shall not discuss here. Jensen knew there was a strong connection with the Alvao dolmen, and admits so, but did not know how to fit it in with the evidence.)

Cave Painting Symbols

Semitic Phonetic


z sh b or g

My purpose here does not include a study of the history of writing. That would require a life-time and a large compendium of evidence. We cannot expect cave paintings, or spindle whorls, or stamp seals, or dolmens, to show up in our excavations unless there was a culture capable of supporting paintings, spinning, weaving, and written communications. Many theorists believe that the invention of writing was based on economic concerns, the way of accounting for bushels of wheat, after man had reached the point of accumulating bushels of wheat worthy to be counted. But this neglects the cultural instincts within man. Perhaps he felt a need to communicate in written symbolic language, concepts and ideas, whether about God, or the world, or his hopes and dreams. Perhaps he wanted to tell others about his feelings, just as he wanted to leave a painted record of animals and objects. One does not have an impulse to paint unless one also understands that the painting may mean something to someone who would come along later. That is the reason people draw and paint; because it is meaningful to others. The people of Europe who produced the cave paintings were not primitive savages. They must have carried impulses to leave paintings.

Then we may question if they left symbols that also carried meaning to others, or if unknown and non-meaningful paint strokes was merely left on cave walls. The fact that time erases human memory about the meaning of the strokes does not invalidate the intent. The greater the time the more that is lost to human memory. This is true for the cave symbols, the Balkans-Danube symbols, or the dolmen symbols. We do not now know the meaning of the symbols, but that does not invalidate the intent as a means of communicating to others.

We can see from the illustrations that the form of communication was in symbols. Surely those symbols were capable of carrying meaning. Then we may question whether they were phonetic symbols, syllabic symbols, or conceptual symbols.

The finds from the cave paintings, the Balkans, and the Alvao dolmen all predate what we know of the history of writing, whether Sumerian or other cultures. Since the forms show up in phonetic scripts much later, over long stretches of time, we cannot help but wonder about our understanding of the history of writing. We seem to be on firm ground to assume that the symbols were phonetic and must predate later Chinese, cuneiform, hieroglyphic, or any form of syllabic writing. Cuneiform, hieroglyphic and other forms of syllabic writings were introduced according to the medium that was conveniently available, clay in Sumeria and stone in Egypt, and not out of pure new invention. As I shall show, the writing was adapted to and determined by the medium. This can be demonstrated in Egypt.

Consider the following illustrations from Sumer.

I apologize for not knowing the provenance of each. I do not know who made the sketch. But we can see that it is from Sumer by the robe and skull cap worn by the figure to the left. Whether it is the "A," Egyptian Group #17, the kite with a string attached, Group #53, the rectangle divided into halves, #2, the upside down "y" or upright "y" on the clay piece, #33, the bow tie on the clay piece, #13, and so on, we have parallels with the Egyptian potmarks I discuss below. These illustrations were made before Sumer began to develop their peculiar cuneiform writing and show an attempt to communicate with phonemes.

If this is true, our notions about the history of writing need to be drastically revised.