A History of Science
Tome I
Tome II
Tome III Tome IV

Book 1, chapter IV
The development of the alphabet
First steps
For the very first chapters of the story we must go back in imagination to the prehistoric period. Even barbaric man feels the need of self-expression, and strives to make his ideas manifest to other men by pictorial signs. The cave-dwellers scratched pictures of men and animals on the surface of a reindeer horn or mammoth tusk as mementos of his prowess. The American Indian does essentially the same thing to-day, making pictures that crudely record his successes in war and the chase. The Northern Indian had got no farther than this when the white man discovered America; but the Aztecs of the Southwest and the Maya people of Yucatan had carried their picture- making to a much higher state of elaboration.[3] They had developed systems of pictographs or hieroglyphics that would doubtless in the course of generations have been elaborated into alphabetical systems, had not the Europeans cut off the civilization of which they were the highest exponents.

What the Aztec and Maya were striving towards in the sixteenth century A.D., various Oriental nations had attained at least five or six thousand years earlier. In Egypt at the time of the pyramid-builders, and in Babylonia at the same epoch, the people had developed systems of writing that enabled them not merely to present a limited range of ideas pictorially, but to express in full elaboration and with finer shades of meaning all the ideas that pertain to highly cultured existence. The man of that time made records of military achievements, recorded the transactions of every-day business life, and gave expression to his moral and spiritual aspirations in a way strangely comparable to the manner of our own time. He had perfected highly elaborate systems of writing.




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© Serge Jodra, 2006. - Reproduction interdite.