Mysterious slab may bear oldest writings in New World

A stone slab found in the state of Veracruz in Mexico bears 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars, according to archaeologists who say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.

The order and pattern of carved symbols appeared to be that of a true writing system, according to the Mexican scientists who have studied the slab and colleagues from the United States. It had characteristics strikingly similar to imagery of the Olmec civilization, considered the earliest in pre-Columbian America, they said.

Finding a heretofore-unknown writing system is a rare event. One of the last such discoveries, scholars say, was the Indus Valley script, identified by archaeologists in 1924.

The inscription on the stone slab, with 62 distinct signs, some of them repeated, has been tentatively dated to at least 900 B.C., and possibly earlier. That is 400 years or more before writing had been known to exist in Mesoamerica, the region from central Mexico through much of Central America — and by extension, to exist anywhere in the Hemisphere, reports New York Times.

The inscriptions, thousands of years old, may shed light on the Olmecs, founders of the Central American civilization that culminated in the Maya and Aztecs.

Little is known of the Olmecs, who flourished from about 1200 B.C. to A.D. 400, apart from the giant stone heads they sculpted which still stand silently in the jungle.

The stone was discovered at a site named Cascajal by Mexican archaeologists Carmen Rodriguez and Ponciano Ortiz in 1999.

It was taken from debris excavated from a gravel quarry in the Mexican state of Veracruz, in the former heartland of the Olmecs, informs FOX News.

"It's a fantastically lush area, really quite beautiful, and very productive, where corn and other crops are grown without irrigation," Houston said. "One can understand why it was a population center in ancient times. People could live there fairly easily and fairly well."

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