ANCIENT ALPHABETS COMPARED

By R. Cedric Leonard



Have you ever wondered why our system of letters is called an alphabet? The word is actually the combination of the Greek names of the first two characters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta. But where did the Greeks get these names? Why call the letters alpha, beta, gamma, delta, etc., in the first place?

These are merely the Greek variation of the Phoenician names aleph, beth, gimel, deleth, etc., and these are actual words in the Phoenician language for ox, house, camel, door, etc. These names were most likely applied to the characters in this manner: 1) the characters were simplifications of earlier pictograms; 2) each character so-named was the sound for that original object (acrophonic principle).

For years the scholarly world had been in complete disarray when it came to the question of the origin of the characters. That the Greek alphabet (and most later European alphabets) is basically made up from the earlier Phoenician letters is clear. But the big question is, how did the Phoenicians come by these letters?

For want of a plausible theory, Dr. Ignace J. Gelb, professor at the Oriental Institute and the Department of Linguistics of the University of Chicago, once suggested that the entire Phoenician system of signs was an arbitrary invention throughout. (Gelb, 1974) Even more recently, the discovery of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions in Egypt has been alleged as the sole source.

Let's take an entirely different tack. Let's assume that the Glozel Tablets—considered by many to be authentic and infinitely older than the Phoenician (Cohane, 1977)—are the key to the puzzle. Let's make a comparison between several "western" systems and the Phoenician/Punic letters.

TABLE OF COMPARISON
Several known alphabets compared with alphabets dating 9,000+ B.C.*

The well-known historian, H. G. Wells, wasn't far off when he stated: "Even before Neolithic times men were beginning to write. The Azilian rock pictures to which we have already referred show the beginning of the process." (Wells, 1922) Dr. Lewis Spence (1925) expresses the same opinion. Claude Couraud speculates that some sort of cyclic notation is involved, "perhaps lunar in nature, like some of the markings found on bones from the same general period." (Bahn, 1984)

Four examples from over a thousand Azilian painted pebbles

The Azilian, Iberian and Berber character-sets all correspond generally to that found on the Glozel Tablets. The "Proto-Sinaitic" inscriptions discovered on cliffs near Luxor, Egypt may represent a contributing factor. And even though the correspondences of several of the characters with its associated "hieroglyphic original" seem somewhat strained, there is little doubt that certain Egyptian hieroglyphs contributed to the overall Proto-Canaanite system.



Iberian inscriptions containing many of the "Glozel" characters

My contention is that the final Phoenician (an "eastern" system) was cribbed mainly from a "western". However it should be mentioned, that just as in the hieroglyph/sinai conversion, the character-shapes correspond—but not necessarily their phonic values.

Professor Johannes Friedrich, archeologist and linguist at the Free University of Berlin, implies that the Berber alphabet of North Africa may have been a relatively late invention—the earliest inscriptions appearing only in the 2nd century B.C.—therefore some of its characters may have been based on the Phoenician (Punic) script, rather than vice versa.

He writes: "The political and cultural independence of the Numidians manifested itself also in the creation of an alphabetic . . . script which has been preserved in our days in more than a thousand inscriptions." He adds: "A variant of this script is still being used today by the desert tribes of the Tuareg." (Friedrich, 1957) The independence spoken of was acquired with the backing of the Romans early in the 2nd century B.C.

But what about the inscriptions discovered among the Guanches of the Canary Islands? In 1878 French anthropologist Dr. René R. Verneau discovered rock carvings in the ravines of Las Balos that bear similarities with Libyan or Numidic writing from the time of Roman occupation or earlier. In other locations the older Libyco-Berber (T'ifinagh) script has been identified. (Verneau, 1881)

Three brief examples of Numidian script found inscribed on rock cliffs by Dr. René R. Verneau.

Keep in mind that we are comparing several "western" (i.e., Glozel, Azilian, Iberian) with the alphabet supposedly INVENTED by the Phoenicians. The similarities are simply too great. The Phoenicians obviously did not invent their character-set known today as the "alphabet". I believe they discovered it (at least the idea, and possibly some elements) in their travels to the west from sources dating back at least 12,000 years (i.e., the Glozel and Azilian).

To those of you who hung in there through all this jargon, I congratulate you. I hope I have stimulated some thinking in regards to alphabets and origins. Whether you agree with me or not, I think the link between the Glosel Tablets and Atlantis is reasonably solid. It just may be that we owe our form of writing to the lost Atlanteans of antiquity.

*In many cases more variants exist than are shown: only those variations which occur in more than one system are included. [Back]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bahn, Paul G.; "How to Spot a Fake Azilian Pebble," Nature, Vol. 308, No. 229, 1984.
Cohane, John Philip, "Paradox," Crown Publishers Inc., New York, 1977.
Friedrich, Johannes, "Extinct Languages," (translated from German by Frank Gaynor) published by The Philosophical Library, New York, 1957.
Gelb, Ignace J., "A Study of Writing," (Revised edition) The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 1974.
Spence, Lewis, "The Problem of Atlantis" (Revised Edition) Brentano's, New York, 1925.
Verneau, René R., "Sur les anciens habitants de la Isleta, Grande Canarie," Bulletin of Social Anthropology, Paris, 1881.
Wells, H.G., "A Short History of the World: Sumeria, Early Egypt and Writing," MacMillan, New York, 1922.

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