It is now clear that the history of alphabetic writing dates back much further than once believed. While scriptographers once attributed the invention of the alphabet to the Phoenicians of 1600 B.C. (ancient tradition named Cadmus, King of Tyre, as the inventor), other examples keep showing up which are much older than this. Since many are as yet undeciphered, no one can be absolutely certain which ones (if any) represent a form of writing.
However, the discovery of the Glozel tablets on a farm near Vichy, France created a
controversy that raged on for years. Since the characters incised on these tablets strongly resemble the so-called Phoenician, they ostensibly represent an alphabetic form of writing.
I am about to relate a storythe details of which were painstakingly ferreted out by John Philip Cohane (1977), a graduate of Yale Universitywhich may go down in the annals of scholarly history as the most infamous blunder ever committed by men of learning.
The scene was Glozel, near Vichy in southwestern France, the year 1921. A large number of inscribed clay tablets (along with some clay bricks, pottery, and stone axes of Magdalenian extraction) had been unearthed in a field by a 16-year-old French lad by the name of Emile Fradin. Writing on the tablets resembled Phoenician, but the pottery was incised with images of reindeer and panthers, both of which had been extinct in Western Europe since the Ice Age.
Glozel Tablet with incised "Phoenician" characters.
A vehement controversy ensued among authorities. Both the authenticity and the antiquity of the artifacts were vigorously debated. Finally in 1927 a worldwide body of Academicians was convened to settle the dispute. The blue chip panel concluded that the Glozel discoveries were outright forgeries, manufactured and planted by the young French lad to be "accidentally" discovered. The decision brought bitter disillusionment and anquish to young Fradin that can never be recompensed.
Two things of extreme importance should be mentioned here: 1) this decision took place before our modern dating methodssuch as Carbon-14, fission-track, fluorine, thermoluminescence, and paleomagnetismwere developed; 2) the infamous Piltdown controversy was still raging and the anthropological community was in the throes of extreme embarrassment. The Piltdown fiasco wasn't settled until 1950 when fluorine testing exposed it as a hoax.
The academic argument against the validity of the find was the depiction of extinct animals
alongside Phoenician-like writing. How could someone be using Phoenician characters before the Phoenicians had invented them? To accept such an anachronism would be folly, and could throw the whole neatly organized picture of the history of writing awry.
On the other hand, this question occurs to me: How could anyone carve a picture of an animal he has never seen? Moreover, the agreement between the Magdalenian artifacts (14,000-10,000 B.C.) and the depiction of Ice Age animals favor the antiquity of the find. It was not until forty-five years later that anything constructive was done to quell the controversy.
During the late 1960s Mr. Gavn Majdahl, a physicist on the staff of Denmark's Atomic Energy Commission Research Laboratory, had been doing research on the development and application of a dating method recently invented in Britain. Known today as thermoluminescence dating, it is especially suited for dating clay artifacts. The development was being financed by Denmark's Governmental Research Council and the Atomic Energy Center.
Having learned of this, Mr. Sture Eilow, a Swedish amateur archeologist, approached Majdahl with the idea of using the new technique to determine the date of the Glozel materials. Majdahl liked the suggestion, and agreed to do it.
The tests were conducted on the Glozel artifacts, and lo, all the "experts" had been wrong! The tests proved conclusively that the Glozel material dated from the late Ice Age. Incredulous experts took the material to Scotland to undergo another battery of tests, this time at Edinburgh's prestigious Natural Museum of Antiquities. This second series of tests confirmed the first ones, putting the antiquity and authenticity of the Glozel artifacts beyond question! Emile Fradin had been vindicated after nearly fifty years of humiliation.
In an AP news release (28 August 1975) Majdahl commented: "It is fascinating, of course, to perhaps bring full rehabilitation for Emile Fradin, now 68. But Glozel just happened to provide the first dramatic demonstration of the potentials of the new technique" (Cohane, 1977).
Thermoluminescence dating has been in use now for almost forty years in the field of archeology, and has proved to be an invaluable tool for dating clay materials. (However, to see how complex the controversy has become, click Here.)
Needless to say, not many people in the world are aware of the end product of this heated controversy, even though the conclusion was reported in the press and apologies made to the aged Mr. Fradin. In spite of these developments, scriptographers and other related authorities are continuing down the well-beaten path that the Sumerians were the inventors of writing, and that the Phoenicians were the inventors of the alphabet.
Discoveries made of late in the area of the ancient Iberian culture have certainly thrown doubt on the old concept. It seems that carved bone artifacts exhibiting these same "Glozel-like" characters have now been found at La Coruña in Galicia, Spain dated circa. 4000 B.C. (Bouvier, 2003), and some have been carbon-dated even earlier (Schøyen, 2005).
As you can see by perusing the other related articles on this website, archeological excavations of Upper Paleolithic Cro-Magnon sites have produced numerous examples of sophisticated written forms representing the communication of ideas, which lends support to the conclusion that the Glozel tablets represent an "alphabetical" form of writing dating back to Atlantean times.
The possibility that the Atlanteans had a form of alphabetic writing is significant, even if it represents a syllabary (Gelb, 1974), simply because an accomplishment such as this is indicative of an advanced stage of civilization. In other articles on this website I have shown evidence that the Cro-Magnon people were extremely artistic, practiced agriculture, domesticated animals, and used boats (implying navigational and sailing skills). They were also accomplished in mathematics, medicine and astronomy. In other words, the Cro-Magnon people were civilized before ever landing on the shores of Europe and North Africa.
Bouvier, Michael, in the Catalogue L'Art of l'╚criture, Paris, 2003.
Cohane, John Philip, "Paradox," Crown Publishers Inc., New York, 1977.
Gelb, Ignace J., "A Study of Writing," (revised edition) The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 1974.
Sch°yen, Martin, "The beginning of writing and the first alphabets," The Sch°yen Collection, No. 4 (Palaeography 4.1), Oslo, February 2005.