Mysterious Writing on a Tablet from Al-Balqa

Mysterious Writing on a Tablet from Al-Balqa

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Arabic alchemy

Arabic alchemy is as mysterious as Greek in its origins, and the two seem to have been significantly different. The respect in which Physica et mystica was held by the Greek alchemists was bestowed by the Arabs on a different work, the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos, the reputed Hellenistic author of various alchemical, occultic, and theological works. Beginning “That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above,” it is brief, theoretical, and astrological. Hermes “the thrice great” (Trismegistos) was a Greek version of the Egyptian god Thoth and the supposed founder of an astrological philosophy that is first noted in 150 bc . The Emerald Tablet, however, comes from a larger work called Book of the Secret of Creation, which exists in Latin and Arabic manuscripts and was thought by the Muslim alchemist ar-Rāzī to have been written during the reign of Caliph al-Maʾmūn ( ad 813–833), though it has been attributed to the 1st-century- ad pagan mystic Apollonius of Tyana.

Some scholars have suggested that Arabic alchemy descended from a western Asiatic school and that Greek alchemy was derived from an Egyptian school. As far as is known, the Asiatic school was not Chinese or Indian. What is known is that Arabic alchemy was associated with a specific city in Syria, Harran, which seems to have been a fountainhead of alchemical notions. And it is possible that the distillation ideology and its spokeswoman, Maria—as well as Agathodaimon—represented the alchemy of Harran, which presumably migrated to Alexandria and was incorporated into the alchemy of Zosimos.

The existing versions of the Book of the Secret of Creation have been carried back only to the 7th or 6th century but are believed by some to represent much earlier writings, although not necessarily those of Apollonius himself. He is the subject of an ancient biography that says nothing about alchemy, but neither does the Emerald Tablet nor the rest of the Book of the Secret of Creation. On the other hand, their theories of nature have an alchemical ring, and the Book mentions the characteristic materials of alchemy, including, for the first time in the West, sal ammoniac. It was clearly an important book to the Arabs, most of whose eminent philosophers mentioned alchemy, although sometimes disapprovingly. Those who practiced it were even more interested in literal gold making than had been the Greeks. The most well-attested and probably the greatest Arabic alchemist was ar- Rāzī (c. 850–923/924), a Persian physician who lived in Baghdad. The most famous was Jābir ibn Ḥayyān, now believed to be a name applied to a collection of “underground writings” produced in Baghdad after the theological reaction against science. In any case, the Jābirian writings are very similar to those of ar-Rāzī.

Ar-Rāzī classified the materials used by the alchemist into “bodies” (the metals), stones, vitriols, boraxes, salts, and “spirits,” putting into the latter those vital (and sublimable) materials, mercury, sulfur, orpiment and realgar (the arsenic sulfides), and sal ammoniac. Much is made of sal ammoniac, the reactive powers of which seem to have given Western alchemy a new lease on life. Ar-Rāzī and the Jābirian writers were really trying to make gold, through the catalytic action of the elixir. Both wrote much on the compounding of “strong waters,” an enterprise that was ultimately to lead to the discovery of the mineral acids, but students have been no more able to find evidence of this discovery in the writings of the Arabic alchemists than in those of China and India. The Arabic strong waters were merely corrosive salt solutions.

Ar-Rāzī’s writing represents the apogee of Arabic alchemy, so much so that students of alchemy have little evidence of its later reorientation toward mystical or quasi-religious objectives. Nor does it seem to have turned to medicine, which remained independent. But there was a tendency in Arabic medicine to give greater emphasis to mineral remedies and less to the herbs that had been the chief medicines of the earlier Greek and Arabic physicians. The result was a pharmacopoeia not of elixirs but of specific remedies that are inorganic in origin and not very different from the elixirs of ar-Rāzī. This new pharmacopoeia was taken to Europe by Constantine of Africa, a Baghdad-educated Muslim who died in 1087 as a Christian monk at Monte Cassino (Italy). The pharmacopoeia also appeared in Spain in the 11th century and passed from there to Latin Europe, along with the Arabic alchemical writings, which were translated into Latin in the 12th century.


Rongorongo is the modern name for the inscriptions. In the Rapa Nui language it means "to recite, to declaim, to chant out". [note 1]

The original name—or perhaps description—of the script is said to have been kohau motu mo rongorongo, "lines incised for chanting out", shortened to kohau rongorongo or "lines [for] chanting out". [2] There are also said to have been more specific names for the texts based on their topic. For example, the kohau taꞌu ("lines of years") were annals, the kohau îka ("lines of fishes") were lists of persons killed in war (îka "fish" was homophonous with or used figuratively for "war casualty"), and the kohau ranga "lines of fugitives" were lists of war refugees. [note 1]

Some authors have understood the taꞌu in kohau taꞌu to refer to a separate form of writing distinct from rongorongo. Barthel recorded that, "The Islanders had another writing (the so-called "taꞌu script") which recorded their annals and other secular matters, but this has disappeared." [3] However, Fischer writes that "the taꞌu was originally a type of rongorongo inscription. In the 1880s, a group of elders invented a derivative 'script' [also] called taꞌu with which to decorate carvings in order to increase their trading value. It is a primitive imitation of rongorongo." [4] An alleged third script, the mama or vaꞌevaꞌe described in some mid-twentieth-century publications, was "an early twentieth-century geometric [decorative] invention". [5]

The forms of the glyphs are standardized contours of living organisms and geometric designs about one centimeter high. The wooden tablets are irregular in shape and, in many instances, fluted (tablets B, E, G, H, O, Q, and possibly T), with the glyphs carved in shallow channels running the length of the tablets, as can be seen in the image of tablet G at right. It is thought that irregular and often blemished pieces of wood were used in their entirety rather than squared off due to the scarcity of wood on the island. [6]

Writing media Edit

Except for a few possible glyphs cut in stone (see petroglyphs), all surviving secure texts are inscribed in wood. According to tradition, the tablets were made of toromiro wood. However, Orliac (2005) examined seven objects (tablets B, C, G, H, K, Q, and reimiro L) with stereo optical and scanning electron microscopes and determined that all were instead made from Pacific rosewood (Thespesia populnea) the same identification had been made for tablet M in 1934. This 15-meter tree, known as "Pacific rosewood" for its color and called makoꞌi in Rapanui, is used for sacred groves and carvings throughout eastern Polynesia and was evidently brought to Easter Island by the first settlers. [7] However, not all the wood was native: Orliac (2007) established that tablets N, P, and S were made of South African Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius) and therefore that the wood had arrived with Western contact. Fischer describes P as "a damaged and reshapen European or American oar", as are A (which is European ash, Fraxinus excelsior) and V notes that wood from the wreck of a Western boat was said to have been used for many tablets and that both P and S had been recycled as planking for a Rapanui driftwood canoe, suggesting that by that time the tablets had little value to the islanders as texts. [8] Several texts, including O, are carved on gnarled driftwood. [9] The fact that the islanders were reduced to inscribing driftwood, and were regardless extremely economical in their use of wood, may have had consequences for the structure of the script, such as the abundance of ligatures and potentially a telegraphic style of writing that would complicate textual analysis. [10]

William J. Thomson reported a calabash, now lost, that had been found in a tomb and was "covered with hieroglyphics similar to those found on the incised tablets." During the early missionary period that began in 1864, it was reported that women wore bark cloth decorated with "symbols" a fragment of one of these survives, and appears to be rongorongo.

Oral tradition holds that, because of the great value of wood, only expert scribes used it, while pupils wrote on banana leaves. German ethnologist Thomas Barthel believed that carving on wood was a secondary development in the evolution of the script based on an earlier stage of incising banana leaves or the sheaths of the banana trunk with a bone stylus, and that the medium of leaves was retained not only for lessons but to plan and compose the texts of the wooden tablets. [11] He found experimentally that the glyphs were quite visible on banana leaves due to the sap that emerged from the cuts and dried on the surface. However, when the leaves themselves dried they became brittle and would not have survived for long. [12]

Barthel speculated that the banana leaf might even have served as a prototype for the tablets, with the fluted surface of the tablets an emulation of the veined structure of a leaf:

Practical experiments with the material available on [Easter Island] have proved that the above-mentioned parts of the banana tree are not only an ideal writing material, but that in particular a direct correspondence exists between the height of the lines of writing and the distance between the veins on the leaves and stems of the banana tree. The classical inscriptions can be arranged in two groups according to the height of the lines (10–12 mm vs. 15 mm) this corresponds to the natural disposition of the veins on the banana stem (on average 10 mm in the lower part of a medium-sized tree) or on the banana leaf ([. ] maximum 15mm).

Direction of writing Edit

Rongorongo glyphs were written in reverse boustrophedon, left to right and bottom to top. That is, the reader begins at the bottom left-hand corner of a tablet, reads a line from left to right, then rotates the tablet 180 degrees to continue on the next line. When reading one line, the lines above and below it would appear upside down, as can be seen in the image at left.

However, the writing continues onto the second side of a tablet at the point where it finishes off the first, so if the first side has an odd number of lines, as is the case with tablets K, N, P, and Q, the second will start at the upper left-hand corner, and the direction of writing shifts to top to bottom.

Larger tablets and staves may have been read without turning, if the reader were able to read upside-down. [13]

The direction of writing was determined by such clues as glyphs that twist as the line changes direction, glyphs that were squashed to fit in at the end of a text, and – when a particular tablet does not have such clues – parallel passages between tablets.

Writing instruments Edit

According to oral tradition, scribes used obsidian flakes or small shark teeth, presumably the hafted tools still used to carve wood in Polynesia, to flute and polish the tablets and then to incise the glyphs. [14] The glyphs are most commonly composed of deep smooth cuts, though superficial hair-line cuts are also found. In the closeup image at right, a glyph is composed of two parts connected by a hair-line cut this is a typical convention for this shape. Several researchers, including Barthel, believe that these superficial cuts were made by obsidian, and that the texts were carved in a two-stage process, first sketched with obsidian and then deepened and finished with a worn shark tooth. [15] The remaining hair-line cuts were then either errors, design conventions (as at right), or decorative embellishments. [note 2] Vertical strings of chevrons or lozenges, for example, are typically connected with hair-line cuts, as can be seen repeatedly in the closeup of one end of tablet B below. However, Barthel was told that the last literate Rapanui king, Ngaꞌara, sketched out the glyphs in soot applied with a fish bone and then engraved them with a shark tooth. [17]

Tablet N, on the other hand, shows no sign of shark teeth. Haberlandt noticed that the glyphs of this text appear to have been incised with a sharpened bone, as evidenced by the shallowness and width of the grooves. [18] N also "displays secondary working with obsidian flakes to elaborate details within the finished contour lines. No other rongo-rongo inscription reveals such graphic extravagance". [19]

Other tablets appear to have been cut with a steel blade, often rather crudely. Although steel knives were available after the arrival of the Spanish, this does cast suspicion on the authenticity of these tablets. [note 3]

Glyphs Edit

The glyphs are stylized human, animal, vegetable and geometric shapes, and often form compounds. Nearly all those with heads are oriented head up and are either seen face on or in profile to the right, in the direction of writing. It is not known what significance turning a glyph head-down or to the left may have had. Heads often have characteristic projections on the sides which may be eyes (as on the sea turtle glyph below, and more clearly on sea-turtle petroglyphs) but which often resemble ears (as on the anthropomorphic petroglyph in the next section). Birds are common many resemble the frigatebird (see image directly below) which was associated with the supreme god Makemake. [21] [note 4] Other glyphs look like fish or arthropods. A few are similar to petroglyphs found throughout the island.

Oral tradition holds that either Hotu Matuꞌa or Tuꞌu ko Iho, the legendary founder(s) of Rapa Nui, brought 67 tablets from their homeland. [23] The same founder is also credited with bringing indigenous plants such as the toromiro. However, there is no homeland likely to have had a tradition of writing in Polynesia or even in South America. Thus rongorongo appears to have been an internal development. Given that few if any of the Rapanui people remaining on the island in the 1870s could read the glyphs, it is likely that only a small minority were ever literate. Indeed, early visitors were told that literacy was a privilege of the ruling families and priests who were all kidnapped in the Peruvian slaving raids or died soon afterwards in the resulting epidemics. [24]

Dating the tablets Edit

Little direct dating has been done. The start of forest-clearing for agriculture on Easter Island, and thus presumably colonization, has been dated to circa 1200, [25] implying a date for the invention of rongorongo no earlier than the 13th century. Tablet Q (Small Saint Petersburg) is the sole item that has been carbon dated, but the results only constrain the date to sometime after 1680. [note 5] Glyph 67 ( ) is thought to represent the extinct Easter Island palm, [note 6] which disappeared from the island's pollen record circa 1650, suggesting that the script itself is at least that old. [26]

Texts A, P, and V can be dated to the 18th or 19th century by virtue of being inscribed on European oars. Orliac (2005) argued that the wood for tablet C (Mamari) was cut from the trunk of a tree some 15 meters (50 ft) tall, [note 7] and Easter Island has long been deforested of trees that size. Analysis of charcoal indicates that the forest disappeared in the first half of the 17th century. Roggeveen, who discovered Easter Island in 1722, described the island as "destitute of large trees" and in 1770 González de Ahedo wrote, "Not a single tree is to be found capable of furnishing a plank so much as six inches [15 cm] in width." Forster, with Cook's expedition of 1774, reported that "there was not a tree upon the island which exceeded the height of 10 feet [3 m]." [28]

All of these methods date the wood, not the inscriptions themselves. Pacific rosewood is not durable, and is unlikely to survive long in Easter Island's climate. [26]

1770 Spanish expedition Edit

In 1770 the Spanish annexed Easter Island under Captain González de Ahedo. A signing ceremony was held in which a treaty of annexation was signed by an undisclosed number of chiefs "by marking upon it certain characters in their own form of script." [30] (Reproduction at right.)

Several scholars have suggested that rongorongo may have been an invention inspired by this visit and the signing of the treaty of annexation. [31] As circumstantial evidence, they note that no explorer reported the script prior to Eugène Eyraud in 1864, [note 9] and are of the opinion that the marks with which the chiefs signed the Spanish treaty do not resemble rongorongo. The hypothesis of these researchers is not that rongorongo was itself a copy of the Latin alphabet, or of any other form of writing, but that the concept of writing had been conveyed in a process anthropologists term trans-cultural diffusion, which then inspired the islanders to invent their own system of writing. If this is the case, then rongorongo emerged, flourished, fell into oblivion, and was all but forgotten within a span of less than a hundred years.

However, known cases of the diffusion of writing, such as Sequoyah's invention of the Cherokee syllabary after seeing the power of English-language newspapers, or Uyaquk's invention of the Yugtun script inspired by readings from Christian scripture, involved greater contact than the signing of a single treaty. The glyphs could be crudely written rongorongo, as might be expected for Rapa Nui representatives writing with the novel instrument of pen on paper. The fact that the script was not otherwise observed by early explorers, who spent little time on the island, may reflect that it was taboo such taboos may have lost power along with the tangata rongorongo (scribes) by the time Rapanui society collapsed following European slaving raids and the resulting epidemics, so that the tablets had become more widely distributed by Eyraud's day. [33] Orliac points out that Tablet C would appear to predate the Spanish visit by at least a century.

Petroglyphs Edit

Easter Island has the richest assortment of petroglyphs in Polynesia. [34] Nearly every suitable surface has been carved, including the stone walls of some houses and a few of the famous moꞌai statues and their fallen topknots. Around one thousand sites with over four thousand glyphs have been catalogued, some in bas- or sunken-relief, and some painted red and white. Designs include a concentration of chimeric bird-man figures at Orongo, a ceremonial center of the tangata manu ("bird-man") cult faces of the creation deity Makemake marine animals like turtles, tuna, swordfish, sharks, whales, dolphins, crabs, and octopi (some with human faces) roosters canoes, and over five hundred komari (vulvas). Petroglyphs are often accompanied by carved divots ("cupules") in the rock. Changing traditions are preserved in bas-relief birdmen, which were carved over simpler outline forms and in turn carved over with komari. Although the petroglyphs cannot be directly dated, some are partially obscured by pre-colonial stone buildings, suggesting they are relatively old.

Several of the anthropomorphic and animal-form petroglyphs have parallels in rongorongo, for instance a double-headed frigatebird (glyph 680) on a fallen moꞌai topknot, a figure which also appears on a dozen tablets. [note 10] McLaughlin (2004) illustrates the most prominent correspondences with the petroglyph corpus of Lee (1992). [note 10] However, these are mostly isolated glyphs few text-like sequences or ligatures have been found among the petroglyphs. This has led to the suggestion that rongorongo must be a recent creation, perhaps inspired by petroglyph designs or retaining individual petroglyphs as logograms (Macri 1995), but not old enough to have been incorporated into the petroglyphic tradition. The most complex candidate for petroglyphic rongorongo is what appears to be a short sequence of glyphs, one of which is a ligature, carved on the wall of a cave. However, the sequence does not appear to have been carved in a single hand (see image at right), and the cave is located near the house that produced the Poike tablet, a crude imitation of rongorongo, so the Ana o Keke petroglyphs may not be authentic.

Discovery Edit

Eugène Eyraud, a lay friar of the Congrégation de Picpus, landed on Easter Island on January 2, 1864, on the 24th day of his departure from Valparaíso. He was to remain on Easter Island for nine months, evangelizing its inhabitants. He wrote an account of his stay in which he reports his discovery of the tablets that year: [35]

In every hut one finds wooden tablets or sticks covered in several sorts of hieroglyphic characters: They are depictions of animals unknown on the island, which the natives draw with sharp stones. Each figure has its own name but the scant attention they pay to these tablets leads me to think that these characters, remnants of some primitive writing, are now for them a habitual practice which they keep without seeking its meaning. [note 11]

There is no other mention of the tablets in his report, and the discovery went unnoticed. Eyraud left Easter Island on October 11, in extremely poor health. Ordained a priest in 1865, he returned to Easter Island in 1866 where he died of tuberculosis in August 1868, aged 48.

Destruction Edit

In 1868 the Bishop of Tahiti, Florentin-Étienne "Tepano" Jaussen, received a gift from the recent Catholic converts of Easter Island. It was a long cord of human hair, a fishing line perhaps, wound around a small wooden board covered in hieroglyphic writing. Stunned at the discovery, he wrote to Father Hippolyte Roussel on Easter Island to collect all the tablets and to find natives capable of translating them. But Roussel could only recover a few, and the islanders could not agree on how to read them. [36]

Yet Eyraud had seen hundreds of tablets only four years earlier. What happened to the missing tablets is a matter of conjecture. Eyraud had noted how little interest their owners had in them. Stéphen Chauvet reports that,

The Bishop questioned the Rapanui wise man, Ouroupano Hinapote, the son of the wise man Tekaki [who said that] he, himself, had begun the requisite studies and knew how to carve the characters with a small shark's tooth. He said that there was nobody left on the island who knew how to read the characters since the Peruvians had brought about the deaths of all the wise men and, thus, the pieces of wood were no longer of any interest to the natives who burned them as firewood or wound their fishing lines around them!

A. Pinart also saw some in 1877. [He] was not able to acquire these tablets because the natives were using them as reels for their fishing lines!

Orliac has observed that the deep black indentation, about 10 centimeters (3.9 in) long, on lines 5 and 6 of the recto of tablet H is a groove made by the rubbing of a fire stick, showing that tablet H had been used for fire-making. [37] Tablets S and P had been cut into lashed planking for a canoe, which fits the story of a man named Niari who made a canoe out of abandoned tablets. [38]

As European-introduced diseases and raids by Peruvian slavers, including a final devastating raid in 1862 and a subsequent smallpox epidemic, had reduced the Rapa Nui population to under two hundred by the 1870s, it is possible that literacy had been wiped out by the time Eyraud discovered the tablets in 1866. [note 12]

Thus in 1868 Jaussen could recover only a few tablets, with three more acquired by Captain Gana of the Chilean corvette O'Higgins in 1870. In the 1950s Barthel found the decayed remains of half a dozen tablets in caves, in the context of burials. However, no glyphs could be salvaged. [42] [note 13]

Of the 26 commonly accepted texts that survive, only half are in good condition and authentic beyond doubt. [44]

Anthropological accounts Edit

British archaeologist and anthropologist Katherine Routledge undertook a 1914–1915 scientific expedition to Rapa Nui with her husband to catalog the art, customs, and writing of the island. She was able to interview two elderly informants, Kapiera and a leper named Tomenika, who allegedly had some knowledge of rongorongo. The sessions were not very fruitful, as the two often contradicted each other. From them Routledge concluded that rongorongo was an idiosyncratic mnemonic device that did not directly represent language, in other words, proto-writing, and that the meanings of the glyphs were reformulated by each scribe, so that the kohau rongorongo could not be read by someone not trained in that specific text. The texts themselves she believed to be litanies for priest-scribes, kept apart in special houses and strictly tapu, that recorded the island's history and mythology. [45] [note 14] By the time of later ethnographic accounts, such as Métraux (1940), much of what Routledge recorded in her notes had been forgotten, and the oral history showed a strong external influence from popular published accounts.

The 26 rongorongo texts with letter codes are inscribed on wooden objects, each with between 2 and 2320 simple glyphs and components of compound glyphs, for over 15,000 in all. The objects are mostly oblong wooden tablets, with the exceptions of I, a possibly sacred chieftain's staff known as the Santiago Staff J and L, inscribed on reimiro pectoral ornaments worn by the elite X, inscribed on various parts of a tangata manu ("birdman") statuette and Y, a European snuff box assembled from sections cut from a rongorongo tablet. The tablets, like the pectorals, statuettes, and staves, were works of art and valued possessions, and were apparently given individual proper names in the same manner as jade ornaments in New Zealand. [46] Two of the tablets, C and S, have a documented pre-missionary provenance, though others may be as old or older. There are in addition a few isolated glyphs or short sequences which might prove to be rongorongo. [47]

Classic texts Edit

Barthel referred to each of 24 texts he accepted as genuine with a letter of the alphabet two texts have been added to the corpus since then. The two faces of the tablets are distinguished by suffixing r (recto) or v (verso) when the reading sequence can be ascertained, to which the line being discussed is appended. Thus Pr2 is item P (the Great Saint Petersburg Tablet), recto, second line. When the reading sequence cannot be ascertained, a and b are used for the faces. Thus Ab1 is item A (Tahua), side b, first line. The six sides of the Snuff Box are lettered as sides a to f. Nearly all publications follow the Barthel convention, though a popular book by Fischer uses an idiosyncratic numbering system.

Nickname / Description Location Notes
A RR1 Tahua (the Oar) Rome 1825 glyphs inscribed on a 91-cm European or American oar blade. Ash wood.
B RR4 Aruku kurenga 1135 glyphs on a 41-cm fluted rosewood tablet.
C RR2 Mamari 1000 glyphs on a 29-cm unfluted rosewood tablet. Contains calendrical information more pictographic than other texts.
D RR3 Échancrée Pape‘ete 270 glyphs on a 30-cm unfluted notched tablet. The tablet first given to Jaussen, as a spool for a cord of hair. The two sides are written in different hands. Yellowwood?
E RR6 Keiti (Leuven) 822 glyphs on a 39-cm fluted tablet. Destroyed by fire in World War I.
F RR7 Chauvet fragment New York [note 15] A 12-cm fragment with 51 recorded crudely executed glyphs. (Some glyphs are covered by a label.) Palm wood?
G RR8 Small Santiago Santiago 720 glyphs on a 32-cm fluted rosewood tablet. The verso may include a genealogy and does not resemble the patterns of other texts.
H RR9 Large Santiago 1580 glyphs on a 44-cm fluted rosewood tablet. Nearly duplicates P and Q.
I RR10 Santiago staff 2920 glyphs inscribed on a 126-cm chief's staff. The longest text, and the only one which appears to have punctuation. Among the patterns of the other texts, it resembles only Gv and Ta.
J RR20 Large reimiro London A 73-cm breast ornament decorated with 2 glyphs. May be old.
K RR19 London 163 crudely executed glyphs paraphrasing Gr on a 22-cm rosewood tablet.
L RR21 Small reimiro A 41-cm breast ornament decorated with a line of 44 glyphs. May be old. Rosewood.
M RR24 Large Vienna Vienna A 28-cm rosewood tablet in poor condition. Side b is destroyed 54 glyphs are visible on side a. An early cast preserves more of the text.
N RR23 Small Vienna 172 intricately carved glyphs, loosely paraphrasing Ev, on a 26-cm piece of yellowwood.
O RR22 Berlin Berlin 103-cm piece of fluted driftwood with 90 legible glyphs on side a. In poor condition, none of the glyphs on side b can be identified.
P RR18 Large St Petersburg St. Petersburg 1163 glyphs inscribed on a 63-cm European or American oar blade. Yellowwood. Had been used for planking. Nearly duplicates H and Q.
Q RR17 Small St Petersburg 718 glyphs on a 44-cm fluted rosewood tree trunk. Nearly duplicates H and P. A closeup of Qr3–7 is shown in the infobox.
R RR15 Small Washington Washington 357 glyphs, nearly all in phrases repeated on other texts, on a 24-cm piece.
S RR16 Large Washington 600 legible glyphs on a 63-cm piece of yellowwood. Later cut for planking.
T RR11 Fluted Honolulu Honolulu 120 legible glyphs on a 31-cm fluted tablet. In poor condition, side b is illegible.
U RR12 Honolulu beam 27 legible glyphs on a 70-cm European or American beam. In poor condition. The two sides are written in different hands.
V RR13 Honolulu oar 22 legible glyphs on a 72-cm European or American oar blade. In poor condition. One line of text, plus a separate pair of glyphs, on side a traces of text on side b.
W RR14 Honolulu fragment A 7-cm fragment with 8 glyphs on the one side that has been described.
X RR25 Tangata manu
(New York birdman)
New York A 33-cm birdman statuette with 37 superficially inscribed glyphs separated in seven short scattered texts.
Y RR5 Paris snuffbox Paris A 7-cm box cut and pieced together from 3 planed pieces of a tablet 85 crude glyphs on outside of box only. Driftwood?
Z T4 Poike palimpsest Santiago Driftwood? 11 cm. Apparently a palimpsest Fischer does not consider the legible layer of text to be genuine.

Crude glyphs have been found on a few stone objects and some additional wooden items, but most of these are thought to be fakes created for the early tourism market. Several of the 26 wooden texts are suspect due to uncertain provenance (X, Y, and Z), poor quality craftsmanship (F, K, V, W, Y, and Z), or to having been carved with a steel blade (K, V, and Y), [note 3] and thus, although they may prove to be genuine, should not be trusted in initial attempts at decipherment. Z resembles many early forgeries in not being boustrophedon, but it may be a palimpsest on an authentic but now illegible text. [48]

Additional texts Edit

In addition to the petroglyphs mentioned above, there are a few other very short uncatalogued texts that may be rongorongo. Fischer reports that "many statuettes reveal rongorongo or rongorongo-like glyphs on their crown." He gives the example of a compound glyph, , on the crown of a moꞌai pakapaka statuette. [49] [note 16] Many human skulls are inscribed with the single 'fish' glyph 700 , which may stand for îka "war casualty". There are other designs, including some tattoos recorded by early visitors, which are possibly single rongorongo glyphs, but since they are isolated and pictographic, it is difficult to know whether or not they are actually writing. In 2018, a possibly authentic ink-on-barkcloth sequence dating from 1869, dubbed the "Raŋitoki fragment", was recognized.

Glyphs Edit

The only published reference to the glyphs which is even close to comprehensive remains Barthel (1958). Barthel assigned a three-digit numeric code to each glyph or to each group of similar-looking glyphs that he believed to be allographs (variants). In the case of allography, the bare numeric code was assigned to what Barthel believed to be the basic form (Grundtypus), while variants were specified by alphabetic suffixes. Altogether he assigned 600 numeric codes. The hundreds place is a digit from 0 to 7, and categorizes the head, or overall form if there is no head: 0 and 1 for geometric shapes and inanimate objects 2 for figures with "ears" 3 and 4 for figures with open mouths (they are differentiated by their legs/tails) 5 for figures with miscellaneous heads 6 for figures with beaks and 7 for fish, arthropods, etc. The digits in tens and units places were allocated similarly, so that, for example, glyphs 206, 306, 406, 506, and 606 all have a downward-pointing wing or arm on the left, and a raised four-fingered hand on the right:

There is some arbitrariness to which glyphs are grouped together, and there are inconsistencies in the assignments of numerical codes and the use of affixes which make the system rather complex. [note 17] However, despite its shortcomings, Barthel's is the only effective system ever proposed to categorize rongorongo glyphs. [50]

Barthel (1971) claimed to have parsed the corpus of glyphs to 120, of which the other 480 in his inventory are allographs or ligatures. [note 18] The evidence was never published, but similar counts have been obtained by other scholars, such as Pozdniakov & Pozdniakov (2007).

Published corpus Edit

For almost a century only a few of the texts were published. In 1875, the director of the Chilean National Museum of Natural History in Santiago, Rudolf Philippi, published the Santiago Staff, and Carroll (1892) published part of the Oar. Most texts remained beyond the reach of would-be decipherers until 1958, when Thomas Barthel published line drawings of almost all the known corpus in his Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift ("Bases for the Decipherment of the Easter Island script") which remains the fundamental reference to rongorongo. He transcribed texts A through X, over 99% of the corpus the CEIPP estimates that it is 97% accurate. Barthel's line drawings were not produced free-hand but copied from rubbings, which helped ensure their faithfulness to the originals. [52]

Fischer (1997) published new line drawings. These include lines scored with obsidian but not finished with a shark tooth, which had not been recorded by Barthel because the rubbings he used often did not show them, for example on tablet N. (However, in line Gv4 shown in the section on writing instruments above, the light lines were recorded by both Fischer and Barthel.) There are other omissions in Barthel which Fischer corrects, such as a sequence of glyphs at the transition from line Ca6 to Ca7 which is missing from Barthel, presumably because the carving went over the side of the tablet and was missed by Barthel's rubbing. (This missing sequence is right in the middle of Barthel's calendar.) However, other discrepancies between the two records are straightforward contradictions. For instance, the initial glyph of I12 (line 12 of the Santiago Staff) in Fischer [53] does not correspond with that of Barthel [54] or Philippi, [55] which agree with each other, and Barthel's rubbing (below) is incompatible with Fischer's drawing. Barthel's annotation, Original doch 53.76! ("original indeed 53.76!"), suggests that he specifically verified Philippi's reading:

In addition, the next glyph (glyph 20, a "spindle with three knobs") is missing its right-side "sprout" (glyph 10) in Philippi's drawing. This may be the result of an error in the inking, since there is a blank space in its place. The corpus is thus tainted with quite some uncertainty. It has never been properly checked for want of high-quality photographs. [56]

As with most undeciphered scripts, there are many fanciful interpretations and claimed translations of rongorongo. However, apart from a portion of one tablet which has been shown to have to do with a lunar Rapa Nui calendar, none of the texts are understood. There are three serious obstacles to decipherment, assuming rongorongo is truly writing: the small number of remaining texts, the lack of context such as illustrations in which to interpret them, and the poor attestation of the Old Rapanui language, since modern Rapanui is heavily mixed with Tahitian and is therefore unlikely to closely reflect the language of the tablets. [57]

The prevailing opinion is that rongorongo is not true writing but proto-writing, or even a more limited mnemonic device for genealogy, choreography, navigation, astronomy, or agriculture. For example, the Atlas of Languages states, "It was probably used as a memory aid or for decorative purposes, not for recording the Rapanui language of the islanders." [58] If this is the case, then there is little hope of ever deciphering it. [note 19] For those who believe it to be writing, there is debate as to whether rongorongo is essentially logographic or syllabic, though it appears to be compatible with neither a pure logography nor a pure syllabary. [59]

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 14 15 16
22 25 27AB 28 34 38 41 44 46 47 50 52 53
59 60 61 62 63 66 67 69 70 71 74 76 91
95 99 200 240 280 380 400 530 660 700 720 730 901
This basic inventory of rongorongo, proposed by Pozdniakov & Pozdniakov (2007), accounts for 99.7% of the intact texts, except for the idiosyncratic Staff.

The Unicode Consortium has tentatively allocated range 1CA80–1CDBF of the Supplementary Multilingual Plane for encoding the Rongorongo script. [60] An encoding proposal has been written by Michael Everson. [61]

  1. ^ abEnglert defines rogorogo as "recitar, declamar, leer cantando" (to recite, declaim, read chanting), and tagata rogorogo (rongorongo man) as "hombre que sabía leer los textos de loskohau rogorogo, o sea, de las tabletas con signos para la recitación" (a man who could read the texts of the kohau rongorongo, that is, of the tablets bearing signs for recitation). Rongorongo is the reduplication of rongo "recado, orden o mandato, mensaje, noticia" (a message, order, notice) tagata rogo is a "mensajero" (a messenger). [2]Kohau are defined as "líneas tiradas a hilohausobre tabletas o palos para la inscripción de signos" (lines drawn with a string (hau) on tablets or sticks for the inscription of signs). [2] The Rapanui word rongo /ɾoŋo/ has cognates in most other Austronesian languages, from Malaydengar /dəŋar/ to Fijianrogoca /roŋoða/ and Hawaiianlono /lono/ , where these words have such meanings as "to listen", "to hear", etc.
  2. ^ Barthel tested this experimentally, and Dederen (1993) reproduced several tablets in this fashion. Fischer comments, [16]

On the Large St. Petersburg ([P]r3) [. ] the original tracing with an obsidian flake describes a bird's bill identical to a foregoing one but when incising, the scribe reduced this bill to a much more bulbous shape [. ] since he now was working with the different medium of a shark's tooth. There are many such scribal quirks on the "Large St. Petersburg" [tablet P]. The rongorongo script is a "contour script" (Barthel 1955:360) [. ] with various internal or external lines, circles, dashes or dots added [. ] Often such features exist only in the hair-line pre-etching effected by obsidian flakes and not incised with a shark's tooth. This is particularly evident on the "Small Vienna" [tablet N].

Books and reading are in the throes of a revolution

Not everyone is happy about this. Book lovers, publishers and booksellers alike are watching the book-v-ebook sales battle with great interest, and when Tom Tivnan of The Bookseller reported recently that ebook sales had dipped for the first time, he sounded almost relieved: “For those who predicted the death of the physical book and digital dominating the market by the end of this decade, the print and digital sales figures […] for 2015 might force a reassessment.” Physical books may have the upper hand for now, but the debate is a long way from being settled.

Book lovers, publishers and booksellers alike are watching the book-v-ebook sales battle with great interest (Credit: Getty Images)

The odd thing is that the current angst over the book’s changing face mirrors a strikingly similar episode in history. Two thousand years ago, a new and unorthodox kind of book threatened to overturn the established order, much to the chagrin of the readers of the time.

Scroll with it

Rome in the 1st Century CE was awash with the written word. Statues, monuments and gravestones were inscribed with stately capital letters citizens took notes and sent messages on wax-covered wooden writing tablets and the libraries of the wealthy were stocked with books on history, philosophy and the arts. But these were not books as we know them – they were scrolls, made from sheets of Egyptian papyrus pasted into rolls anywhere from 4.5 to 16 metres (14.76ft to 52.49ft) in length. For all their ubiquity, however, they were not without their flaws.

Ancient Rome was awash with the written word – but with scrolls made of sheets of Egyptian papyrus rather than books (Credit: John Clark, The Care of Books)

For one thing, it took both hands to read a scroll properly. Unless the reader was seated at a desk (in which case paperweights or wooden pegs could be used to pin down the springy papyrus), the only way to read a scroll was to unwind it carefully from the right hand and, passing it to the left, to roll it up again. Writers and copyists usually wrote in columns a few inches wide, so that the bulk of the fragile papyrus in the scroll could be kept safely rolled up. Even so, archaeologists have found scrolls whose bottom edges have been worn away where they rubbed against the reader’s clothing.

This, then, was the second major problem with scrolls: papyrus was not an inherently long-lived material, especially if removed from its hot, dry Mediterranean comfort zone. Having taken a liking to a historian who shared his name, Tacitus, emperor from 275 to 276, had to send out new copies of the historian’s works each year to replace those that had rotted away in Gaul and Germania. Papyrus will also crack and tear if it is folded too often, leading naturally to the gently curved shape of the scroll itself – and so to the fact that most scrolls carried writing only on one side. Only if the text on the front of a scroll was no longer needed would its owner flip it over and use the other side a double-sided scroll was just too difficult to read otherwise.

Shrouded in mystery

Sometime in or before the First Century CE a new kind of book appeared that promised to address the scroll’s shortcomings. The evidence is sparse but telling: archaeologists have discovered a few key scraps of papyrus whose text unexpectedly continues from the front to the back, and whose neat margins one might expect to find in a paged book. And that is exactly what these fragments are: they are leaves from the first paged books the world had ever seen. We know that the Romans called this new kind of book the codex (from caudex or tree trunk, because of its similarity to their wooden writing tablets), but how the codex came to be in the first place is shrouded in mystery. The first written mention of the codex appears in the words of a Roman poet named Martial, who encouraged his readers to buy his books in this new, paged format:

“You who long for my little books to be with you everywhere and want to have companions for a long journey, buy these ones which parchment confines within small pages: give your scroll-cases to the great authors – one hand can hold me.”

Written between 84 and 86 CE, Martial’s sales pitch tells us not only that paged books were known of in the First Century CE but also that some of them, at least, were made from a new material called parchment. This alternative to papyrus, invented in a Greek city-state some centuries earlier, was made from cleaned, stretched animal skins by means of a bloody and labour-intensive process, but its smoothness and strength made it an ideal writing material. Archaeologists have since confirmed Martial’s claims via fragments of parchment codices dated to the First Century – and yet, these few tantalising finds aside, we still know very little about where or why the codex was invented, or who might have done so. Even the question of whether the first codices were made of papyrus or parchment has never been satisfactorily answered.

A model of a ‘Nag Hammadi’ codex, made in the style of a cache of 4th Century books found in Egypt in 1945 (Credit: Irina Gorstein (book model), Adam Kellie (photography))

The Legend of Tayos

The legend lies in the large megalithic blocks of stone—which are polished and cut with laser-like precision—that make up some of the rooms of the cave and the numerous mysterious metallic plates engraved with ideographic writing of which Hungarian-Argentine researcher Juan Moricz spoke about in the sixties.

The best evidence of the mysterious metallic places can be traced to Italian Salesian Carlos Crespi Croci, who had explored the area in the 1940s and acquired from the Shuar Indians some of the objects they allegedly removed from the cave.

Various pieces were given to father Crespi as thanks for members of the Shuar community and were kept in the Private Museum of Carlos Crespi Croci in Cuenca (Ecuador). Of these objects, only a few photographs and videos remain, since most of them were sold and others stolen after a fire in 1962. After the fire, nothing was left in the museum, not even pieces of ceramics which would have surely resisted the fire.

Since his death in 1982, nothing is known of the plates, only the testimony and limited writings and images of Crespi with objects.

In 1973, Erich Von Daniken wrote about the enigmatic structure where books were made out of metal, and that the region near the cave—and the cave itself—were evidence of an extremely advanced—if not extraterrestrial civilization.

Author Juan Moricz is said to have found signs of an extremely developed ancient civilization inside the Cave. In a signed affidavit dated 8 July 1969, he spoke about his meeting with the Ecuadorian president, where he received a concession that allowed him total control over this discovery—provided he could produce photographic evidence and an independent witness that corroborated the discovery of the underground network. Several newspapers reported on the expedition that Moricz had organized writes author Philip Coppens.

According to Moricz, the Metallic Library of the Cave of the Tayos records an ancient history that took place on Earth which goes back in time to 250,000 years.

In 1972, Moricz met with von Däniken and took him to a secret side entrance through which they could enter into a large hall within the labyrinth. Apparently von Däniken never got to see the library itself, just the tunnel system.

Von Däniken included the event in his book The Gold of the Gods:

“The passages all form perfect right angles. Sometimes they are narrow, sometimes wide. The walls are smooth and often seem to be polished. The ceilings are flat and at times look as if they were covered with a kind of glaze… My doubts about the existence of the underground tunnels vanished as if by magic and I felt tremendously happy. Moricz said that passages like those through which we were going extended for hundreds of miles under the soil of Ecuador and Peru.”

As a result of the claims published in von Däniken’s book, an investigation of Cueva de los Tayos was organized by Stan Hall from Britain in 1976. One of the largest and most expensive cave explorations ever undertaken, the expedition included over a hundred people, including experts in a variety of fields, British and Ecuadorian military personnel, a film crew, and former astronaut Neil Armstrong. Why would Neil Armstrong—who had returned from the moon not long ago then—travel with an expedition to a remote cave in the Ecuadorian amazon?

Neil Armstrong inside the cave in 1976.

The team also included eight experienced British cavers who thoroughly explored the cave and conducted an accurate survey to produce a detailed map of the cave. There was no evidence of Von Däniken’s more exotic claims, although some physical features of the cave did approximate his descriptions and some items of zoological, botanical and archaeological interest were found. The lead researcher met with Moricz’s indigenous source, who claimed that they had investigated the wrong cave and that the real cave was secret

The British expedition extracted 4 large sealed wooden crates without exposing to the owners (the Shuar) their content, the matter ended (according to a Spanish researcher) with shots fired between the Shuar and the English expedition.

The oldest traces of habitat in the caves date from the upper Paleolithic period (48 000—12 000 BC) where the cave provided protection during the end of the glaciation.

Approximately 9000 BC, the civilization leaves the cave thanks to the improvement of Earth’s climate and they move towards the south towards parts of Peru and the north of Chile.

In the Neolithic age, the cave is believed to have been inhabited from 3000 BC. by a Pre-Shuar civilization, which was already using ceramic artifacts, evidence of which we can find at the University of Munich which even performed radiocarbon dating. Approximately around 1500 BC. the first Shuar begin to settle in the area and merge with the natives of the cave. The Shuar guard the cave with great respect and believe that there rest the spirits of their ancestors.

To date, there is no reliable evidence of the veracity of this metal library.

The only things recovered from the cave—which are found resting in the Catholic University of Quito—are several archaeological pieces and remains of a so-called spondylus shell, that was especially valuable for the primitive cultures of the Ecuadorian coast.

Interestingly, architect and historian Melvin Hoyos, Director of Culture and development in the Municipality of Guayaquil had some very interesting things to say about the cave:

“To begin with, I think that the cave of the Tayos is not a cave, but a work of the hand of man, there is nothing in nature that can resemble the Cave of the Tayos. It has the ceiling completely cut flat with a 90-degree angle to the wall. It is very similar to other tunnels of similar characteristics and age in other parts of the world, which leads us to think that before the Wisconsin glaciation there was a network of tunnels on the planet, but to accept this we would need to accept the existence—before said Glaciation—of a highly developed civilization. “

More and More Tunnels

  • A couple from Bishop, California discovered a circular hole in the ground while exploring for petroglyphs. They climbed down the hole which bottomed out to a horizontal corridor. On one of the walls was carved a face out of the mouth of which poured water. Suddenly the water started to gush out of the face and from other openings, and the couple was forced to abandon the tunnel. Later, both recalled that they heard music down there.
  • In West Virginia, workers found some caverns with strange hieroglyphics written on the walls. They also claimed to hear faint voices and what sounded like machinery coming from beyond the walls of the cavern.
  • Two men searching for bat guano (which has some value as fertilizer) at the foot of Mount Lassen found a deep cave. They followed it inside for a mile or two and noticed that the floor was worn smooth, as if it had been used for a road. Eventually they met three strange "men" who asked if they are "surface people," and then took them deeper in the cave on an electromagnetically powered hovercraft. The story gets stranger from there.
  • Travelers Ferdinand Ossendowski and Nicholas Roerich claim to have discovered a subterranean society below central Asia, which they referred to as Agharta or Agharti. They say it is home to 20 million people, and their civilization extends throughout all the subterranean passages of the world.
  • A 12-man speleological team broke into an ancient tunnel system in northern Arkansas and encountered the inhabitants of the subsurface world.
  • Exploring another cave in Arkansas, just north of Batesville, explorers found a tunnel illuminated by a greenish phosphorescence where they met a race of beings who stood 7 to 8 feet tall and had bluish skin. The beings, who have advanced technology, told the explorers they are the direct descendants of Noah.

Brazil is said to have many entrances to an underground world. Several people claim to have proof:

Steps [ edit | edit source ]

  • Interact with the entrance of xolo city
  • Excavate and restore a lingam stone from the Moksha device hotspot.
  • Interact with the entrance of xolo city with the restored lingam stone in your inventory. This consumes the stone and gives you access to the city.
  • Excavate and restore a 'Raksha' idol and a gold dish from the Saurthen debris hotspot.
  • Place the restored gold dish on top of the xolo temple pyramid to the south of the room.
  • Place the restored 'Raksha' idol on top of the xolo building just to the west of the pyramid.
  • Return to the Archaeology Campus and interact with the mysterious monolith.

A Gentleman’s Ring

“Hey, a chunk of iron!” exclaims Margaret Dawson, a nurse and volunteer excavator, as she sorts through black earth at a site on Hatteras Island called Cape Creek. She and her husband Scott, a local teacher, founded the Croatoan Archaeological Society—named after the island’s native inhabitants—in 2009 and have sponsored Horton’s annual digs ever since.

Hidden in a live oak forest close to Pamlico Sound, Cape Creek was the site of a major Croatoan town and trade hub. Under Horton’s supervision, volunteers are busy searching through fine-mesh screens filled with mud from a nearby trench. The Dawson’s two young daughters are quick to spot tiny Venetian glass beads.

During a two-day excavation in July, the sieves produced ample Native American as well as European materials, including deer and turtle bones, homemade and imported brick, Native American pottery, hunks of European iron, parts of a 16th century gun, and a tiny copper eyelet that may have been used in clothing.

In 1998, archaeologists from East Carolina University found a ten-carat gold signet ring here engraved with a prancing lion or horse, an unprecedented find in early British America. The well-worn object may date to the 16th century and was almost certainly owned by an English nobleman.

Like most of the European finds at Cape Creek, however, the artifact was mixed in with objects that date to the mid-17th century, a full lifetime after the Roanoke colony was abandoned.

Horton argues that members of the lost colony living among the Croatoan may have kept their few heirlooms even as they slowly adopted Indian ways.

One of the most unusual recent discoveries is a small piece of slate that was used as a writing tablet, along with a lead pencil. A tiny letter “M” can just be made out on one corner. A similar, though much larger, slate was found at Jamestown.

“This was owned by somebody who could read or write,” Horton says. “This wasn’t useful for trade, but was owned by an educated European.”

Another artifact unearthed recently at Cape Creek is part of the hilt of a rapier, a light sword of a type used in England in the late 16th century. In addition, a large copper ingot, a long iron bar, and German stoneware show up in what appear to be late 16th century levels. These may be signs of metallurgical work by Europeans—and possibly by Roanoke settlers—since Native Americans lacked this technology.

“There are trade items here,” Horton says, gesturing at the artifacts. “But there is also material that doesn’t come from trade.” Were these the personal possessions of the colonists?

Get everything you need


'Finely translated and startlingly audacious. Elements of [Proust's] greatness are already in place: his ability to combine the qualities of the satirist and the moralist his curiosity about the workings of the human heart. There is even the first glimpse of his lasting discovery - that art, thought and analysis can draw the thorn of suffering.' ― Literary Review

&lsquoRevelatory&hellip offers a lush and emotionally raw view into [Proust&rsquos] evolution as a writer. The nine entries, annotated by footnotes, address topics such as love and suffering, homosexuality, and, of course, time lost and regained&hellip The stories have plenty of scholarly appeal, but they are elegant on their own&hellip Each tale features exquisite moments with expert annotations from Friasse. This volume is a fantastic discovery.&rsquo ― Publisher's Weekly, starred review

&lsquoA hundred years after his Prix Goncourt, the author of In Search of Lost Time returns, stronger than ever!&rsquo ― Michel Schneider, Le Point

&lsquoTo think that this treasure might have remained hidden in the shadows of the archives&hellip&rsquo ― Mohammed Aïssaoui, Le Figaro Littéraire

&lsquoThe dramatic birth of a writer destined for greatness.&rsquo ― Nelly Kaprièlian, Les Inrockuptibles

About the Author

Marcel Proust (1871�) is a titan of twentieth century European literature. The stories that make up The Mysterious Correspondent were written when the author was still in his twenties. Having been discovered by the late Proust specialist Bernard de Fallois in the 1950s, they were held back from publication in France until 2019.

Charlotte Mandell is a French literary translator of over 40 books that include Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Honoré de Balzac, Mathias Énard and Jean-Luc Nancy.

Georgia Guidestones — mysterious instructions for the post-apocalypse

The American Stonehenge

On a barren field in Georgia, US, five granite slabs rise in a star pattern. Each of them weighs over 20 tons and on top of them, there is a capstone. Nobody knows who built it or why they were placed there, but one popular opinion that their purpose is to guide humanity after a predicted post-apocalyptic event that will come in the not so distant future. The huge blocks send a message out to the world in eight different current languages, as well as four extinct ones (ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphs for example). The set of ten guidelines has baffled people around the world, with descriptions ranging from perfect and utopian to satanic or quirky. But no matter what the case, these ten commandments should definitely get you thinking:

Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.

Unite humanity with a living new language.

Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.

Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.

Avoid petty laws and useless officials.

Balance personal rights with social duties.

Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.

Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature

While some of them are clearly noble and laudable (like having fair laws and avoiding petty ones), some of them have stirred controversy — especially “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature”, and “Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity”. If we were to apply these now, we’d have to kill over 90% of the planet.

However, this is a perfect example of a misinterpretation, because it has to be kept in mind that these “commandments” have to be applied after the alleged apocalyptic event. It’s not clear why “they” settled on 500 million, but the bottom line is that even though we hate to admit it — the world is overpopulated right now it’s way overpopulated. We are indeed finding better and better ways to manage our resources and use sustainable or renewable forces, but in just the last 50 years, the population of the Earth has more than doubled, and if we keep this up, the prognosis is pretty dire indeed. But back to our Georgia Stones.

Georgia Guidestones humanity commandment.

The construction of a post-apocalyptic monument

Whoever built them definitely knew what they were doing: the slabs stand proud and sturdy and will endure through the centuries with minimal damage. They also have a remarkable set of other features. For example, they feature a built-in channel that indicates the celestial pole, a horizontal slot that shows the annual travel of the sun as well as a system that marks noontime throughout the year. But why they have these features and lack others that would apparently be more useful for dazed survivors is still a mystery.

It all started on a Friday in June 1979. An elegantly dressed gray-haired man showed up in Elbert County and introduced himself as R. C. Christian — a reference to Christian Rosenkreuz — or Christian Rose Cross in English, and said he represents a small group of loyal Americans. Rosenkreuz is a legendary character that founded the Order of the Rose Cross. He quickly became one of the most important and mysterious figures of the time, by blending Christianity with some teachings of Arab and Persian sages. R. C. Christian admitted this is not his real name, but refused to reveal anything about his identity. Joe Fendley, president of the company that specializes in granite construction, didn’t care too much about this — that is, until he found out what monument R. C. Christian had in mind.

He explained that it would be a compass, calendar, and clock and also be engraved with a set of “guides” written in 8 of the world’s languages. Fendley believed he was dealing with a crazy man and wanted to get rid of him, so he explained that a large number of tools and machines would be required, but Christian just nodded. He then quoted a price several times greater than the real one, but again, Christian seemed indifferent, so Fendley sent him to Wyatt Martin, president of the Granite City Bank. Martin is probably one of the people who have seen and spoken to the mystery man the most.

Ten guides, a clock, a calendar, and a compass

The astrological specifications were incredibly complex, so the construction company had to employ the help of an astronomer from the University of Georgia. The complex indicates the day of the year, equinoxes, and solstices among others. But the main feature is the 10 guides engraved in the several languages.

The mission statement raises the first few questions marks: let these be Guidestones to an age of reason. But controversy started even before the monument was finished — many claiming it to be the devil’s work. By 1980, when they started building the monument, Martin remembers that people started telling him to stop and accused him of being part of an occult movement.

The main problem is that the commandments engraved on the stones are quite eccentric, to say the least. It didn’t take a lot to compare the first two commandments to the practices of Nazis, among others, but again, this doesn’t mean that a large part of mankind has to disappear – the guides apply in a post-apocalyptic event, where the population is undoubtedly very small this can be very hard to digest, but seeing things from their point of view is quite interesting, and any comparison with the Nazis or far right ideology is unreasonable. I mean, if a horrendous tragedy happens, and somehow the world population is reduced to just a few hundred million then yes, it would be a good idea to have some care regarding the number of humans.

Guide number 3 instructed people to use a common language — which would, of course, greatly reduce numerous difficulties throughout today’s world achieving such a task is, however, impossible at the moment due to evident practical reasons. This is the part that bothered annoyed the Christians, who quoted the bible saying that a common tongue is the mark of the Antichrist — yeah, makes a lot of sense for me, too. Same thing with RULE PASSION—FAITH—TRADITION—AND ALL THINGS WITH TEMPERED REASON — for some, faith has to be the alpha and omega with nothing else in between. For others, yours truly included, finding a sustainable balance is a much nobler goal.

The structure, sometimes referred to as an “American Stonehenge”, sure stirred a lot of controversies, but it got us thinking — which means that at least a part of its objective was achieved. Even ignoring the more controversial commandments, the final 6 should definitely be worth achieving. After all, what’s wrong with avoiding unnecessary officials and prizing truth?

Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite and Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature. There’s a really powerful vibe in here.

More On This.

"The Gabriel Stone is in a way a Dead Sea Scroll written on stone," said James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum. The writing dates to the same period, and uses the same tidy calligraphic Hebrew script, as some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of Hebrew Bible texts.

The Gabriel Stone made a splash in 2008 when Israeli Bible scholar Israel Knohl offered a daring theory that the stone's faded writing would revolutionize the understanding of early Christianity, claiming it included a concept of messianic resurrection that predated Jesus. He based his theory on one hazy line, translating it as "in three days you shall live."

His interpretation caused a storm in the world of Bible studies, with scholars convening at an international conference the following year to debate readings of the text, and a National Geographic documentary crew featuring his theory. An American team of experts using high resolution scanning technologies tried -- but failed -- to detect more of the faded writing.

Knohl, a professor of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, eventually scaled back from his original bombshell theory but the fierce scholarly debate he sparked continued to reverberate across the academic world, bringing international attention to the stone. Over the last few years it went on display alongside other Bible-era antiquities in Rome, Houston and Dallas.

Bible experts are still debating the writing's meaning, largely because much of the ink has eroded in crucial spots in the passage and the tablet has two diagonal cracks the slice the text into three pieces. Museum curators say only 40 percent of the 87 lines are legible, many of those only barely. The interpretation of the text featured in the Israel Museum's exhibit is just one of five readings put forth by scholars.

All agree that the passage describes an apocalyptic vision of an attack on Jerusalem in which God appears with angels on chariots to save the city. The central angelic character is Gabriel, the first angel to appear in the Hebrew Bible. "I am Gabriel," the writing declares.

The stone inscription is one of the oldest passages featuring the archangel, and represents an "explosion of angels in Second Temple Judaism," at a time of great spiritual angst for Jews in Jerusalem looking for divine connection, said Adolfo Roitman, a curator of the exhibit.

The exhibit traces the development of the archangel Gabriel in the three monotheistic religions, displaying a Dead Sea Scroll fragment which mentions the angel's name the 13th century Damascus Codex, one of the oldest illustrated manuscripts of the complete Hebrew Bible a 10th century New Testament manuscript from Brittany, in which Gabriel predicts the birth of John the Baptist and appears to the Virgin Mary and an Iranian Quran manuscript dated to the 15th or 16th century, in which the angel, called Jibril in Arabic, reveals the word of God to the prophet Mohammad.

"Gabriel is not archaeology. He is still relevant for millions of people on earth who believe that angels are heavenly beings on earth," said Roitman. The Gabriel Stone, he said, is "the starting point of an ongoing tradition that still is relevant today."

The story of how the stone was discovered is just as murky as its meaning. A Bedouin man is said to have found it in Jordan on the eastern banks of the Dead Sea around the year 2000, Knohl said. An Israeli university professor later examined a piece of earth stuck to the stone and found a composition of minerals only found in that region of the Dead Sea.

The stone eventually made it into the hands of Ghassan Rihani, a Jordanian antiquities dealer based in Jordan and London, who in turn sold the stone to Swiss-Israeli collector David Jeselsohn in Zurich for an unspecified amount. Rihani has since died. The Bible scholar traveled to Jordan multiple times to look for more potential stones, but was unable to find the stone's original location.

Israel Museum curators said Jeselsohn lent the stone to the museum for temporary display.

Lenny Wolfe, an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem, said that before the Jordanian dealer bought it, another middleman faxed him an image of the stone and offered it for sale.

"The fax didn't come out clearly. I had no idea what it was," said Wolfe, who passed on the offer. It was "one of my biggest misses," Wolfe said.

What function the stone had, where it was displayed, and why it was written are unknown, said curators of the Israel Museum exhibit.

"There is still so much that is unclear," said Michal Dayagi-Mendels, a curator of the exhibit. Scholars, she said, "will still argue about this for years."

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