… about Africa’s gifts to the world: Part I – Writing
… about Africa’s gifts to the world: Part I – Writing.
The parent writing system of the very letters you are reading right now comes from Africa, from the Hieroglyphic writing of Ancient Egypt. Scholars of ancient history invariably assert that writing developed in Mesopotamia (Sumeria) and Egypt at about the same time, between 3,000 and 3,300 BC, but a bit earlier in Mesopotamia than in Egypt. I believe that it was first developed in Egypt because by 3,300 BC, the hieroglyphic writing system was fully developed. Whether writing developed earlier in Mesopotamia than in Egypt is not important for the purpose at hand. The fact is that our writing is not traceable to cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia but to Egyptian hieroglyphs. This Hieroglyphic writing was either developed in Ancient Egypt itself or in Cush (Ethiopia) to the South, both of which were African civilizations.
The featured image at the top of this post shows some connections (partial list) between Egyptian hieroglyphs and various writing systems of Asia and the Greek alphabet; the last column labeled Other shows the equivalent Greek letters.1 The Roman or Latin alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet; the Romans letters A, B, and G are equivalent to the Greek letters alpha, beta, gamma (Α, B, Γ; lower case: α, β, γ).
The Greek alphabet is traceable back to the Phoenician (Canaanite) alphabet, and the Phoenician alphabet is traceable back to Egyptian hieroglyphs.2 Phoenician, or Canaanite, writing was the first alphabetic writing; generally vowels were not written in Egyptian hieroglyphic writing nor in the Phoenician alphabetic writing, with a few exceptions. The Greek alphabet was the first writing system with vowels, an important innovation attributable to the Greeks. There were twenty-four (24) characters which constituted an Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet; however, Egyptian writing was only partially alphabetic. By the time of the New Kingdom, Egypt maintained very close ties with Phoenicia which was integrated into the Egyptian Empire. The Phoenicians were the merchant marines of Egypt since Egypt remained an insular (inland) country until the late period.
There is evidence that the earliest form of Canaanite alphabetic writing was developed in Egypt, in Sinai, the land bridge connecting Africa and Asia (See map below); Sinai then, and still is today, was a part of Egypt. A 2018 article in THE TIMES OF ISRAEL reported that “…the first inscriptions of the written Semitic alphabet, often called Proto-Canaanite, are found at this Sinai quarry site [Serabit el-Khadim].”3 These inscriptions are thought to date back to around 1,450 BC., more than 1,500 years after Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was fully developed. If all this is so, then the first alphabetic writing, as well as the first writing system, was also developed in Egypt.
It appears that most of the writing systems of Europe and Western Asia (Hebrew, Aramaic, South Arabian Script, and Moabite are some examples) were derived from either Greek or Canaanite writing, with Egyptian hieroglyphs being the mother of all. Practically all of the European writing systems use Roman letters which a traceable to Greek letters which come from Canaanite characters which finally are derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs. Latin (Roman), Cyrillic, and Runic writing systems were derived primarily from Greek writing.
Interestingly the authors of a book on Egyptian hieroglyphs commented that, “One of the phenomena of Egyptian history is that the writing does not seem to have developed slowly, as is the case of other cultures. One moment it did not exist; then suddenly, indeed almost overnight the writing appeared fully developed.”4 This enigma is attributable to the fact that historians want to synchronize Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization or want to put Mesopotamia before Egypt. Therefore, Egyptian civilization had to start around 3,200 BC, which gives no time to explain the development of writing. The other problem is that most Egyptologists have refused to look South to Ethiopia (Cush) as the origin of Egyptian writing, the place where Ancient Greeks and Egyptians say their civilization started. Interestingly Cheikh Anta Diop tells us that the plant and animal hieroglyphs are found in Cush more than Egypt.
Africa’s gift of writing to the Western World5 is enough to earn the gratitude of the world. The brilliance of the Greeks could not have been passed on to us without the writing system that they inherited from the Phoenicians. Undoubtedly the invention and/or adaption of writing systems facilitated the development of science and every other aspect of civilization.
In other posts, I will talk about Africa’s other gifts to the world through Egypt. I will also talk about the enormous contributions of West Africa and other parts of Sub-Sahara Africa.
1. Proto-Sinaitic script, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Sinaitic_script
2. “The Latin alphabet evolved from the visually similar Etruscan alphabet, which evolved from the Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet, which was itself descended from the Phoenician alphabet, which in turn derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics.” (Latin alphabet, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_alphabet)
3. AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN (May 22, 2018). First written record of Semitic alphabet, from 15th century BCE, found in Egypt. THE TIMES OF ISRAEL. Accessed at https://www.time First written record of Semitic alphabet, from 15th century BCE, found in Egypt sofisrael.com/first-written-record-of-semitic-alphabet-from-15th-century-bce-found-in-egypt/#:~:text=Newly%20deciphered%20Egyptian%20symbols%20on,University%20of%20British%20Columbia%20Egyptologist.
4. Scott, Joseph and Lenore Scott (1968). Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Everyone. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
5. I have not attempted to make a connection between Egyptian writing and Chinese writing. However, we know that Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was developed hundreds of years, perhaps as much as a thousand, before the writing system of the Chinese was developed, whether in China or adjoining countries.