Wednesday, June 05, 2013
This interesting and puzzling artefact came to light in Ecuador, the country named after the equator, situated in the NW corner of South America, between Colombia and Peru. It is a sheet of metal, covered with signs or symbols, which may be the letters of a writing system. Each sign has its own square, making a total of fifty-six (4 x 14). There are too many letters for it to be a simple alphabet, with each sign representing a vowel or a consonant; but it could be a syllabary, in which each sign is a syllabogram standing for a consonant with a vowel or a vowel without a consonant (A, BA, DU, as examples).
This could be a table of signs with the four squares at one end showing the vowels (perhaps A, I, U, and O) and then the consonant-plus-vowel syllabograms, with all the syllables ending in a in a row, and likewise for the other three vowels.
Here is one such table which I constructed for the script used in Cyprus in the Bronze Age; it is explained here. We never find tables like that; we have to first decipher the script and then make up a chart ourselves.
The object is part of a large collection of museum pieces gathered (from the native peoples) by an Italian priest called Father Crespi (use that in your search engine to find information). Carlo Crespi was born in Milan (1891); as Padre Carlos Crespi of Cuenca he was a missionary in Ecuador until his death (1982). In 1976 he showed his hoard to Stanley Hall of Britain.
The size of this metal plaque can be seen there (at 2.50 minutes) ; it is much larger than a postcard; two hands are needed to hold it; and right way up seems to be with the the right-hand end of the photograph above at the top (there is a hole for a nail shown on pictures of the plaque, here, for example. See also the picture of Father Crespi holding it, below.
Father Crespi tells Stan Hall that it is Babylonian, and he actually has some ancient Mesopotamian objects, notably a winged bull with a bearded human head (a sphinx with wings), and this is the counterpart of the KERUB in the Bible (Englishly misrepresented as cherub, plural cherubim); they were guardians of thrones and doors; kerubim were placed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to keep humans out (Genesis 3:24).
At this point I digress, with relevance. When I was at Melbourne University as a doctoral research student in Middle Eastern studies (1965-1969) we went as a family to see Mozart's opera Don Giovanni at a cinema; the children were restless, and Helen had to take them outside into the street; when I finally emerged she was being harangued by a Hungarian, who was pointing to his collection of photographs of Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform documents and declaring them to be "Magyar", that is, Hungarian. In this connection, the same claim has been made for this plaque and other items in the Crespi corpus, by a Hungarian named Juan Moricz. Was this the man I met in Melbourne? Or was it Dr Barna Kósa, of Melbourne, who is listed among the Hungarian scholars who accept the theory of Moricz, that the Magyars went everywhere in ancient times? Moricz certainly went to Ecuador, and he claimed to have discovered a "metallic library" in the tunnels of the Cueva de los Tayos (Cave of the oil birds) in the Andes mountains. The notorious Erich von Däniken publicised this in The Gold of the Gods (1973), and as usual he invoked extraterrestrial beings as having been involved. In my view, if any aliens were in the picture they could have been Mediterranean explorers, who left a copper cup in Jamaica, 3000 years before Columbus arrived there.
West Semitic (Canaanian) syllabic script, the predecessor of the alphabet, but the Mesoamerican scripts (Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, and others) show that new writing systems were being created in America. They are all pictorial, showing such things as cobs of corn, human heads, jaguars, birds, and hands. On the plaque we can detect a hand (numbering from the right, that is the top, 10.1); the human hand (kap) was used for KA and K in the West Semitic scripts. (Incidentally, a Maya lexicon I have seen gives k'ab as a word for hand.) The sign resembling 5 on the plaque (5.3) is a characteristic letter (for LA) in the WS syllabary. The cross in a circle (11.4) is the letter Tet in the Phoenician alphabet, and it became Greek Theta; the cross inside a circle or square is found in the Mesoamerican scripts and designs.
What are we to make of all this? Father Crespi's collection has gone underground, or has been shipped off to the Vatican, or has been destroyed by fire, or reclaimed by the extraterrestrials?
With regard to the metallic library in the Cave of Tayos, in 2006 Philip Coppens summed up the story and gave the position for future explorers. But in 2010 the whole thing was debunked by Stan Grist: it was based on a fiction concocted by Petronio Jaramillo, who claimed to have reached the treasury by swimming underwater to it.
Yet in 2012 the golden library (and let us mention in passing that Mormons have visited Ecuador, perhaps hoping to find a duplicate copy of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon, which tells stories about ancient America) was rediscovered all over again, as reported in this disclosure. This spoke of thousands of metal books, as well as treasures, and a sarcophagus; it had more wonderful things than the tomb of Tutankhamun. An immediate disparaging response came from Manuel Palacios; speaking on behalf of the Shuar people (who gave artefacts to Father Crespi) he declared this to be disinformation derived from the book of Erich von Däniken. David Campbell added some fuel to the fire that is consuming the golden dream, quoting Stan Grist.
However, Ecuador (like Peru and the Incas) does have an archaeological past. I have focused on one object that may bear witness to an ancient writing system employed there.
And I might have remained ignorant of this if Arnetia Elston had not shown me pictures of the Crespi hoard on her computer in the Massey University library recently. Muchas gracias, or words to that gratitudinal effect.