Lecture: Visible Language: On the Origins and Development of Writing

Listen to the lecture: "Visible Language" (mp3) 1:12

This talk highlights recent discoveries in the field of comparative writing systems, including social and biological implications of the surprisingly similar origins of writing around the world. These similarities have much to teach us about culture and identity in the ancient world, and speak with equal poignancy about the structure of the human mind.

The talk will touch on writing as art (calligraphy), great moments in the history of decipherment (the decoding of ancient scripts), and why the superficially user-friendly emoticons and pictographs of the internet age are — despite frequent claims for their cross-cultural superiority over alphabets — both less versatile and more ambiguous than phonetic writing. The speaker is Marc Zender, Associate Curator, Peabody Museum.

Additional talks in this series include detailed looks at the writing systems of early China, Egypt, Europe, the Mediterranean, Mesoamerica, and Mesopotamia. Join us this Fall for an exploration of the origins and development of the written word!



Altar Q from the ancient Maya city of Copan, Honduras, depicts 16 rulers of a dynasty. The first ruler, second from the left, sits on top of the glyph: "lord."

High resolution image available on request. 

Visible Language: On the Origins and Development of Writing, the first in the Peabody Museum Visible Language series of free lectures, is Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm at the Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge.

A public reception follows at the Peabody Museum.