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First Workshop



Due to the emergency we are all facing, we have made the decision to postpone the first INSCRIBE Workshop to the end of 2020, to allow everyone to travel safely and join us in Bologna. Stay tuned and keep safe!


INSCRIBE is proud to announce its first Workshop


Invention of Writing: Production of Images and Language Notation


Writing may have arisen out of images, but not all images have become systems of writing. How did this invention take place? When does an image become a sign? This Workshop attempts to answer these questions, following the inventions of “iconic” writing systems around the world, from Egypt to Easter Island, from the valley of the Indus to central America, from Mesopotamia to the island of Crete, and to the core of Africa.

This is the first Workshop that gathers international experts from intellectual backgrounds as diverse as palaeoanthropology, psychology, language, archaeology, cognitive evolution, semiotics and art history. It comprises four main themes.


In the first, Is Iconography a Springboard for Writing?, archaeology and anthropology will approach images as points of departure for inventions of scripts. Taking us back to engraved patterns from before the arrival of modern humans, Derek Hodgson will explore precursors to first writing and how this emerged from the perspective of both archaeology and neurology. Olivier Morin will address the question of why ideographic codes made up of stable images are limited in their scope in contrast to full writing systems, including Chinese. Gwenola Graff will examine early Egypt and the relationship between iconography, art and the hieroglyphs. Jennifer Ross will bring us back to the roots of cuneiform script, namely seal images and sealing practices from Mesopotamia and surrounding areas, all the way to the Neolithic period.


The second theme, The Dawn of Writing, goes back to the very beginnings of writing, approaching some of the earliest scripts and potential original inventions in the world. The Indus Valley civilisation and the creation of a ‘script’, whose status is debated, and which rarely features as a theme, is treated by Dennys Frenez. And back again to early Egypt, with Andréas Stauder arguing that the proper linguistic process that led to writing (“phonetisation”) was gradual, hinged on the role played by highly iconic signs. Françoise Bóttero will present cases of sign formation in the earliest Chinese at the end of the second millennium BC, which was both figurative and phonographic. And, finally, the New World, with the development of the Maya script in Central America, addressed by Christian Prager.


In More Recent Inventions, the role of iconicity is seen in connection with inventions of writing in the new era. David Domenici will focus on the undeciphered script from the Classic Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan and argue that it was perceived as ‘emblematic’ by Maya scribes. Scholars find that the Teotihuacan script has some principles in common with the later script of the Aztecs, or Nahua, whose close interface with icons will be the focus of Gordon Whittaker’s talk. The Rongorongo script of Easter Island will feature a double-bill by Konstantin Pozdniakov, who will propose a revised repertoire of signs and their iconographic nature, and Miguel Valério, who will discuss possible mechanisms through which Rongorongo may have registered Rapanui, the local Polynesian language. The session closes with a presentation by Piers Kelly on three writing systems invented in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Vai and Bamum from West Africa and the Caroline Islands script.


The final session, Non-Iconic Geometric Signs, will explore the limits of iconicity in writing systems and ‘alternative’ paths to script creation. First, the view that iconicity is always a necessary and stable part of the development of writing systems will be challenged by Alex de Voogt. Barbara Montecchi will address how suitable the label ‘linear’ is, typically used in contrast with ‘picture-based’, to describe the Linear A script of Minoan Crete. Gary Urton will take us on a journey to the Inka Empire, which did not invent a two-dimensional script, but instead used a record-keeping system based on knotted cords (khipu). The Workshop will conclude with a talk by evolutionary neurobiologist Mark Changizi, who will argue that writing, speech and music follow and mimic structures already existing in nature, which act as stimuli that our brain learned to process through evolution.


Invention of Writing has currently been postponed to the end of 2020. New information on the dates and venue will be provided as soon as possible.


For the FULL PROGRAMME click on top right link.