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Any Ancient Civilizations Without Writing?


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#1 paigetheoracle

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 12:22 PM

Considering all the civilizations that have ever been, has there ever existed any without some form of writing or mathematics? (Mayan, Incan, Aztec, Chinese, Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Sumerian etc.)

#2 Qfwfq

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 11:27 AM

Considering all the civilizations that have ever been, has there ever existed any without some form of writing or mathematics? (Mayan, Incan, Aztec, Chinese, Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Sumerian etc.)

I'd say it depends firstly on what you count as writing and also on what you count as a civilization. All hunter-gatherer tribes back to the branching of our species? I dunno... try sifting through this cool stuff:shrug:

#3 Elisa

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Posted 29 June 2014 - 03:42 AM

I'd say it depends firstly on what you count as writing and also on what you count as a civilization. All hunter-gatherer tribes back to the branching of our species? I dunno... try sifting through this cool stufficon_shrug.gif

 

Agreed. And cool link by the way!! I have this niggling feeling to say that the Sumerians were the first peoples that we know of that communicated by writing. So I would have to say that by assumption, there were many peoples prior to that who did not have a writing form of communication.



#4 Buffy

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Posted 29 June 2014 - 11:06 AM

In addition to the definitional issues, it's also interesting to look at the reasons the two are correlated.

It's clear from existing examples (yes, the Hadza culture Qfwfq linked above), that if you only have a thousand or so people, you can have a social culture that's driven either by a "King/Chief" who has the final say on everything (maybe delegated partially to a "Priest/Medicine Man"), or by a more populist "elder council" based on well-established traditions (thus the elders know it best and get to decide). Kingdoms can grow pretty big because there's an enforceable hierarchy that develops, but even then the group will depend on traditions.

The problem is that when you go beyond a thousand or so, those traditions start to mutate and evolve over time, causing schisms that result either in splits into separate tribes, or war which results in reducing the population to a more manageable number.

The only way to prevent those types of schisms happening all the time as a population naturally grows is to put those traditions in writing which reduces the flexibility to interpret them and allows far more of then to exist than can be kept in the head of the "high priest."

Understand of course that "traditions" as I'm using the word here is meant to be very broad, and can be driven by the need to move to more complex social interactions like specialization of labor and trading of goods as each of these types of activities requires people to agree on who is going to do what and how they are treated as differently purposed cogs in the societal machine. There seems to be some evidence that the beginnings of writing (as opposed to oral language) have concentrated on keeping track of labor and trade, and for all intents and purposes accounting, which really started not as trade between groups but as keeping track of goods and services delivered to the king/church for redistribution within the group to keep track of who was contributing what.

So ancient cultures that still survive like the Hazda, do so only because they keep themselves tiny, and just on the edge of what we'd call a "civilized culture" but seemingly without writing.

Once you decide to define "civilization" as something where you've got more than a few thousand people getting along without killing each other on a daily basis, they no longer qualify.

Of course that depends on your definition of "getting along," but that's an excuse for a separate thread.


Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them, :phones:
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#5 Racoon

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Posted 29 June 2014 - 06:58 PM

Umm, I know its not politically correct, but The entire Continent of Africa never really had any system of Writing or Mathematics, save the ancient Egyptians, whom were probably mostly Arabs, Before European Intervention (and had massive influence from Alexander the Great). 

 

If you can name a system of African written language and math before European arrival and Colonization, then please be sure to share.

 

??

 

Can You ?


Edited by Racoon, 29 June 2014 - 07:32 PM.


#6 Plautus

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Posted 09 July 2014 - 11:13 PM

Umm, I know its not politically correct, but The entire Continent of Africa never really had any system of Writing or Mathematics, save the ancient Egyptians, whom were probably mostly Arabs, Before European Intervention (and had massive influence from Alexander the Great).

If you can name a system of African written language and math before European arrival and Colonization, then please be sure to share.

??

Can You ?

It's not factually correct, either.

http://www.taneter.org/writing.html

Edited by Plautus, 09 July 2014 - 11:14 PM.


#7 Plautus

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Posted 10 July 2014 - 11:55 AM

The problem is that when you go beyond a thousand or so, those traditions start to mutate and evolve over time, causing schisms that result either in splits into separate tribes, or war which results in reducing the population to a more manageable number.


This antique and anachronistic philosophical opinion has about as much validity as voodoo, it only works if you believe in it.

#8 Buffy

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Posted 10 July 2014 - 12:19 PM

This antique and anachronistic philosophical opinion has about as much validity as voodoo, it only works if you believe in it.


Oh I would love to see counterexamples of large (>50,000 people), persistent (>10 generations), cohesive social groups (implying both geographical co-location as well as high interaction) that had no formal (and therefore written) laws (which might be hiding as religion). Otherwise it's a perfectly legitimate hypothesis with lots of evidence for it.

My favorite area of history is pre-Columbian America, where we've got more than a few examples of groups without written language, but there's also plenty of evidence--especially with North American tribes--of warring and fragmentation of groups very quickly after early attempts at coalescing into larger sizes. The only ones who had truly persistent cultures were those that developed formal written laws.

Care to elaborate your objection rather than just voice an opinion?


Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it, :phones:
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#9 Plautus

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Posted 10 July 2014 - 12:32 PM

Oh I would love to see counterexamples of large (>50,000 people), persistent (>10 generations), cohesive social groups (implying both geographical co-location as well as high interaction) that had no formal (and therefore written) laws (which might be hiding as religion). Otherwise it's a perfectly legitimate hypothesis with lots of evidence for it.


That's a rather peculiar and arbitrary set of conditions you impose as criteria, and it seems only tangentially related to your original post.

As for your "hypothesis", no practical method of experiment exists to verify or refute it, so it is untestable. Untestable hypotheses are just belief systems that lie outside the realm of science.

Care to elaborate your objection rather than just voice an opinion?


I didn't voice my opinion as I don't see it has any place here.

Edited by Plautus, 10 July 2014 - 12:33 PM.


#10 Buffy

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Posted 10 July 2014 - 01:56 PM

That's a rather peculiar and arbitrary set of conditions you impose as criteria, and it seems only tangentially related to your original post.


"peculiar" is an opinion, dude!

Those particular numbers are an attempt to further define the terms of the discussion which are indeed "arbitrary," and there's nothing special about them, they can be debated themselves, but they're definitions that the parties can agree upon with the goal being to allow testable hypotheses to be examined:

As for your "hypothesis", no practical method of experiment exists to verify or refute it, so it is untestable. Untestable hypotheses are just belief systems that lie outside the realm of science.


Well, it's certainly Social Science where the known facts are based on inference, and I can assure you that thousands of anthropology and history scholars have spent their lives studying the examples I gave. However if you think these people are all idiots because you're one of those people who says that "if I can't replicate the experiment directly, it's irrelevant and not useful," then you'd best go away and not worry your little head about this area of knowledge because you have nothing to contribute but the snide whinging you've engaged in thus far.

So, you're not contributing.

If you don't like this stuff, go away.


I'm tired of people calling me a devil worshipper. It's kind of pointless you know. Because if the Devil did exist, he'd be worshipping me, because I'm more successful than he is, :phones:
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#11 engcat

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 11:53 AM

Agreed. And cool link by the way!! I have this niggling feeling to say that the Sumerians were the first peoples that we know of that communicated by writing. So I would have to say that by assumption, there were many peoples prior to that who did not have a writing form of communication.

That's not necessarily true.  The Sumerian culture delineation is based on nomenclature that has to do with the line of prehistory and understanding of writing.  There were earlier cultures.  One is the Vinca culture in Serbia, that dates back to 5000-6000 bce, with a wealth of written symbols on finds, but there are debates on deciphering and use.


Edited by engcat, 06 August 2014 - 11:54 AM.


#12 HydrogenBond

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Posted 13 September 2014 - 09:26 AM

Writing was an invention that changed the dynamics of civilization from subjective to objective. If you compare something in writing, to the same thing only in spoken language, spoken language has a tendency to drift in terms of memory and meaning. Writing will stay the same as long as the media is maintained. 

 

For example, if I make a contract with someone to trade horses for sheep, orally, years later the terms of the agreement may come to question, especially if there is no written contract to hold both parties accountable to the original agreement. It comes down to he said and she said, with subjectivity, games and bull crap carrying weight. Writing was critical to commerce to avoid bad memory and lying. 

 

If I tell a story, verbally, the next person may embellish my story or even change it to suit their needs. Before long the story has lost all the original meaning. But if this is written down, at the beginning, in front of witnesses, there is always a way to go back to the original.

 

Writing would be needed for contracts in commerce, and to record the best ideas for education, so the best ideas are not forgotten or changed in the fog of time. Writing also helped to fix the times of history and the laws and rituals; carved in stone to refresh the mind. Without writing these are all in flux, subject to subjective and personal agenda. 

 

Modern politicians, like in the IRS scandal, make sure all writing is removed. Without the e-mails in writing, even if you know the truth, it can be denied and cheated. The IRS scandal is a good example of what a civilization without writing looks like; criminals get to cheat.

 

I would guess those who invented writing got tired of being cheated; necessity. Writing became a way to record the event allowing more cooperation in the spirit of truth. 


Edited by HydrogenBond, 13 September 2014 - 09:32 AM.


#13 alec33

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Posted 18 July 2017 - 06:38 AM

kingdom of Benin didn't have written language and also some scientists believe the Inca didn't have either

 

-----Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Confucius-----

Best, just a freelancer at homework website


Edited by alec33, 18 July 2017 - 06:50 AM.