This is one sample of a large collection of inscribed stones that were discovered in the mountains in the western end of the island of Puerto Rico; these objects are known as Las Piedras del Padre Nazario, or Father Nazario’s Stones, named after José María Nazario, a priest and amateur archaeologist from Guayanilla on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, who found some 800 of these objects in the 1880s; they were examined sceptically and superficially in the early 1900s by a Harvard-trained scientist (a zoologist interested in anthropology), Dr Jesse Walter Fewkes, and they have ever since been considered to be forgeries or fakes; but local archeologist Reniel Rodríguez Ramos has been studying them since 2001, and he hopes to use them as evidence of the ancient (precolumban) history of the country.
Another photograph of this particular stone:
This has the advantage of showing more of the writing on the right hand side of the stone (actually the top, when the inscribed signs are oriented correctly).
Looking first at the lower section, and reading between the lines, so to speak, we see a character that is like a figure 9; it could be a B of the Phoenician alphabet, but my experience of West Semitic (Phoenician/Canaanian) scripts urges me to view this and all the other signs vertically rather than horizontally, thus:
the origin of the alphabet (2014), most of the letters in the Phoenician alphabet were already in the syllabary, and an example of T (a cross) stands before us, but in an oblique stance; if it had equal strokes like the multiplication sign (X) it would be the syllabogram KU (according to the decipherment of George Mendenhall, published in 1985, and slightly modified by myself in 1992). The syllabary had three signs for each consonant, representing TA, TI, TU, or KA KI KU, and in many cases the sign with the -a vowel was borrowed for the protoalphabet; D was a door (DA from daltu door), but the cross was apparently TU, and the K was KI. Both writing systems (syllabary and consonantary) were constructed by employing the acrophonic ("summit sound") principle, whereby the first sound (syllable or consonant) of the word that described the object in each pictorial sign was pronounced: hence DA (in the syllabary) and D (in the consonantary) came from daltu door, represented by a picture of a door, and the Roman D still shows the original door.
We may begin our quest with the sign at the top in the centre: I see it as an eye, for which the Semitic word is `aynu, and so it is an -a syllable, with a guttural consonant, conventionally transcribed as an inverted or reversed comma, an apostrophe (like a superscript c, or here `a); this symbol had become circular by the time it entered the Hellenic alphabet as the vowel o (Omikron); the Greeks had no use for it as a guttural consonant, and likewise the Romans, so they gave it a vocalic (vowel) function. Here the eye has an appendage, which may identify it as the sacred eye of the god Horus (Egyptian hieroglyph D10 in the classification system of Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, p. 451); this would distinguish it from the mouth sign (PU, alphabetic P, appearing as () when in vertical stance); there might also be some eyelashes at the top, and a pupil.
Next, to the left of `A is a "semi-oval", like an inverted letter U, and by coincidence it represents the syllable `U (from `ushru, tithe, ten) again according to the decipherment of Mendenhall and Colless).
Moving now to the right of the eye-sign (between the double lines) we have another incomplete oval, which Mendenhall recognized as `I, and my suggestion is that it goes with `ipipu eyelid.
So, amazingly, we have the three signs that refer to a particular consonant (`ayin) with the three standard vowels (u, a, i, as in Arabic). Is there a similar pattern in the remaining characters?
Below the eye-sign is an object that looks like a throne or a step; Mendenhall and I connected it with hudmu footstool, and identified it as the syllabogram HU.
Further to the right, between the lines and below the eyelid, is a square building with an entrance (viewed from above), a temple (haykalu) and thus HA.
Finally, outside the trainlines, is a murky version of HI, from hillulu jubilation (as in Halleluyah! Celebrate Yahweh!); it is a figure of a person jubilating with arms raised; the alphabetic version of H was used by the Greeks and Romans for the vowel E (note the head and arms, with the body discarded over the centuries of evolution).
Returning now to the large leaning cross: Mendenhall and I felt that the cross was TU. Our choice for TI is found in the serpentine sign below the temple, though it is not a snake but a harp (tibbuttu).
This exercise is giving me the comfort of confirmation that Mendenhall and I got these identifications right.
But where is the sign for TA? The sequence for `ayin and H was, from left to right: -U, -A, -I, and, by the way, these are the case endings for nouns (nominative u, accusative a, genitive i). On our tables, Mendenhall and I have preferred the AIU order, in accordance with the AEIOU pattern in the English alphabet; but strange to say, I had recently thought of changing from AIU to UAI, and suddenly this document popped up and demanded my attention.
Accordingly, we search between the cross and the harp for a character constructed of two vertical parallel lines (which need not be of the same length), joined at the top by a crossbeam, and constituting a grapevine stand; I have suggested that it was associated with tarashu, a word for "new wine". Such a figure could perhaps be construed from the scored marks above the cross and below the `U. The dots might represent grapes, and a counterpart for this can be seen more clearly on this West Semitic syllabic inscription from ancient Thebes in Egypt:
Here I pause and ponder, if the scribe who engraved those nine syllabograms was consistent in setting each trio in the same order (U A I) then the wine-vine would be TU not TA, and the cross would be TA not TU; but there would be difficulties in the way of accepting this change.
An example of the vine-stand is available on another of the Puerto Rico stones, from the Smithsonian museum:
The TA (note the post on the right is longer, but they can be equal in length).
The zigzag sign represents waves of water, and was M in the protoalphabet, and MU in the protosyllabary.
TAMU. "perfect" or "Perfection". The name of a worshipper?
Mu Ta (logograms or ideograms) water and new wine? (a mixed drink?)
"Total"? Are the dots numerical?
On the other hand, the VV sign might have only one peak, and thus represent SHA; in the consonant-alphabet it stands for Th, and is the origin of Greek Sigma and Roman S; it is derived from the word shad or thad, meaning "breast". Between the TA and the SHA is a human stick-figure with a prominent head; this could be an unusual way of expressing RA or R (from ra'ish, "head").
This would give us the word t-r-sh, "new wine". Suppose the figurine represents a worshipper, and the wine is his offering, delivered to the shrine of the deity. The Phoenicians always traveled with wine (witness the copper cup from Jamaica, with a syllabic inscription about the pleasant effects of wine); and if they were planning to settle in distant places, they took grapevines with them (as Jews and Christians have done in the present era).
For the record, here is a view of another part of the same stone:
Only the writer of any particular inscription knew the intended meaning, but the vertical sign like a Y, with a small crossbar at the bottom end, could be the Egyptian nefer glyph, signifying "good and beautiful", and it is followed by a possible house-sign (an incomplete square): hence T.ABA, or simply alphabetic T.B, meaning "good".
There is mention of a stone slab covered with such characters, and that is something I would really like to see; it might have a complete table of the West Semitic syllabary.
Statuettes are also part of the collection: this Smithsonian stone seems to be a figurine; and the stone we have already examined, with all the `ayin, H, and T syllable-signs, is in the shape of a human bust (head and chest sculpture), as can be seen in this picture:
Dr. Iris Groman-Yaroslavsky, left, with Prof. Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
examining some of the Puerto Rican figurines at Haifa University
She is holding our prize object, and he has this other statuette in his hands.
Here is another view of this object:
Note that the West Semitic syllabary and consonantary (the protoalphabet) functioned in tandem in the Bronze Age (before 1200 BCE).
But for some shock treatment we must now go back to the University of Haifa
Dr. Iris Groman-Yaroslavsky examined the objects in depth at her laboratory. Her findings confirmed that the objects are not a modern forgery, and she also discovered evidence showing that some of the objects were coated in gold and in red paint. “This is definitely one of the strangest and most fascinating stories I’ve been involved in,” Dr. Groman-Yaroslavsky confessed. “To date, we have not found any similar carved stone art objects from this region of America, and this is why many researchers assumed that they must be fake. However, the microscopic tests we performed show beyond any doubt that the stones were carved around 600 years ago.”
What? Where do we go from here?! Well, we read the rest of that article (University of Haifa), where we are told that the figurines are "ancient". Reniel assures me that this figure of 600 years ago is not correct, and is a mistake of the writer of the article : he has five radiocarbon dates, from 1100 BCE to 900 CE.
Focusing on the main figurine that we are deciphering, one possibility would have been that these marks were added very recently. I have always told myself that I can safely assume that any West Semitic syllabic inscription that comes to my attention must be genuine, because Mendenhall's decipherment was not published till 1985; but now someone could have taken this accessible object and copied all the `ayin, H, and T signs onto it, using Mendenhall's Table 3 (p. 19). Not expletively likely, I would have to say.
If the marks were carved into this figurine "600 years ago" (a point in time that can not quite be labeled as Precolumban, before Christopher Columbus arrived, in AD 1492 CE) some very ancient document from the Bronze Age must have been available for reference (I would like to see whether the reported slab with a lot of marks on it is a table of the signs of the syllabary); or else this was a copy of a much older artefact. I would prefer to think that this was an original piece from the Mediterranean Bronze Age, and it was inscribed with this West Semitic writing system in that era, since it fell into disuse in its homeland in the Iron Age.
Returning to our starting point: if we allow that the inscriber actually wanted to make a statement with the set of signs from the syllabary (`ayin, H, T) and that the characters were intended to function not as syllabograms but as logograms or ideograms, then this could be the meaning:
The eye of the day (EYELID) has risen and the sun-god (Horus-eye) is enthroned (FOOTSTOOL) in the sanctuary (TEMPLE); and there is jubilation (HILLUL) with music (HARP), and ten (`USHRU) measures of wine (TARASHU), and sacrifices (CROSS?!).
The last detail is suspect, but human sacrifice was a feature of the culture that was established in southern America by the Mediterranean visitors or invaders.
There are analogies for this proposed scenario, with reference to worship of a goddess: the Wadi el-Hol inscription, and an inscription on a bowl (from Byblos?); both have the word "wine" (WN) and they mention animal sacrifice.
However, while a poem can produce an interpretation that is unintended by the poet, I may be going too far by forcing this meaning onto this set of significant signs.
A striking fact to emerge from the microscopic analysis at Haifa University, was the presence of ochre (for reddening lips) and gold. Metals were what drew the Phoenicians to distant shores, such as Cornwall and Devon for tin; and they left inscriptions: a silver mine in Scandinavia, a gold mine in Texas. Puerto Rico island has gold mines, and there may be inscriptions waiting to be discovered there.
Further westward from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea, in Jamaica, a copper cup has come to light, and its WS syllabic inscription about wine adds confirmation to the presence of Phoenicians in the same places that Columbus and the Spaniards visited three millennia later.
RRR takes us on a tour of the tables on which his collection is displayed (Spanish Language):
This link has some more mysterious inscriptions:
Thus, West Semitic writing of the Bronze Age, both protosyllabic and protoalphabetic, has been found on Caribbean islands and on the mainland of America. This fact must no longer be ignored.
Reniel has now sent me a slab, triangular in shape, found at Tecla, Guayanilla, near where the inscribed stones were obtained. It has the West Semitic consonantal proto-alphabet inscribed around the edge: it exhibits the long version from the Bronze Age, not the short Phoenician consonantal alphabet with 22 letters, current in the Iron Age. It would be hard for a modern forger to manufacture an object with these characteristics, since very few scholars venture into this field. This artefact and its ancient Semitic writing seems to clinch the matter. The evidence is now overwhelming.
Visible in the top left corner is the W-shaped letter (which we met on one of the figurines), originally representing Th (pronounced as in thing) in the proto-alphabet, but ultimately standing for Sh in the Phoenician and Hebraic alphabet of 22 letters, and employed in the Hellenic alphabet as Sigma. It is preceded by a rounded triangle on a stem, representing a human head and its neck; this is R; so we have R and S together, as in the standard alphabet. However, the Sh (VV) is followed by the letter Samek, looking like a telegraph pole, but actually representing a backbone and some ribs, and signifying "support", and that is what samek means; it is another sibilant, so the trio is R Sh S, but we were expecting T (which is apparently in the middle of the opposite line, as a cross (+). The R is not preceded on its line by Q, but the Q might be in the top corner, after the Samek; in any case this is my cue (?!) to talk about the origin of this letter (my own discovery): it is a builder's cord (qaw "line") wound on a stick (--o--); the ones I have seen in my lifetime are around a flat pencil, but the "line" was certainly used in ancient times; the sign was an Egyptian hieroglyph that was borrowed for the proto-alphabet, where it has remained to this day, as has its counterpart in the builder's toolbox. The Egyptian hieroglyph of this object could have the end of the string projecting beside the top of the stick (roughly --o<) and this is possibly the sign we see at the start of the right hand line of the triangle.
The letter for W, named Waw or Vav (a nail or hook) has the form --( or --o and may be lurking in the space at the top, after the Samek (spinal column).
In any case, it is obvious that the sequential order of the signs does not correspond to either of the standard systems: HLH.M (elucidated at that link) or 'Aleph Beth Gimel Daleth (Alpha Beta Gamma Delta). The 'A is on the right-hand side; the B is in the middle of the bottom line (like [/]); the G is next to it, on the left, I think ( |\ ), the D (a door) is in the middle of the left-hand side of the triangle. The letters H L H.M are likewise scattered.
To prove that this is a long alphabet, I can point to a letter in the top right corner (viewed on an enlargement of the photograph, which I can access by clicking once on the photograph below). Working our way downwards past the presumed Q, we find a double helix, a thread in the form of a hank (>ooo), representing a raspy H; its proper place in the long version of the 'ABGD alphabet is between G and D, but here it is having a change. Another indicator is the rare letter Gh, which is like the syllabogram TA (which we have encountered earlier): it is a grapevine stand, with grapes hanging, and it is located (apparently) at the end of the bottom line in the left corner.
The rarest letter of the early alphabet is Z., represented by a sun-shade (z.il), and I think it has a place in this collection, at the end of the right-hand line. Preceding it is the sun-sign, showing the sun-disc protected by a serpent or two, and so we have the Th and the Sh symbols at opposite positions on the triangle. The sun letter Sh (from shimsh "sun") is preceded by the letter S. (Sadey), part of which runs under the sun. Before that comes the cross, the letter T, and then the letter H in its developed form: originally a person exulting with arms raised, but now reduced to E with its back stroke extended, and eventually it will be Greek Epsilon and Roman E. Next we see the ox-head, 'Aleph and Alpha, lying on its side, like the H-sign (E). And so on. This is a marvelous document!
For my identification of all the letters of the proto-alphabet, which seem to be confirmed by this artefact, go to this site: