Brian January, Thriller Author

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vinca: The Language of Atlantis? by Brian January

Pivotal to the plot of Emerald is the theory that an advanced Neolithic civilization (in terms of learning and writing) was flourishing on the eastern shores of the Euxine Lake (the body of fresh water bounded by Europe, Anatolia, and the Caucasus before it became the Black Sea) approximately 7,500 years ago. At this time warmer temperatures accelerated the melting of the Ice Age glaciers, causing the levels of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas to rise. The result was the flooding of the Euxine Lake and the vast fertile plains that surrounded it, destroying this advanced civilization and inaugurating a mass diaspora into Egypt and Crete.

The memory of this ancient disaster has come down to us as the myth of Atlantis.

But Laura "Flinders" Carlson, the brilliant linguist who helps OSR agents Park Skarda and April Force stop a cult of descendants of this doomed race from destroying the Earth in a worldwide deluge, has to decipher the ancient script of the “Atlanteans”--a script which had been inscribed on the fabled Emerald Tablet of Thoth.

During the course of the story, Flinders theorizes that the Atlantean script is a linguistic evolution of the language spoken by the Cro-Magnon people, who migrated into eastern and central Europe 50,000 years ago, and it was the eventual written form of this language that further evolved into the Vinca or Old European script, a language system that predates Sumerian/Akkadian cuneiform, the supposed earliest invention of human writing.

(As a side note, it is indisputable that the Cro-Magnons had language. In fact, it’s possible to posit the argument that some of the symbols scratched or painted on cave walls during the Upper Paleolithic constitute a rudimentary form of language—not pictograms or syllabaries, but rather signs representing conceptual ideas, such as “abundance”, “growth”, ‘sacrifice”, etc. And there is much reason to suppose that modern language isolates like Basque and Berber are linguistic continuants of the language the Cro-Magnons spoke [in Basque, for example, the word for knife means “stone that cuts” and the word for ceiling means “top of the cavern”]).

From approximately the sixth to the third millennia BCE the Vinca culture proliferated along the shores of the Danube in what is now Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia before it was swallowed up by history. But between 1918 and 1934 the Serbian archaeologist Miloje Vasic excavated a Neolithic settlement in the village of Vinca, near Belgrade, revealing artifacts from this vanished civilization that had flourished three millennia before Dynastic Egypt. Here there were housing complexes, streets, temples, mines, and the workshops of artisans.

And the Vinca script.

But there was a problem. Since the archaeological establishment of the time had already determined that Sumer was the birthplace of writing and the Vinca artifacts showed remarkable correspondences to the Sumerian writing system, then it was Sumer which had influenced the development of the Vinca culture and not the other way around (this was, of course, before the discovery of carbon dating techniques). Vinca was largely forgotten.

In 1961, however, Nicolae Vlassa, an archaeologist attached to the Cluj Museum in Romania rediscovered three inscribed clay tablets first unearthed in 1875 at the Neolithic site of Turdas in what was then Transylvania. Vlassa speculated that the symbols on these small, unfired tablets were pictograms, very similar to their Sumerian counterparts. Carbon dating proved, however, that the symbols predated the proto-Sumerian pictographic system by at least thirteen hundred years (approximately 6000 BCE).

So Vinca was first.

The majority of the Vinca inscriptions have been found on pottery and most consist of a single symbol. Some, however, are arranged in groups and patterns. Overall, except for the Sitovo inscription, found in Bulgaria, the number of symbols in any inscription is quite limited, and it is this paucity which is the most significant scholarly argument against Vinca as an actual writing system. Moreover, some scholars think the symbols are religious iconography, since the same marks were used for centuries without change and have been found inscribed on figurines buried under houses, perhaps indicating a household religious observance.

But in the novel, Flinders points out the remarkable resemblance between Vinca and Linear A, the untranslated language spoken by the Minoans on Crete from approximately 1900-1450 BCE. The Minoans were a Neolithic culture, isolated from the outside influence and culture evolution of mainland Europe; recent DNA analysis proves that they originated in Anatolia and the Near East and hence could easily have spoken and written the Vinca language. Therefore, she concludes that Vinca was an actual writing system, which in time evolved into proto-Sumerian, Linear A, and perhaps even Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Flinders’ argument is cogent. But whether she’s right or wrong, it’s fun to speculate!

For an example at what the Vinca script looks like, see

Corroborating evidence: