Week 2 - Symbols

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Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Sun Jul 08, 2018 10:24 pm

Posting this a few hours early.

While cave paintings were the earliest form of recording ideas, the earliest form of writing is called proto-writing and came about around the 7th millennium BCE. Symbols were used to convey ideas or concepts. They were also used to keep records, such as in Mesopotamia and Egypt, or divination purposes, such as in Shang China.

Proto-writing traditionally starts off with some kind of picture writing system, making use of glyphs or simplified pictures. These glyphs ranged from being mnemonic, pictographic to ideographic.

We'll be covering proto-writing in more detail next week; this week's focus is on symbol systems.

For 10 points, research a set of pictograms or ideograms. Which ancient civilization made use of it? What did some of the symbols they use represent? What was the purpose of this early writing system? Share any other relevant details in at least 150 words.

Send your research to hol.bookclub @ gmail.com (without the spaces) with the subject line 'Week 2 - Symbols - HOL ID' by 15 July. Remember to include your HOL Name, ID and House in the body of the email.

We'll be sharing people's submissions in this thread after the deadline: if you'd rather yours wasn't posted, just let us know.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Sun Jul 08, 2018 10:39 pm

Submissions have been received from:

Amaryllis Storm
Arianna Stonewater
Aurelia West
Gail Allen
Ivorie Windton
Kendra Givens
Maxim Trevelyan
Polaris Black
Prof. Gustavo Flores
Silas Hipolito Crist
Will Lestrange
Zach Jameson
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:33 am

Submission by Amaryllis Storm:

The Maya writing system is recognized as the only fully-fledged writing system in the Americas by scholars today. The hieroglyphics are not only beautiful to behold but also complicated in its writing structure, containing no less than eight hundred divided into two categories.

The name Maya actually comes from the ancient Yucatan city of Mayapan, the last capital of the Mayan Kingdom in the Post-Classic Period. The Mayas were not a unified nation but consisted of numerous small states, ruled by kings, each centered on a city with their own culture, religion, and languages and referred to themselves by ethnicity and language.

The Ch'olan and the Tzeltalan were the only two nation to develop a writing system, that which we now know as Maya script. The Yucatec instead adopted the already established glyphs in the use of developing their own writing system. Both the Ch'olan and the Tzeltalan hieroglyphics were used by other nations simultaneously, causing confusions among scholars who later tried to decipher the writing.

The glyphs are broken down into two categories: logograms and syllabogram. Logograms are written or pictorial symbol intended to represent a whole word. Syllabograms are signs used to write the syllables of words, these syllables can either work as consonant­ with the vowel syllables or the sound of the consonant without the sound of the accompanying vowel.

The Maya glyphs are very intricate squares laid out in a grid-like pattern. Each glyph block contains one to five glyphs that form either a logogram word or a syllabogram phrase. Mayan glyphs are read in paired columns. The reader would start with the first two columns of glyphs, reading the first two glyphs across then returning to the second glyph of the first column and reading across in a “Z” pattern until the end of the first two columns before proceeding to the next pair of columns and repeating the pattern.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:33 am

Submission by Arianna Stonewater:

I decided to research the Dongba symbols. Also known as the Tomba or Tompa Symbols, they are glyphs used by the priests of the Naxi people in southern China. They are estimated to have been developed in the seventh century and are actually still in use today! Much of the old manuscripts with the symbols were destroyed after the Communist Revolution in 1949 and later in the late 1960s when paper and cloth was was used for construction paste. In efforts to preserve the Naxi culture today's Chinese government is trying to revive Dongba. The Dongba symbols were created to stand in for abstract words that don't already have glyphs, specifically for ritual texts.

Once source i found describes them as rebuses, which is awesome because I love rebus puzzles! (a rebus is a combination of pictures and letters that depict a word or phrase. for example the letter "L" plus a picture of an eye plus the letter "F" gives us "L-EYE-F" which is Life! One of the hard parts of rebuses though is that one picture may have several meanings! for example a picture of a can of preserves could be preserves, jam, or jelly; each one changes the phrase a lot!
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:35 am

Submission by Aurelia West:

I chose to research the written Chinese still used today and its history. I found that the characters were based on six basic principles and the first mention of them was in the Rites of Zhou, around 150 BC. Many of them were pictographs intended to show the object, but others were ideographs, such as the numbers system in which the characters represent abstract notions. The oldest examples of this system stem from the Shang dynasty where they were used in divination practices, particularly the use of oracle bones. In the Zhou dynasty writing transformed to the form found in cast inscriptions on ritual objects and the forms were less angular. During the Warring States Period, the writing system became a more settled form called the script of six states. These characters were then embellished to create the oldest form of Chinese writing still in use today, called seal script, and they are currently used principally for signature seals. From then on, writing evolved into a clerical script, which differed from seal script in that it was wider than it was tall, looking "flat" in appearance, to running script, a semi-cursive script, to grass script, a fully cursive script, finally to regular script, a non-cursive form. I find it particularly interesting that regular script was in fact the last to develop, since it looks as though running script and grass script deviated from it rather than from clerical script.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:36 am

Submission by Gail Allen:

In Mesoamerica several very similar writing styles originated in the Mayan and Aztec cultures. They made use of a large variety of symbols, called glyphs, because they reminded the people discovering them of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. There a glyphs representing several different animals as well as geological and celestial markers and human body-parts, which often represent verbs such as running, or greeting, or seeing and so forth.

One of the first places these were found and were thought to be more than simple decorations, was on statues of kings, all looking quite similar, but with these glyphs inscribed on their headbands, distinguishing one ruler from the other. These often refer to the meaning of the name of the ruler.

Some of the most important though were their numbers, which are quite complex and were used for the impressive calendars made by these cultures.

One of these consisted of lines and dots, while another also included flags, a father and an incense bag, representing the numbers 20, 400 and 8000 respectively.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:37 am

Submission by Ivorie Windton:

Today I have chosen to research the Sumerians pictograms. This civilization is what we know as the beginning of writing. In the beginning, the pictures which represented different words, were written out and rather complex, after time the writing system evolved and become more like short hand to convey the message by faster means. The Sumerian’s kept detailed lists which involved their daily lives which included list of their daily objectives and household items. These records have been found by modern day explores and interpreted. The first sets of pictograms were found on clay type surfaces. Some of the different pictograms that have been found were found to translate to sheep, cattle, dog, metal, oil, garment, bracelet and perfume. Other words were found and translated by people over time giving forth a wealth of information in regards to the Sumerians ways of life and overall existence. Over time these writing systems died out and made way for other systems that were faster and more complex.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:38 am

Submission by Kendra Givens:

Native American people used both pictograms and petroglyphs. Petroglyphs were carved into rock rather than painted on with various colors of natural pigment like pictograms. They could be used as a way to communicate between tribes, as tribes spoke multiple verbal languages. The meanings of some of the markings were only known to particular tribes or even the individual who wrote them. Some symbols were used universally among tribes but held a different significance to each tribe. Many of their symbols stood for abstract ideas. For example, the bear often represented strength, while lightning was indicative of power or speed. Symbols could also portray messages about relationships, weather, or travel routes or destinations. Some symbols were intended to tell stories, while others were meant to give important information related to survival. The locations that Native Americans chose to draw these pictograms or petroglyphs was intentional, as was the context of the symbol, as some of them held multiple meanings.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:39 am

Submission by Polaris Black:

Once on New Zealand, the Māori were very isolated for several centuries and developed a unique society consisting of many tribes that were proficient in woodcarving, tattooing, and other art forms. The symbolic meanings embodied in carving, knots and weaving were widely understood. Te Reo Māori, their native language, is related to Tahitian and Hawaiian and was the only language spoken throughout New Zealand before the 1800s. Literacy and expanded numeracy were two exciting new concepts that Māori took up enthusiastically when missionaries worked to systematize the written language. In the 1820s missionaries reported that Māori all over the country were teaching each other to read and write.

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Koru (spiral) – this symbol represents new beginnings, growth, and regeneration. It symbolizes the fern frond seen in New Zealand's native bush and there is an old Maori proverb that when translated means "As one fern frond dies - one is born to take its place.” The design is said to have human characteristics (head, eye, neck, body, tail) and could represent parenthood, ancestry, and genealogy, or in other words, a family tree.

Hei Matau (fish hook) – this symbol represents prosperity and safe travel over water. The Māori had a very strong connection to Tangaroa, god of the sea and attributed their survival to him because of their reliance as a people on the bounty caught from the sea. Also, in Māori mythology, Maui used a magic fish hook carved from the jawbone of his grandmother to pull up the North Island of New Zealand from the bottom of the ocean in the form of a huge fish.

Pikorua (twist) – this symbol represents the path of life and the strong bond between two loved ones. The arms of the twist have no end point so it is a powerful expression of loyalty. The design may be based on the weave pattern of the kete or the arms of the pikopiko fern. It is relatively new because the Māori didn’t possess the required tools to create the complex undercuts in the design until New Zealand was colonized by the Europeans. Perhaps at that time (post 1800) these became symbols for trade.

Manaia (spirit creature) – this symbol represents a messenger between the living and the dead. It always appears in profile, with one half of its body in the realm of the living and the other half in the realm of the dead. It traditionally had the head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish but today there are many stylized versions. It is worn as a personal guardian to protect against evil.

Hei Tiki (first man) – this symbol represents Tiki, the first man in Māori mythology. It was passed down through the family and in the process of succession, it increased its power or prestige. Its main function was to connect deceased family members to the living and was worn as a sign of remembrance. This is not a common practice today as it is worn more for cultural identity.

Toki (adze) – this symbol represents strength, control, and determination. In traditional Maori society the toki was used in tool, either to cut and carve or as a ceremonial axe wielded by strong chiefs in the tribe. Today the toki is largely ornamental.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

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Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:39 am

Submission by Prof. Gustavo Flores:

The culture I’m researching is, once again, the Aztec culture. I liked the symbols they used because, in my opinion, they were a little bit more elaborate and you can see that they were starting to make sense in a way that their reality, what they saw, they tried to imitate it through a picture or symbol. In the research I did, I learned that the Aztecs used their symbols to represent the “corporeal world” (what they saw, what they could touch), the immaterial world (what they couldn’t touch, their beliefs like their gods), and to express their perceptions and experiences of reality.

Due to that, they usually had symbols to represent their gods, animals, or any other common items that surrounded them. You could find their symbols in the walls of their temples, in weaving or jewelry. Also, warriors wore symbols painted on their bodies when they went to war.

Religion played a major role in the life of the Aztecs, so many symbols were used for that purpose and could be find in the statues or carvings of Aztec gods. Also, let’s not forget their very famous Solar Calendar, that contains the 365 day solar calendar, and the 260 day calendar. Each day is represented by a symbol and a number, so when you see the Aztec calendar you will find plenty of the Aztec pictograms.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

User avatar
Prof. Amy Lupin
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:40 am

Submission by Silas Hipolito Crist:

Pictographs are built of pictures which resemble what they signify. There are also ideograms which represents ideas. Ancient civilazations were developing early pictographs and turn them into more logical systems which were becoming more complexed. Some of the most important civilizations which were using symbols were Sumerians, Egyptians and Chinese. Surprisingly some modern cultures still uses pictographs and symbols systems as their main writing system. Even us in modern cultures use pictographs for many different purposes, traffic, signs etc. They were considered as art and as writing system, because it was also used for communication. In Egypt pictographs represented religion symbols and differeny things connected with everyday life. For example there was always sun in their picture alphabet, because of importance that sun meant for ancient civilizations. Purposes were mostly for the use at everyday tasks. After time they were planning on writing down the memories and soon writing stories and history.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

User avatar
Prof. Amy Lupin
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Joined: Sat Aug 16, 2003 6:05 pm
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:41 am

Submission by Will Lestrange:

One of the most underrated sets of pictographic symbols is the set of Babylonian cuneiform symbols. Like the better-known hieroglyphics out of ancient Egypt, cuneiform started out as a set of pictographic symbols before evolving into an alphabet over time. Cuneiform, which meant “wedge shaped” in the local language of the time, was developed by the Sumerians approximately five or six millennia ago. Its ancestors were shaped tokens that were used to keep track of objects (including livestock) for accounting and business purposes. For example, “four cattle” would be represented by using four of the cattle-shaped tokens. Early cuneiform alleviated the need for tokens by instead allowing the person keeping track of cattle to write the pictographic symbol for cattle four times. The next innovation in cuneiform consisted of giving numbers their own symbol, so one would only need to write two symbols to represent the four cattle: one for “cattle” and one for the number four! Eventually more symbols for more abstract concepts, such as names of Sumerian gods, were added to the cuneiform symbols allowing people to use cuneiform to tell stories and write more generally instead of just keeping track of objects for accounting purposes. Amazingly, cuneiform lasted for more than three millennia, with the most recent cuneiform inscriptions dating to approximately 75 AD!
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale

User avatar
Prof. Amy Lupin
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Posts: 1476
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Re: Week 2 - Symbols

Postby Prof. Amy Lupin » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:42 am

Submission by Zach Jameson:

What are pictograms? A pictogram is, by definition, a pictorial sign or symbol. Have you ever seen those pictures of skull and crossbones in a diamond shape on a truck before? That pictogram represents that the cargo is toxic and should be avoided. Another example would be the symbol of a flame, which represents a flammable substance. Pictograms are used in modern days and all around, even the Olympics use them to represent the sports. However, lets go back in time… back when the pictograms were used to tell stories.

The Native American used pictograms in their paintings and drawings to tell their stories of hunts and battles. Most picograms by the natives of the past can be found in the ancient cave drawings. To understand the drawings however, you must understand the customs of that Native tribe. In a verse from Hiawatha, nine symbols were given a brief description as best it could.

For the Earth, he drew a straight line.
For the sky, a bow above it.
White the space between for day,
Filled will little stars for night.
On the left a point for sunrise,
On the right a point for sunset,
And on top a point for noon.
For rain and cloudy weather,
Waving line descending from it.

Not only where the Native able to tell the different weather patterns, they created their own versions of the calendars. For example, the moon would represent ‘month’ and a symbol would represent what exactly happened. So, while January was known as the ‘Snow Moon’, April would be ‘Grass Moon’ as Spring finally arrived. July would be ‘Heat Moon’ during the long hot days of summer and December would be ‘Long Night Moon’ for the longest night of the year: The Winter Solstice.
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"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
- Edward Everett Hale


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