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Writing in Mesoamerica

Rerum medicarum Novæ Hispaniæ thesaurus

Title page from a 1651 edition of Francisco Hernández' 16th century opus on the flora and fauna of Spanish Mexico.

The first true writing in the Western Hemisphere appeared in the 2nd century BCE in Mexico. The Epi-Olmec, the successor culture to the Olmec, used a complete writing system featuring hieroglyphics with both whole words and syllabic sound which may have developed out of the Zapotec logosyllabic tradition. Mayan, Mixtec, and Aztec writing also appeared in Central and South America not long after Epi-Olmec writing. Several writing traditions developed as the major indigenous ethnic groups of the Americas expanded and consolidated their empires. Native language and writing continued in the post-Conquest era despite a decline in population brought about by contact with Hernan Cortes and his fellow conquistadors. Some writing traditions continued late into the Colonial period, though European languages eventually became dominant.1


  1. Fischer, Steven Roger. A History of Writing (London, England: Reaktion Books, 2001). Return to text ↑