There is a significant archaeological artefact, the Cascajal Block, that remains an untranslated mystery.
A quite plausible purpose (and most of the translation) of the Cascajal Block jumped out at me straight away. After some work, I formulated an interesting hypothesis that accounts for many things, including the infamous cootie glyph and non standard writing directions.
Upfront: The skill-set I have in deciphering structured data does not come from linguistics; rather from years of deciphering undocumented file-formats, looking at memory dumps, examining data compression/representation, and reverse engineering data streams. So, I’m applying my existing computer science skill set to a different field. See what you make of my thoughts.
I believe the tablet to be a ‘trade ledger’, used in a bartering economy.
I colourised it to explain what I believe is going on.
- Outlines show a trade account.
- Glyphs shown with coloured lines are people
- Colour filled glyphs are businesses.
- All other glyphs are trade goods (note they look like food or tools)
Basic assumption of barter trade. I go in and give a pig, I want a knife in return. The trader says. I wan’t your pig, but don’t have a knife. Give me the pig now and I will put a knife aside for you when someone else has one to trade. Let me write this down on the ledger so I don’t “forget”.
- The trader recorded items he/she owed to people by putting a glyph for that person, followed by the items. (red circles)
- When someone owed him something he put the items followed by their names. (green circles)
- When he/she had something complex (e.g. a tool/clothing) ‘on order’ from a business, he/she put a picture of the business below the items (blue circles).
My explanation addresses quite a few things.
- Why the text did not run vertically
- The accounts ran vertically (causing items to go horizontally, like a spreadsheet)
- Why information appeared “grouped into areas”
- Why the cootie glyph (purple outline) had not been seen before.
- It was used to identify a particular person (therefore unique-ish).
- Why the inscription was so light (it was not meant for a monument).
- Why the surface is slightly concave (eg: the block had been rubbed clean and reused often)
- why the sequence of symbols were independent of each other (ie. no language structure)
- why each cluster of glyphs were were in different sizes.
- important debts were in ‘bold’
- It was not written on the same day
- Possibly, different people worked at this trading business.
Why my interpretation holds an internal logical consistency.
- Name glyphs never appear in the trade section and vice versa
- If you look you can see where recording items owed for some people ran out of room and the trader made a new entry.
- food like trade items often shown near people
- tool like trade items are only shown near businesses
- the name glyphs are more intricate than the trade glyphs.
- Looking at the stone tablet directly, I also believe a flat stone was rubbed over paid debts to signify the job was done.
As this is not my field of research, everything above is pure speculation. I certainly don’t claim to have ‘solved’ anything; I am simply making my speculations public.