The Global Prehistory Consortium at EURO INNOVANET
 The Old European Script. Further evidence
di Shan M. M. Winn
Economic and religious stimuli

The growth of permanent settlements dependent on the cultivation of crops not only sowed the seeds of incipient social stratification but also resulted in significant elaboration of religious ideology.
It is probable that eventual techno-economic developments at sites like Tordos and Vinča laid the foundation for craft specialization as well as for a formalized religious structure.
Innovations in technology during the Vinča-Tordos period represented by metallurgy and stimulated by exploitation of economic resources in the area, spurred the growth of trading networks that enhanced the potential to augment personal prestige and wealth.
While such economic stimuli conceivably was the basis for the introduction of sign usage at Tordos, it can be inferred from the increasing social complexity throughout the Vinča culture that the status of religious functionaries was enhanced.
In effect, even if the original use of signs at Tordos was fostered by both economic and ritual roles, the signs must have become increasingly associated with ritual and ideology/world view and eventually were identified as components of the belief system in numerous sites of the Vinča culture.
The fifth millennium Neolithic village of Banpo, near Xian, China, has yielded pottery vessels incised with signs having striking parallels with the Vinča signs. The 22 different types of rectilinear marks, including

are also common Vinča-Tordos signs. Chinese scholars suggest that the signs were used for recording events or quantities and can be considered "precursors of writing".
The seemingly impressive correspondence between the Vinča-Tordos and Banpo signs does not imply diffusion of signs or sign usage; rather, it is probable that a limited range of elementary signs would be independently innovated by societies having a cultural role for sign usage. Similar signs have been noted in pre-dynastic Egypt, and in Linear A and other Mediterranean scripts (Winn 1981:246ff; 1990:280).
Pontius (1984a,b), using the Banpo evidence, has introduced an interesting hypothesis linking accurate pictorial representations of the human face with literacy skills.
In view of the relevance of this theory to the Vinča-Tordos figurines, a study of figurines from various settlements is of interest; in fact, a brief investigation by the author suggests that certain Tordos figurines provide evidence of incipient literacy, according to the Pontius hypothesis. However, this question is beyond the scope of the present study.

Figure 11. Tordos (Torma notebook)


Evidence for this study was collected in Romania in 1981 and the manuscript was prepared by the author in 1984 in response to a publisher's invitation.
Unfortunately, following a lengthy delay, that publication did not take place; however, when a later request was received to submit a paper on the Vinča signs, the author wrote an article that essentially incorporated the earlier manuscript as well as a few script signs from the 1981 research; the expanded version was published in 1990 in The Life of Symbols, edited by Foster and Botscharow.
Recently the author was informed that many prehistorians and archaeologists interested in the Vinča script are not familiar with or have been unable to locate his work, including the 1981 book, The Sign System of the Vinča Culture, which is essentially an update of his dissertation on the Vinča a signs, including a corpus of 210 signs collected in 1971 from numerous sites in former Yugoslavia. [The dissertation was published by microfilm xerography in 1973 by University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan].
The present article is intended to introduce what was "New Evidence" in 1981; hence, it is possible that a few of the signs may have been published during the intervening two decades. In addition, it is apparent that many readers interested in the script have no access to the 1990 publication of "A Neolithic Sign System in Southeastern Europe"; therefore, relevant portions from that article have been introduced at demarcated points in the following article. The reader thus is given the opportunity to compare the "new" Parta evidence (and Tordos material not included in previous analyses) with what has previously been published about the Vinča script.

This important site, situated on the south bank of the Maros (Mures) River, is known as Tordos in Hungarian and Turdas in Romanian. Many of the unusual artifacts from this site are known only from the unpublished but meticulously illustrated notebook of Zsófia Torma. The Tordos examples herein (not previously seen nor published by the author in his corpus of signs) are taken from this work, which was made available to me through the kindness of N.Vlassa of Muzeul de storie al Transilvaniei in Cluj.

An analysis and catalogue of previously collected evidence is presented in Pre-Writing in Southeastern Europe: The Sign System of the Vinča Culture.

Unpublished examples from Parta are included in the present study. The Parta evidence was seen in the private collection of A. Agotha, K. Germann and F. Resch of Timisoara, Romania. I am very grateful for their kind and gracious assistance in providing photographs and drawings of numerous artifacts from the site of Parta and for permission to publish them. Although many of these finds were retrieved from the Timis River, due to erosion of the riverbanks on which Parta is situated, stratified excavations at the site by Gh. Lazarovici have produced similar finds, which date to the Vinča B period and to the later Vinča C-D sequence. I wish to express my appreciation for the assistance of Prof. Lazarovici.

Details regarding this object were provided by Dr. Alexander Marshack. For further description and discussion of this rare find see Winn 1981. If the sign in B-5 (Fig. 4e) is inverted, it may be an anthropomorphic representation; other signs recall ligatures in the Vinča system.

Additional commentary from the expanded 1990 version of the 1984 "New Evidence" paper is inserted throughout the remainder of this article wherever relevant; it should be noted that these views emerged from thoughts first expressed in Winn 1973, 1981.

The following paragraph on the limited evidence that might be construed to represent economic uses of the signs does not appear in Winn 1990, as by then the author had abandoned any consideration that the script signs were related to economic usage. In 1984, however, many prehistorians and archaeologists still considered the signs to be at most simple potmarks or possibly a method of enumerating. This paragraph nevertheless is of interest in documenting the history and development of ideas about the Vinča script.

Note, however, that this article was formulated in the mid 1980's; recent research may have produced such links


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