The Global Prehistory Consortium at EURO INNOVANET
Signs, inscriptions, organizing principles and messages
of the Danube script
by Marco Merlini
Danube Script
A mother on a throne holding a child in her arms. From the small village of Rast (west Romania) belonging to the Vincha culture. Both figures are covered with strange geometrical and abstract motifs that suggest writing. This is astonishing, because this "Madonna" is over 7000 years old. Had south-west neolithic Europe developed its own script 2000 years before the Sumerians and Egyptians? Did an ancient proto-European script exist that has since been lost?This area of the website focuses on the characteristics of the script which developed in south-east Europe 7000 years ago, some two thousand years earlier than any other known writing.

Proto-European script originally appeared in the central Balkan area and had an indigenous development (Marler, 1997). It quickly spread to the Danube valley, southern Hungary, Macedonia, Transylvania and northern Greece. It flourished up to about 5500 years ago when a social upheaval took place: according to some, there was an invasion of new populations, whilst others have hypothesised the emergence of a new elite.

At that time a specific script appeared and developed in south-east Neolithic and Chalcolithic Europe which was later to be lost. Whatever the true reason for this loss, proof of the existence of an advanced culture possessing a script had actually emerged and developed during the main Neolithic period and now runs the risk of being cancelled from the collective memory and thus lost to humanity twice over.

But why should the proto-European farmers have started writing things down? Around 10,000-9000 years ago, some tribes of hunters and gatherers from the west coast of the Aegean Sea began to use new techniques imported from southern Anatolia and started to produce animal and human figures, pottery, copper and other metal artefacts. They also built palaces, temples and ships and creating weaving techniques. After an adjustment period with various dramatic vicissitudes lasting for about two millennia, agriculture began to guarantee prosperity to these peoples. Semi-sedentary an agricultural communities appeared at the beginning of the ninth millennium.

Copper-forging techniques appeared around 7500 years ago and, later on, cultural development was encouraged by the growth of commerce and communications. The first water-routes were created by sailing along rivers and seas, as illustrated by some pottery motifs, proving the existence of sailing ships since the eighth millennium. And from a cultural, technical and social point of view, the European development surpassed that of Asia Minor and, later on, Mesopotamia (Haarmann, 1998).

Now, if there had been no progress in abstract symbolism, geometry, mathematics and some form of ars scriptoria in this dynamic technical and economic scenario, it would have been practically impossible to collect, store and communicate the great amount of information on technology and mental powers as well as on the natural world and cosmos.

Therefore, the proto-European writing has not only been twice lost to us, but what remains of it is unfathomable and tenaciously resists the efforts of anyone attempting to decipher it. Nothing is known about the existence of such a reference language. Moreover, it is too ancient for us to hope to find something like the multilingual "Rosetta Stone" which would permit us to translate it into a known language.
(Merlini, 2004)

Though it is now lost and it is unlikely it will ever be possible to decipher it, some of its elements suggest a kind of script used for blessings and invocations, for dedications, divinations, magical or liturgical formulas (not simple signs). In other words it recorded language-related ideas and statements by means of standard graphic signs.

It should not be confused with other communication channels used by the Balkan-Danube populations such as religious symbols, geometric decorations, figurative language, devices for memory support, star and land charts, ritualistic markings, numeric notations or simple marks stating the owner/manufacturer of an artefact. The Balkan-Danube system of communication was composed of several elements: writing was only one of them.

What is it that prompts a growing number of archaeologists and liguists to affirm that we are looking at a fully evolved writing?