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The Disappearance of Writing Systems Perspectives on Literacy and Communication by John Baines

The Disappearance of Writing Systems Perspectives on Literacy and Communication


The Disappearance of Writing Systems Perspectives on Literacy and Communication by John Baines

This volume gathers papers from the first conference ever to be held on the disappearance of writing systems, in Oxford in March 2004. While the invention and decipherment of writing systems have long been focuses of research, their eclipse or replacement have been little studied. Because writing is so important in many cultures and civilizations, its disappearance - followed by a period without it or by replacement by a different writing system - is of almost equal significance to invention as a mark of radical change. Probably more writing systems have disappeared than survived in the last five thousand years. Case studies from the Old and New Worlds are presented, ranging over periods from the first millennium BC to the present. In order to address many types of transmission, the broadest possible definition of 'writing' is used, notably including Mexican pictography and the Andean khipu system. One chapter discusses the larger proportion of known human societies which have not possessed complex material codes like writing, offering an alternative perspective on the long-term transmission of socially salient subjects. There is a concluding essay that draws out common themes and offers an initial synthesis of results. The volume offers a new perspective on approaches to writing that will be significant for the understanding of writing systems and their social functions, literacy, memory, and high-cultural communication systems in general.

About the Author

John Baines is Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford. His publications include Visual and Written Culture in Ancient Egypt (2007) and High Culture and Experience in Ancient Egypt (in preparation for Equinox). John Bennet is Professor of Aegean Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. His research interests include the archaeology of complex societies, writing and administrative systems (especially Linear B), and diachronic landscape archaeology. Stephen Houston, a specialist in Maya civilization, is Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and Professor of Archaeology at Brown University. The founding co-editor of Ancient Mesoamerica, he is also co-editor of a dozen technical monographs on archaeological work in Guatemala, and author or editor of twelve books, the most recent of which is The Memory of Bones: Body, Being, and Experience among the Classic Maya (with David Stuart and Karl Taube, 2006).

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Book Info

Publication date

15th October 2010


John Baines

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Equinox Publishing Ltd


384 pages


Palaeography (history of writing)
Social & cultural history



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