The Olmec language, while undeciphered as yet, is believed by some scholars to be ancestral to the Maya language.
The Olmec civilization (1200-400 BC) was the first fairly sophisticated civilization in North America, located in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. The earliest known form of writing associated with the Olmec comes from the Cascajal Block, an enormous block of serpentine discovered in a gravel quarry in Veracruz and reported in Science magazine in 2006.
This image from the Science story shows a handful of the 62 different glyphs illustrated on the block, thought to date to circa 900 BC. Only one has been tentatively identified as a precursor to the Maya language, ajaw, although it is clear that many at least appear to represent recognizable objects, an ear of maize, a shellfish, a bird, etc.
These four glyphs are numbers 52, 53, 54, and 55. For more detail on these and the other glyphs on the Cascajal block, see the Cascajal Block photo essay.
Sources for Olmec Language
- The Cascajal Block
- Photo Essay of the Cascajal Block
- Guide to the Olmec Civilization
- Rodriguez Martinez, et al. 2006. Oldest writing in the New World. Science 313:1610-1614.
- Robinson, Andrew. 2009. Decoding antiquity: Eight scripts that still can't be read. New Scientist 2710: 27 May 2009.