The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2013, 203-240

The beginning of historical writing in Ancient Mesoamerica

D. D. Beliaev

The paper is focused on the process of the formation of the tradition of
history writing in ancient Mesoamerica from the Middle Formative to the
Early Classic. Early written sources with historical content are not extant
because of very fragile writing material (paper made from the bark of Amate
tree). First monumental inscriptions appeared in the Middle Formative
independently and in different regions (Oaxaca, Gulf Coast) and already
demonstrated developed writing and calendar. It seems that the appearance
of these inscriptions did not refl ect the birth of writing but rather the
genesis of the tradition to use monuments to record historical events. Pan-
Mesoamerican format of such monumental inscriptions included date, event
and names and titles of the protagonist. These early texts later transformed
to the royal inscriptions so widespread in Mesoamerica.
The next important stage was the invention of the Long Count in
Southeastern Mesoamerica in the second or fi rst century B.C. It differed
from the previous chronological systems in that it included elements of era
dating. In early inscriptions with the Long Count the most important objective
was to place the events on the temporal line and to record unique (and not
cyclical) events, usually inaugurations of the rulers. Slightly later we observe
the appearance of the system of the Distance Numbers that connect different
dates within the inscription. It is a good argument for the further development
of historical writing, because from this time long inscriptions were not simply
lists of dated records, but coherent texts based on sequential chronology.

Keywords:
Mesoamerica, Epi-Olmec culture, Maya, Olmec culture, Zapotec, hieroglyphic writing, calendar, royal inscriptions
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