Hieroglyphics, or Hieroglyphs (Gr. sacred, and to carve), picture writing, or figures representing animate beings or inanimate objects, and implying words or ideas. They have been found in all parts of the world, and seem to be employed by all peoples in certain stages of civilization. Though some highly cultured nations have failed to abandon their hieroglyphical systems of writing, yet generally hieroglyphs are gradually superseded by alphabets. Every attempt at fixing the memory of an event by indicating the objects and persons concerned in it by means of rude images belongs in a measure to the class of hieroglyphs. The rude inscriptions found on walls and monuments of the ruins of Rome, Pompeii, and other ancient cities, generally represent only the scribbling of idle persons. Examples of this are found even in the ruined temples and sepulchres of Egypt, and in the tombs at Jerusalem. They have received the name of graffiti. A large majority of them were doubtless written with the stilus or graphium of iron or bone. The drawings are chiefly grotesque, and the writing generally gives quotations from well known poets, or simply names of visitors, gladiators, and public men.
Some are more lists of nouns and verbs, probably scribbled by school boys; others contain good wishes, prayers, and invocations; others again libels and obscenities. In spite of their general triviality, they are of great value to palaeography, philology, and history, since they exhibit the every-day life of the ancients, and elucidate many obscure passages in the classics. - Hieroglyphics, or picture writing proper, are indications of something that the writer desired to commemorate, while ignorant of or not wishing to use a phonetic or alphabetical graphic system. It has been attempted to trace the development of such rude images into a regular system of writing. The coarse marks employed for numbering days, sheep, or scalps were followed by attempts at conveying by similar signs such ideas as were only secondarily connected with them. This picturing of abstractions implies a much higher degree of civilization than the mere attempts at drawing the outlines of the actual objects. Another advance is indicated by the hieroglyphs which represent only parts of objects as mementoes of the whole.
As soon as it has been learned to employ only a few strokes which suggest some distinctive feature of an object, either to call up the object itself or an abstract idea connected with it, the beginning of systematic writing is reached. It was generally followed by the practice of indicating ideas by picturing objects that possessed phonetically the same name. This opened the way for employing signs to represent sounds only, at first syllabic and subsequently alphabetic. Many nations have not passed through all these stages, but continue to use hieroglyphs as a system of writing. Among these are the Chinese and Japanese, whose systems, like those of the ancient Egyptians, are given under the names of their respective countries. - The rudimentary savage paintings, seratchings, or carvings are very much the same everywhere. They are not easily interpreted, unless it is known what they were intended to represent. It is probable that many are mere pictorial utterances without any attempt at recording a historical fact. The natives of North America were great proficients in the art of picture writing. Their hieroglyphs have been copied and interpreted by Schoolcraft. We give in the above specimen an Indian record on a pine tree.
On the right are two canoes, with a catfish in one of them, and a fabulous animal, known as the copper-tailed bear, in the other. On the left arc a bear and six catfish. The sense of the picture is simply that two hunters, whose names or totems were Coppertailed Bear and Catfish, went on a hunting expedition in their canoes, and took a bear and six catfish. Fig. 2 is a picture on the face of a rock on the shore of Lake Superior, and records an expedition across the lake which was led by Myeengun, or Wolf, a celebrated Indian chief. The canoes with the upright strokes represent the force of the party in men and boats, and Wolf's chief ally, Kishkemunasee, that is, Kingfisher, goes in the first canoe. The arch with three circles below it shows that there were three suns under heaven, that is, that the voyage took three days. The tortoise seems to indicate their getting to land, while the representation of the chief himself on horseback shows that the expedition took place since the time when horses were introduced into Canada. - The highest development of this art is found in the Mexican picture writing, or the system of hieroglyphics in use among the semi-civilized nations of Central America and Mexico previous to the discovery of America by Columbus. Among the nations which anciently had their seat near Palenque, there existed a probably pure hieroglyphical system; while among the nations of central Mexico, in the valley of Ana-huac, as also among the affiliated families of San Salvador and Nicaragua, a less perfect or mixed system prevailed, which was composed of condensed pictures, and conventional or derivative representations of things, having a hieroglyphical character and a clear phonetic value.
The capacity of even this less perfect or mixed system was considerable. By means of it the Mexicans recorded their history, composed their rituals and civil and religious calendars, recorded titles to property and the judgments of courts, assessed taxes or tribute, defined genealogies, etc. When Cortes landed, full accounts of him, his men, equipments, and, so far as he indicated them by word or action, of his purposes, were thus recorded and sent to Montezuma. The ecclesiastics who followed in the train of the army used their utmost exertions to acquaint themselves with this system, and adapt it to the purpose of converting the natives. The first attempt in this direction, or perhaps the first use of pictorial representations, out of which this adaptation gradually grew, was within eight or nine years after the capture of Mexico, by Testera of Bayonne, brother of the chamberlain of Francis I. Sahagun, Motolinia, and Peter of Ghent, as also the Franciscans generally, adopted his example of using pictures, more or less borrowed from the Mexicans, in their teachings.
In the provinces near Mexico, as soon as the Franciscans commenced this adaptation, the interpreters, and numbers of the natives employed as missionaries, lent themselves to extend its scope; and Motolinia informs us that he was literally overwhelmed with Indians who presented their confessions to him in figures or paintings after their mode of representation. Val-dez in 1579, and Torquemada nearly a century after the conquest, received similar confessions; and it appears that this system of recording confessions was preferred to alphabetical writing, even by Indians who were versed in the Latter. Many manuscripts or paintings, having their origin with the early priests and missionaries, have been confounded with the paintings and manuscripts of true Mexican origin, and of earlier date. Many condemn all the Mexican manuscripts in existence as monkish impostures, and of a date subsequent to the Spanish conquest; but a number of paintings and manuscripts are of undoubted aboriginal origin, historical and ritual in character, dating back beyond the discovery of the continent. Some of the historical manuscripts were continued in the spirit and style of the ancient system, by competent native hands, after the conquest, and contain the Indian version of that event.
There are others of equally unquestionable ancient date, but generally of a religious or mythological character, which there is reason to believe have been changed in copies, or altered in the originals, with a view to conform with priestly teachings, and illustrate the dogmas of the church. And finally there is that large class of manuscripts originating with Testera, and perfected by his followers. These seem to have been of three kinds: 1, those of Testera and the early Franciscans, which were simple paintings, more or less adapted to Indian conventionalisms in their style of execution; 2, those of a mixed kind, in which some simple paintings were preserved, largely illustrated by arbitrary native and other figures; and 3, those in phonetic characters or representations, forming a complete adaptation of the Mexican system. The third class of Christian or post-Mexican paintings are correctly described by Torquemada, who says of the mode in which the Pater Noster was learned: " The word in their language most nearly representing Pater being pantli, the name of a kind of small flag, they put this flag for Pater. In place of noster, a word resembling their nochtli, they paint a tuna (cactus) fig, the name of which, nochtli, recalls the Latin noster; and so they go on to the end of the prayer.
By a similar process and like characters they wrote down what they wished to learn by heart. This was during the first period of their conversion, for now [between 1592 and 1614] they no longer require to use these ancient characters." The following representation of the title Pater Noster is copied from a manuscript in the museum of Mexico:
Pa-te noch-te, or Pa-totl noch-tetl.
First is the figure of a little flag, or pantli in Nahuatl, the root of which is pan or pa; second is the sign of stone, tetl, root te, the whole making syllabieally Pa-te for Pater, the r being wanting in the Mexican language. Next we have the sign of the fruit of the cactus, nochtli, root noch, and that of stone, tetl, root te, as before, making noch-te for noster. The whole is therefore the nearest possible approach to the Latin, represented by Mexican figures of exact and unmistakable phonetic value. A general comparison of the ancient and positively Mexican paintings leaves no doubt that this mode of representation, by syllabic phonetics, in which the roots of words only were to be understood by the figures or sounded in reading, was the mode universally accepted, more or less mixed up with ideographic signs and simple pictures. In the historical and administrative documents of a superior order, written on skins or paper made from the maguey, the figurative writing, constantly phonetic, is no longer ideographic except in rare instances where the phonetic system fails. But paintings relating the same history do not always coincide in their signs, oven when phonetically exactly alike.
For instance, the name of Itzcoatl, the fourth king of Mexico, is expressed in some of the manuscripts by the figure of a serpent (coatl), with its back crested with knives or arrow heads of obsidian (itzli); the whole, Itz-coatl. In other paintings, however, it is written syllabieally as follows: figure of an arrow head, itzli, root itz; figure of a vase, comitl, root co; figure or sign of water, atl; the whole, Itz-co-atl. The documents of this class, in which the syllabic wri-ting predominates, are generally land registers, tribute rolls, judgments of courts, genealogies, etc, and were continued long after the conquest, and for the use of the Spanish administrations were often accompanied by literal translations from which alone a very full dictionary of the Mexican signs might be constructed. In numeration and chronology the Mexican system was exact and ample. Most of the historical paintings are simple annals, but some give more specific dates, down to the day of the month on which the event recorded took place. The most striking and to the uneducated eye the most interesting of the Mexican paintings are the ritual calendars, and schemes of judicial astrology, which make up the greater part of Lord Kingsborough's published collection.
Excepting the designations of the days, these seem to be purely figurative or symbolical, intended only for the use of the priests and diviners, and possessed of an esoteric significance. They are valuable only in connection with the study of Mexican mythology and the Aztec religion and superstitions. There is a wide distinction to be drawn between those found in Mexico and those, obtained in Central America. Of the latter but few examples are known to exist. The so-called Dresden manuscript, published by Lord Kingsborough, is perhaps the only perfect example of this kind in Europe. Its figures and signs coincide with those sculptured on the monuments of Palen-que, Yucatan, and Copan, and identify it as the work of the same people. It has but slight resemblance to the Mexican manuscripts already discussed, and seems to mark a far higher development of the graphic art. So far as they can be made out, the elements of the Central American or Toltecan system were few and very exact in their application, not admitting of that variation which would naturally result from the caprice or varying individual conceptions and tastes of those working under the system of Mexico. We discover in it no proper representations of things, except as pictures illustrative of what may be called the text of the manuscripts in which they are used, or in miniature in the text when employed as signs or characters, having a fixed and constant value, or modified only by the addition of arbitrary signs, like the points in oriental writings.
It is undoubted that such manuscripts as that of Dresden were in common use in all parts of Central America occupied by the Tzendal or Toltecan stock at the time of the discovery, and that the existing aboriginal population of that country is chiefly made up of the descendants of the authors of the system then in use, who were equally the builders of the monuments to which uncritical investigators would assign a foreign origin and high antiquity. The Mexican system seems to have been intermediate between the rude picture records and mnemonic symbolism of the North American Indians, and the hieroglyphical and probably purely phonetic system of Central America, but at the same time of higher development and capacity than that of New Granada and Peru. It was evidently in an infant but progressive state at the time of the conquest. - Charles B. Brown has given in the " Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland " (London, 1873) an account of hieroglyphical inscriptions occurring in British Guiana. On the river Essequibo they are found at the Wa-raputa cataract, at Cumutie rock, at the On-ropocari cataract, at the Takarimi rock, and at the Bubumana cataract. They are also met with on the banks of the Quitaro, Cotinga, Ireng, Corentyn, and Berbice rivers.
The Indians now living in Guiana know nothing of picture writing, and ascribe the hieroglyphical inscriptions to the handiwork of Makunaima, their great spirit. - See Tylor, "Mexico and the Mexicans" (London, 1861) and "Researches into the Early History of Mankind " (1870); Brasseur de Bourbourg, Monuments anciens du Mexique, etc. (Paris, 1864-'G); and the various archaeological and ethnological periodicals.
Inscription on the Bubumana Rock.