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1.4 Writing Systems

The Mesoamerican region produced a number of indigenous writing systems from the first millennium BC onwards. What may be the earliest-known example in the Americas of an extensive text thought to be writing is the Cascajal Block. The Olmec hieroglyphs tablet has been indirectly dated to approximately 900 BC, around the time that Olmec occupation of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán began to wane.

The Maya writing system (often called hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was a combination of phonetic symbols and logograms. It is most often classified as a logographic or (more properly) a logo syllabic writing system, in which syllabic signs play a significant role. It is the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which is known to completely represent the spoken language of its community. The script has more than one thousand different glyphs, although a few are variations of the same sign, or meaning, and many appear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At any one time, no more than around five hundred glyphs were in use, some two hundred of which had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation.

Aztec codices (singular codex) are books written by pre-Columbian and colonial-era Aztecs. These codices provide some of the best primary sources for Aztec culture. The pre-Columbian codices differ from European codices in that they are largely pictorial; they were not meant to symbolize spoken or written narratives. The colonial era codices not only contain Aztec pictograms, but also Classical Nahuatl (in the Latin alphabet), Spanish, and occasionally Latin.

The Wiigwaasabak, birch bark scrolls on which the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe) people wrote complex geometrical patterns and shapes, can also be considered a form of writing.