The CSO Origins of Writing program concluded with a digital conference taking place on Friday, September 18th and Saturday, September 19th. This digital conference featured nationally and internationally recognized experts on early writing. These experts consider the origins of writing and writing technology in relationship to resistance to power in early literate societies around the world.


William Boltz, University of Washington

The Emergence of Writing in Antiquity, monogenesis or polygenesis?



Javier Urcid, Brandeis University

Power Co-constituted: the role of early writing at Monte Albán, Oaxaca




Jenn Finn, Marquette University

Ancient Near Eastern Military Empires and the Origins of Narrative Silencing



Michael D. Carrasco, Florida State University

Poetics, Writing, and Ritual in Formative Period Mesoamerica



Madadh Richey, Princeton University

The Origins of Aramaic Magic: Textualizing a Tradition on the Margins of Empire

Recent discoveries of Iron Age Syrian Aramaic inscriptions (ca. 850–700 B.C.E.) have revealed that alphabetic writing was, at its origins, a vehicle for textualizing not just royal, monumental, and official texts but also incantations and instructions for magico-religious praxis. These inscriptions were written at a time of intense political and cultural conflict, as the Assyrian empire began to conquer and administer states along its former western frontier. In this context, the nascent genre of early Aramaic magic simultaneously transmits and subverts the characters, rubrics, and language of contemporary Mesopotamian magic written in the Sumerian and Akkadian languages and in cuneiform script. Two new early Aramaic texts particularly embody this dynamic. One is a bronze statuette of the Mesopotamian demon Pazuzu, recently rediscovered in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford) and now shown to bear a four-line set of instructions for placement and protection at an afflicted individual’s bedside. The other is a stone cosmetic palette excavated at Zinçirli, Turkey, in August 2017; it bears an eight-line incantation against “fire” and prescription for applying blood to a wound. These texts uniquely illuminate how Aramaic and other provincial writing traditions of this time and region emerged as a medium for the negotiation of multicultural influences and local identity formation.


Jon Clindaniel, University of Chicago

Interpreting the Political Dynamics of Inka Khipu Sign Production



Gerardo Gutierrez, University of Colorado, Boulder

Authenticating the Oldest Surviving Maya Codex Using Scientific Analysis