Posted in communication and networking, design and architecture, museum

Pictish art may have been language

Riders and horn blowers appear next to hunting dogs on what is called the Hilton of Cadboll stone, pictured here.

Thanks, once again, to Boing Boing:

How do you tell the difference between art and written language?

Oh, yeah. It’s math.

[Rob Lee] and colleagues Philip Jonathan and Pauline Ziman analyzed the engravings, found on the few hundred known Pictish Stones. The researchers used a mathematical process known as Shannon entropy to study the order, direction, randomness and other characteristics of each engraving.

The resulting data was compared with that for numerous written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese texts and written Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Ancient Irish, Old Irish and Old Welsh. While the Pictish Stone engravings did not match any of these, they displayed characteristics of writing based on a spoken language.

There is, sadly, not a lot of detail about what specific characteristics make language stand out from decoration. I’m guessing it has something to do finding patterns in the choice of symbols, or the way symbols are oriented, or how the patterns repeat. Wish there was more though. For the record, even if this is language, nobody is even close to deciphering what it means.

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Author:

Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.