Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ogham: An #Ancient #Irish #Writing System

Ogham  by Jeremy Keith

January 23

Handwriting Day

Happy National Handwriting Day. Today we celebrate the disappearing art form of handwriting on the birthday of John Hancock. John Hancock is remembered in the United States as the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was born on January 23, 1737. He served as the President of the Continental Congress from May 24, 1775 – October 31, 1777. 

Human history is often times divided into two broad categories known as Prehistory and Recorded History. The problem with categorizing any culture in those broad terms is that every culture developed writing at a different time. That makes comparing one culture against another very hard for researchers. This chart from Wikipedia shows the eras in which the written record has separated history.

Although mankind had not discovered handwriting yet, they did communicate during prehistory through cave drawings. Human beings discovered writing 8,000 years ago but it didn't resemble anything we would recognize as writing no was it a one time event. Not every culture had it at the same time, either. Writing is something that has to evolve with time through a series of stages. Writing evolves from a Proto - Writing form to a phonetic system. Proto-Writing used ancient symbols to convey meaning to the reader. You can learn more about the evolution of writing form this site. and from


Ogham Stone by gavinsblog

Ogham is an ancient writing form exclusively found in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It was used in Ireland between the 4th to 10th centuries AD. Ogham predominately used until the 6th century when the Irish began to use the Roman Alphabet to write in their Old Irish language yet some remnants of the population continued to use Ogham.  The pillar in the picture was taken in Ireland and shows Ogham writing. The picture at the top of this blog shows a closeup of Ogham writing that is from another artifact located in Ireland.

The Ogham alphabet, also known as "beth luis nion", consist of 20 letters. Letters consist of perpendicular or angular lines that either cross or meet in the middle. The letters are grouped into five different groupings, each group containing only five letters.When written, the letters can be used in two ways. On stone or wood, such as these pictures, the message is written vertically while in manuscript form it is written horizontally. When written vertically the message is read from bottom to top. On a manuscript it is read from left to right. 

Vertical Ogham Alphabet
US Public Domain

Vertical Ogham Alphabet
US Public Domain

The origins of Ogham are hard to determine because it does not match other writing systems. You can read more about the origins and this alphabet at

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