Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Inspirations

Over at Archaeology magazine there's a blog post titled "How Henry VIII’s Racy Sex Life Turned Me into An Archaeological Writer" that talks about how archaeologist Heather Pringle got inspired for her choice of career by reading popular historical fiction.

This got me thinking why I'm so interested in archaeology and linguistics and all things old that I've been working on Ancient Scripts on and off for almost 15 years now. I can think of a few different reasons why.

When I was a kid way back in the early 80's there was this French/Japanese cartoon/anime called "The Mysterious Cities of Gold" which a mash-up of various legends including El Dorado and Atlantis set among the Spanish conquest of the New World in the 16th century. I was more fascinated by this anime more than big giant mecha or kung-fu superheroes or Ultramen. It didn't take me long to figure out all the Atlantis stuff was fluff, but the fascination with Aztecs and Mayas and Incas stayed to this day.

Another thing that really caught my eye when I was growing up in Hong Kong was the front of my Chinese class workbook at 1st grade (I think). It had ten simple Chinese characters like 山 (mountain), 月 (moon), 水 (water), etc, and their evolution from pictograms and Oracle Bone script through the seal and calligraphic scripts to modern types. I recalled being fascinated by the fact that the pictograms are stylized but recognizable natural objects. I didn't know how far back in time the pictograms were, but I understood that writing systems are not static but fluid and changing. Most of all, I think I developed an understanding of the time scales of human history.

I also have to credit my excellent education in St Francis College in Moravia, Costa Rica ("college" or "colegio" is actually secondary school in Costa Rica, sort of equivalent to middle school and high school together in USA), for inspiring my interests in all things ancient. First in 7th grade there was Maya arithmetic in math class. Learning to do math in base-20 is fun! Then there was units on ancient history and for some reason I got really interested in Ancient Egypt. I even did a project on Pre-Dynastic Egyptian art for Art class. The teacher took a look at my giant tome and promptly gave me 100%.

Then there was Linguistics 11 at UC Berkeley. While I was pursuing a computer science degree in university, I also took a lot of archaeology and linguistics classes. I even tried to figure out if there was an anthropology minor, but they didn't have that at the time. Linguistics 11 was Writing Systems. In other words, that was the beginning of Ancient Scripts. I started the website shortly afterwards, around 1996, and it's been alive ever since.

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