Tuesday, March 23, 2010

[Baybayin] Calatagan Pot Inscription

The above image is of a Philippine pot, created around 1300 A.D. It's not Baybayin, but it's close. Note that it doesn't use Kavi's word construction rules (in particular, it doesn't use its vowel-cancellation method). Several characters are the same as Baybayin. But today I noticed something else.

Today, I noticed that the Kavi letter "A" appears to be there. Check out the side-by-side comparison I made last post. Compare the Kavi "A" with characters 1-4, 3-1, and 5-7. Yes, I know, 3-1 and 5-7 have kudlits. And yet the similarity is tantalizing.

So, completely guessing here, the letters appear to be:

3: I?-NU-MA-NI-*1-YA-YA
5: BA-*1-HA-DA-KI-NA-U?


  1. There are a few grains of salt to take when thinking about the Calatagan pot. For one, the only date it can be traced to with any certainty is the early 1960s. That is when it was offered for sale to archaeologists excavating an area whose artifacts gave indications of dating to 1300. That doesn't mean the pot itself even came from the area or that it dates from the same time as the actual artifacts found on the site: Ramon Guillermo in his recent paper attempting to decipher the script cites a 1993 attempt at Accelerated Mass Spectroscopy Analysis dating that put the inside of the pot around 2000 BCE and the outside at around 6000 BCE.

    Another weird thing about the pot is the mixture of different styles and orientations of script. Many of the characters are dead ringers for Doctrina Christiana letters but some are oriented so they are recognizable looking toward the rim and others are only recognizable the other way round, looking down from above. Actually, congratulations to you for recognising ‹d› and ‹w› among others! I have been continually amazed that others, including Juan Francisco, never took a clue from the apparent "upside down ‹m›" that there might be other upside down letters...

    Some of the letters can be interpreted one way seen from the side and the other way from above, for example 6-6 and 4-1 can be interpreted as ‹g› from the side but as possible copies of Mangyan ‹pu› from above. Depending on which way you look, 3-6 and 3-7 can be interpreted either as ‹y› or a rare variant of ‹g› we see in the Doctrina that is a plausible origin for the recorded Kapampangan forms. 4-7 could be an example of one of the variants of ‹a› we see in handwriting, with an apostrophe- or '7'-like tick placed on top of the left branch or down inside the cup after the main body is drawn. 5-2, 4-4 and 3-5 are also plausibly copies of the same kinds of ‹a› variants seen from above, with a squiggle in place of the separate added stroke on the top left. And 5-3 is only plausibly related to ‹h›, but is written backwards... And the vowel marks, at least if seen from the side, are open to the right rather than to the left: for ‹i›, that isn't too much of a problem because in older Indic scripts it was a near circle above the consonant letter, and open on the bottom. It could plausibly have rotated in either direction, but in the oldest authenticated Baybayin writing samples we have, it is always open to the left, not to the right: it took on the same shape as the ‹u› mark below a consonant. The thing about the ‹u› is that in ALL Indic scripts, it is ALWAYS open only to the left: open to the right, it stands for a long ‹uu› vowel, something that does not exist as a phoneme in any Philippine language to my knowledge.

    And then some letters are completely different, not curvilinear but angular and made with completely straight lines. It is bizarre for a script to include two kinds of letters like this: normally if a curvilinear script has angular letters, they are just crosses or simple parallel straight dashes, just like in Tagbanuwa or Bugis.

    The whole effect is one of a pottery equivalent of those kidnappers' messages made from cutout letters from different sources. Maybe it was someone having fun or deliberately putting together some kind of code, which is not impossible since there are other examples of code scripts from the archipelago. However, my impression, especially with the mess around the beginning and end of the inscription, is that is as likely as anything else a forgery by someone using a grab-bag of "ancient characters" they drew from a number of publications widely available by the 1950s: the Doctrina Christiana, Villamor's facsimiles of two land deeds plus signatures, Gardner and Maliwanag's publications about Mangyan and Tagbanuwa scripts, Santamaria's "El 'Baybayin' en el archivo de Santo Tomas"...

    Cynical view perhaps, but there is just too much in this object that rings my skepticism bells.

  2. I understand where you're coming from, and admit that I'm both a rank amateur and a newcomer when it comes to Brahmic scripts in general, much less southeastern asian ones. I've worked over the Wikipedia entry on Baybayin -- at your suggestion I believe -- and one of the things I did was to entirely remove the reference to the Calatagan pot.

    So, while your conclusion may be cynical, your reasons for skepticism are not.