hieroglyphic writing

Mi'kmaq hieroglyphic writing

Míkmaq hieroglyphic writing was a writing system and memory aid used by the Míkmaq.

The glyphs were logograms with phonetic elements used alongside (Schmidt & Marshall 1995). This is similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, which included logographic, alphabetic, and ideographic information.

It has been debated by scholars whether the original "hieroglyphs" qualified fully as a writing system rather than merely as a pictographic mnemonic device, before their adaptation for pedagogical purposes in the 17th century by the French missionary Chrétien Le Clercq. Ives Goddard and William Fitzhugh from the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution contended in 1978 that the pre-missionary system was purely mnemonic, as it could not be used to write new compositions. Schmidt and Marshall argued in 1995 that the missionary system of the 1600s was able to serve as a fully functional writing system. This would mean that Míkmaq is the oldest writing system for a native language north of Mexico.


Father le Clercq, a Roman Catholic missionary on the Gaspé Peninsula from 1675, claimed that he had seen some Míkmaq children 'writing' symbols on birchbark as a memory aid. This was sometimes done by pressing porcupine quills directly into the bark in the shape of symbols. Le Clercq adapted those symbols to writing prayers, developing new symbols as necessary. This writing system proved popular among Míkmaq, and was still in use in the 19th century. Since there is no historical or archaeological evidence of these symbols from before the arrival of this missionary, it is unclear how ancient the use of the mnemonic glyphs was. The relationship of these symbols with Míkmaq petroglyphs is also unclear.

The Fell hypothesis

Biologist and amateur epigrapher Barry Fell, who has claimed that various pre-Columbian inscriptions in the Americas were written by Europeans, claimed that Míkmaq hieroglyphic writing was not only pre-Columbian but Egyptian in origin. All of his claims have been rejected as baseless in academic circles (Goddard & Fitzhugh, Schmidt & Marshall). A web page called Egyptians in Acadia offers an illustration of some of Fell's claims (apparently taken from Fell 1992). Comparison with the actual Egyptian hieroglyphs shows that Fell's claims have significant shortcomings:

! colspan="2" | Hieroglyphs and discussion
F35-I9:D21 F35 heart-and-windpipe; used as shown in nfr 'good'. Used three together this means 'beauty'. Does not mean 'truth'.
N14-N11:N14-N1:N14 N14 star; used in sb3 'star'; the centre example with N11 j'h 'moon' means 3bd 'month'; the rightmost example, shown with N1 pt 'sky' does not occur; The words for 'heaven' and 'sky' do not use the star hieroglyph.
V30 V30 wickerwork-basket; used in nb 'all'. The Míkmaq msit 'all' (not 'full'?) is not drawn accurately; it is a large equilateral triangle made up of horizontal lines, not a low horizontal sign like V30. (See the example in the Text of the Rite of Confirmation above.)
O41 O41 double-stairway; used in q3y 'ascent', 'high place', j'r 'ascend'. Does not mean 'exalted one'.


External links


  • Chaisson, Paul, The Island of Seven Cities: where the Chinese settled when they discovered North America, Random House Canada, 2006, p. 170.
  • Fell, Barry. 1992. "The Micmac Manuscripts" in Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, 21:295.
  • Goddard, Ives, and William W. Fitzhugh. 1978. "Barry Fell Reexamined", in The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 41, No. 3. (September), pp. 85-88.
  • Hewson, John. 1982. Micmac Hieroglyphs in Newfoundland. Languages in Newfoundland and Labrador, ed. by Harold Paddock, 2nd ed., 188-199. St John's, Newfoundland: Memorial University
  • Hewson, John. 1988. Introduction to Micmac Hieroglyphics. Cape Breton Magazine 47:55-61. (text of 1982, plus illustrations of embroidery and some photos)
  • [Kauder, Christian]. 1921. Sapeoig Oigatigen tan teli Gômgoetjoigasigel Alasotmaganel, Ginamatineoel ag Getapefiemgeoel; Manuel de Prières, instructions et changs sacrés en Hieroglyphes micmacs; Manual of Prayers, Instructions, Psalms & Hymns in Micmac Ideograms. New edition of Father Kauder's Book published in 1866. Ristigouche, Québec: The Micmac Messenger.
  • Lenhart, John. History relating to Manual of prayers, instructions, psalms and humns in Micmac Ideograms used by Micmac Indians fof Eastern Canada and Newfoundland. Sydney, Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Native Communications Society.
  • Schmidt, David L., and B. A. Balcom. 1995. "The Règlements of 1739: A Note on Micmac Law and Literacy", in Acadiensis. XXIII, 1 (Autumn 1993) pp 110-127. ISSN 0044-5851
  • Schmidt, David L., and Murdena Marshall. 1995. Míkmaq Hieroglyphic Prayers: Readings in North America's First Indigenous Script. Nimbus Publishing. ISBN 1-55109-069-4

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