The Antiquity of the Mertoutek Oued Inscription


Clyde Winters

In this paper we review the evidence for the ancient origin of writing among the Proto-Saharan people, especially the Mande speaking people. These inscriptions were probably written over 3000 years ago.


Clyde A. Winters


Controversy surrounds my dating of the Mande/ Libyco-Berber

/Ancient Libyan inscription found at Oued Mertoutek by Wulsin

(1940). I have proposed a 2nd millennium date for this document

while Wulsin dates the inscription to the 5th century of the

Christian era.


At Oued Mertoutek Wulsin found an engraving of an ovicaprid

(sheep/goat) with an ancient Libyco-Berber inscription placed

inside the figure. Although the patina for the inscription and

the goat/sheep figure were the same , Wulsin claimed that the goat/sheep figure dated to the 1st-3rd millennium BC, and the writing dated back to the horse period of the "Saharan Rock Art" which he assumed was 500-600 AD.

The separate dates for the Oued Mertoutek engraving are

clearly inconsistent, given the identical patina of the figure

and the writing. There is no way the figure and inscription could

be separated by 1500-2500 years and still show identical patina.

Reason, dictates summary rejection of Wulsin's hypothesis

supporting the late introduction of writing to the Sahara.


Wuslin based his dating of the Libyco-Berber writing on the

Oued Mertoutek engraving on the Hamitic paradigm. This paradigm

maintains that writing, the horse and other cultural features

were given to Africans by Semitic speaking culturally superior

people from the East. In Wulsin's day, researchers believed that

the horse arrived in North Africa and the Sahara around 500 AD.


If we accept the discredited Hamitic hypothesis for the

introduction of writing to the Sahara, we would have to push the

day for the introduction of writing back 800-1400 years. Because

1) the chariot period which is associated with Libyco-Berber

writing is believed to have begun in the 2nd millennium BC; and

2) archaeological and epigraphic evidence suggest that writing

existed in the Sahara by at least 800 BC.


Close (1980) and Galand have reported that an inscribed

pottery vessel with Libyco-Berber inscriptions was found at

Tiddis, which dates back to 300 BC. This is 800 years earlier

than Wulsin's date for the Oued Mertoutek inscriptions.

In addition, Close (1980)claims that other evidence indicates

that Libyco-Berber inscriptions can be pushed back to between

600-700 BC. This archaeological evidence clearly contradict

Wulsin's estimation of the Oued Mertoutek inscription's age.

Other evidence for the antiquity of the Oued Mertoutek

inscription comes from there association with Saharan chariots.

The inscriptions and chariots share the same patina. These

chariots have been dated to around 1200 BC according to Desanges

(1981, p.433).

Originally, researchers believed that the Saharan chariots

were introduced into the Sahara by Egyptians and/or the Peoples

of the Sea. This hypothesis is now discredited because there are

few similarities between the Saharan and Aegean portrayals of

Chariots (Desanges, 1981,p.432).

In addition, whereas the Horse Period was considered to be

500-600 AD in Wulsin's day, today the horse period is dated

between 1500-500 BC (Sahnouni,1996, p.29). The horse depicted in

the Sahara was not the Arabian horse typified by the Berber and

Taurag horsemen. Barbary horses drew the Saharan chariots

horses (Desanges, 1981, p.432). This horse is smaller than the

Arabian horses which were not introduced into Africa

until the Christian era. The lack of similarity between the

Saharan, and eastern chariots, and the horses that drew them

indicate the unique nature of Saharan civilization.

The archaeological evidence makes it clear that Wulsin

(1940, p.129) made a mistake in his dating of the Oued Mertoutek

inscription. The fact that the contemporary epigraphers date the

Libyco-Berber inscriptions back to 700 BC and those associated

with the Saharan chariots date to 1500 BC, support my contention

that the Oued Mertoutek inscriptions date to the 2nd

millennium, just like the goat/sheep figure which shares the

same patina as the writing according to Wulsin (1940, p.128)


Some researchers refuse to date the Libyco-Berber

inscriptions earlier than 700 BC, because the Semitic alphabet

was not used until around 800 BC. They claim that Libyco-Berber

can not be any older than 800 BC because the Semitic alphabet is

suppose to be the parent of the Libyco-Berber writing.

This is a false analogy. Firstly, this view has to be

rejected because the Libyco-Berber script includes many signs

which are different from Semitic scripts. Although these signs

are not found in the Berber alphabet, they are found in the Indus

Valley, Linear A and Egyptian pottery signs.

J.T. Cornelius (1954, 1956-1957) illustrated how the

Libyco-Berber signs are identical to the Egyptian, South Indian

and Linear A writing. Moreover, a cursory comparison of the

Thinite postmarks from Upper and Lower Egypt compare favorably to

the Libyco-Berber signs ( Petrie, 1900; van de Brink, 1992). All

of these writing systems date to the 3rd millennium BC.

Secondly, these writing systems correlate well with Wulsin's

dating of the goat/sheep figure at Oued Mertoutek. This

congruency supports a 3rd millennium date for the Oued Mertoutek

inscriptions, and explains the fact that both the goat/sheep and

Libyco-Berber inscriptions share the same patina.

In conclusion, the Oued Mertoutek inscription probably dates

back to the 3rd Millennium BC. Two factors dispute Wulsin's

dating of the Oued Mertoutek inscription: 1) the archaeological

evidence which has pushed back the dating of Libyco-Berber

inscriptions to between 300-700 BC; and 2) the dating of the

Horse Period in Saharan history to 1500 BC, rather than 500-600


The dating of the Horse period in the Sahara is

now pushed back to 1500 BC. This factor alone disconfirms the

hypothesis of Wulsin, that the Oued Mertoutek inscription was

written around 500-600 AD, because Wulsin had formed this

conclusion based on the dating of the Horse Period of Saharan

Rock Art. Changes in the dating of the Horse Period from those

accepted by Wulsin 50 years ago automatically changes our dating

of the Oued Mertoutek inscription.

The ancient origin of Libyco-Berber writing is further

confirmed by the common symbols shared by the Oued Mertoutek

inscriptions, and contemporary 3rd Millennium writing systems in

Mesopotamia, Crete, Egypt and the Indus Valley. This along with

the same patina for the goat/sheep figure and Oued Mertoutek

inscription is congruent with the determination that the Oued

Mertoutek inscription is 5000 years old.



Close, A.E. (1980). Current research and recent radiocarbon

dates from northern Africa", , 21,


Cornelius, J.T. (1954). The Dravidian Question,

Culture>, 3 (2), pp.92-102.

Cornelius, J.T. (1956-1957). Are Dravidian Dynastic


India, 1956-1957, pp.89-117.

Desanges, J. (1981). The Proto-Berbers. In

of Africa II> (Ed.) by G.M. Mokhtar (pp.423-440). Berkeley,CA:


Petrie, W.M.F. (1900).

Dynasties>, London: Egypt Exploration Society. No.18.

Sahnouni,M. (1996). Saharan rock art. In ,

(Ed.) by Theodore Celenko (pp.28-30). Bloomington,IN:Indianapolis

Museum of Art.

van den Brink, E.C.M.(1992). Corpus and numerical evaluation

of the Thinite potmarks. In

Dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman> (pp.265-296). Oxbow Books.

Park End Place, Oxford: Egyptian Studies Association

Publication. No.2.

Wulsin,F.R. (1940).

Northwest Africa>. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American

Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Vol.19 (1).




Hot Links

Winters Home Page
Makubwa's Homepage

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at

This page created with Netscape Navigator Gold