Dead Media through the Millennia
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ORICL Lecture #1, Spring Qtr, 2002
Dead Media through the Millennia

by Robert Kennedy, P.E.

Slide presentation for the Oak Ridge Institute of Continued Learning (31Jan2002)

a generalized communications medium

diagram of a generalized communications medium 2K

drilling through the onion I: Languages

drilling through the onion II: Writing

3 major strategies, in order of frequency:

  1. alphabets (1 symbol per phoneme, e.g., Roman letters, Celtic runes, Braille, Cherokee, Irish ogham)

  2. logograms (1 symbol per word-concept, e.g., Arabic numerals, punctuation, Japanese kanji, some Chinese, Sumerian cuneiform, heiroglyphs)

  3. syllabaries (1 symbol per syllable, e.g., Linear B, Japanese kana, Korean han'gül)

all systems are hybrids; no system uses one pure strategy

3-4 unique loci of writing, in order of antiquity:

  1. Locus: Sumer - circa 3000 BCE
    99+% of all writing systems ever developed are alphabetic, highly evolved or transmitted via idea diffusion, from ancestral Sumerian cuneiform to Egyptian heiroglyphs to Semitic alphabets (current users ~80% of race):
    (a) old Arabian evolved into modern Ethiopian
    (b) Aramaic evolved into modern Arabic, Hebrew, Indian, SE Asian
    (c) Phoenician evolved into modern Roman, Cyrillic
    necessary innovations:
    (a) identity (1 symbol/consonant),
    (b) mnemonic order A-B-C (aleph is for “ox”, beth is for “house”, gimel is for “camel”),
    (c) written vowels

  2. Locus: Crete? - circa 1700 BCE
    probably syllabic, sole example “Phaistos disk” found 1908, first printed document in history, undeciphered, Thira - most energetic event in recorded history ~3000 megaton-equivalents, extinct circa 1500 BCE

  3. Locus: China - circa 1300 BCE
    logographic; possibly ancient diffusion of writing idea from Fertile Crescent; evolving to syllabic/phonetic in different cultures; current users ~20% of race

  4. Locus: Mesoamerica - circa 600 BCE
    logographic; puns (rebi), zero, superb predictive calendar, extinct circa 1000 CE.

drilling through the onion III: Ciphering

drilling through the onion IV: Media

will appear soon


1. Master List courtesy of those dedicated necronauts over at The Dead Media Project.

2. Diamond, Jared Guns, Germs, and Steel, (W.W.Norton, New York: 1997).

3. DeCamp, L. Sprague Ancient Engineers, The, (Dorset: 1990).

4. Zinsser, Hans Rats, Lice, and History, (Bantam: 1960).

5. MacNeill, William Plagues and Peoples, (Anchor/Doubleday: 1976).

6. MacNeill, William Pursuit of Power, The, (Univ. of Chicago Press: 1982).

About the Speaker

RK at NASA Goldstone deep space antenna, 8KRobert Kennedy is president of the Ultimax Group Inc., a corporation distributed across 11 time zones from Moscow to L.A. He speaks enough languages to start bar fights in all of them. Robotics engineer, amateur historian, and jack of all trades, he spent 1994 working for the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space as ASME’s Congressional Fellow. On the Sputnik anniversary in October 1997, he managed to make the Russian evening news. Robert telecommutes from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he resides with his wife, numerous cats, the occasional horse, and a yard full of trees and Detroit iron.

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