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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/560

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542
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE EARLIEST WRITING IN FRANCE.
By M. GABRIEL DE MORTILLET.

THE ancient Celts and Gauls of France had no real letters. A few Celtiberian pieces of money bear characters belonging to the Phœnician and Carthaginian alphabets. In Cisalpine Gaul we find Gallic written in ancient Italian characters. The Greeks, when they founded Massilia and spread themselves along the Mediterranean coast of France, brought their language and writing into the country. The Gauls took advantage of this, and many Gallic inscriptions in Greek characters occur scattered through the south of France, among much more numerous inscriptions in the Greek language and character.

When the Romans came, the Latin alphabet rapidly took the place of the Greek, and the few Gauls that continued faithful to the old tongue used Latin characters in engraving the inscriptions they have left us. Similar changes took place in Gallic pieces of money. Excepting the Celtiberian coins with their Semitic legends and characters, which are found only in a very limited district in the southwest of France, Gallic coins, when they have characters upon them, may be classified as those with Greek and those with Latin legends. The former are very abundant in the south of France, and extend, growing more rare, as we go on into the center and north. Gallic coins with legends in Roman characters gradually become more numerous, and were general after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Cæsar, some of the Gallic populations having only begun to coin money during the earlier period of the Roman occupation.

There are some evidences of the use of a symbolical and hieroglyphical writing before alphabetical writing. On some of the megalithic monuments, principally in Morbihan, stones are found bearing incised engravings, and sometimes sculptures in relief. Are the engravings simply ornamental motives, have they a symbolical meaning, or are they hieroglyphic emblems? Opinions are divided. The supports of the large and handsome dolmen of the little island of Gavrinis, Morbihan, are filled with engraved lines running into one another and conforming to the shape of the stone or to its composition—all the siliceous and consequently very hard parts being free from them. This indicates a simple ornamentation or decoration executed without any special plan made in advance, according to the nature and form of the stone worked upon. Yet, among the lines of the apparently fanciful ornament a number of polished stone hatchets are very distinctly represented. In all the other dolmens the carvings are much less numerous and not so close. Sometimes