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Mark Moore
04-20-2014, 08:42 PM
In one of my WIPs, an alternate take on the formation of the universe and the Earth and the relationship between humans and higher powers is revealed by a college professor to the heroines of the story. The purpose of this is to set up the main premise of the series and lead into clue-gathering and such, but that comes later. It's also meant to set up the idea that various later stories that I write would take place in the history or pre-history of Earth.

As an example, one of the texts that one of my MCs is given to transcribe to digital format might be an account by a princess of an ancient kingdom before recorded history. Considering how few people would even have any idea what it is, what are the chances that something from ten-thousand years ago or more might end up in a modern English translation? It would be many generations removed from the original, of course, translated every so often into the current language. How plausible is this?

Also, would the original manuscripts survive such a long time? These would be far older than even the oldest Biblical manuscript fragments (which date to 150 BCE at the earliest). Where would they have to be stored?

kuwisdelu
04-20-2014, 09:05 PM
Unless you have some alien technology for storing the information, your answer would be in oral tradition. Most ancient texts are transcriptions of far older oral stories that had been passed down for generations. Much of the world's history is still preserved in this way.

Alzarakh
04-20-2014, 09:08 PM
Are you aiming for realistic? Most stories and accounts in our own history were passed down through stories and by word of mouth. (As far as we know)
Something could survive that long if it had been translated along the way, keep in mind though that even with the Rosetta stone we still don't quite fully grasp ancient Egyptian yet.
Another thing to consider is how important/popular the document/s were/are. Take Shakespeare for example, its already a couple of hundreds of years old and you can go into any bookstore and still find it. (I know its already english but its a good example I think) Same with the Bible/Quran. On the other hand, other documents could very well suvive because no one thought it was important enough and just put into a safe place and forgot about it.

Storage: There's a reason deserts make the best preservers. Water = doom for many things because life forms such as mold will simply eat away the oranic materials. Caves could work because they don't see a lot of change due to the lack of air/water movement (but fungi love caves). Buried = probably not unless it was in an air tight sort of tomb where it wouldn't be exposed. You'll most likely want to aim for a very static environment.

Hope that helps a bit :)

benbenberi
04-20-2014, 09:24 PM
If you want truly ancient manuscripts, forget about paper/papyrus. The really old stuff is all inscribed in stone or clay. Some have been translated. Some (like the writings of the early Indus civilization) have not. The oldest writing that survives goes back about 5500 years, & there are indications of pre-writing symbols in use in various places for a couple of thousand years before that. You want older than that? Go ahead - but make sure you give it a good story!

(For example, one of the favorite books of my childhood was The Lost Continent of Mu [+ sequels] by James Churchward, who posits a lost civilization on a now-sunken Pacific continent that ruled the world approx. 30,000 yrs ago. His main evidence: a series of stone tablets in a nearly-lost language preserved by a handful of secretive Indian priests, & some comparable tablets excavated at Mu colonies in other places & hidden/suppressed/misunderstood by science. Complete poppycock, of course, but he elaborated on the tale very thoroughly, with lots of drawings of the tablets that no one else had access to...)

King Neptune
04-20-2014, 09:33 PM
As an example, one of the texts that one of my MCs is given to transcribe to digital format might be an account by a princess of an ancient kingdom before recorded history. Considering how few people would even have any idea what it is, what are the chances that something from ten-thousand years ago or more might end up in a modern English translation? It would be many generations removed from the original, of course, translated every so often into the current language. How plausible is this?

Not very plausible, based on what we know of human history, pre-history, and the history of writing. As one example, the Ancient Egyptians expected that their writing would be current and comprehensible for a long time, or they acted as if they believed that. The only way that something from ten thousand years ago might end up in English would be if someone deciphered it.


Also, would the original manuscripts survive such a long time? These would be far older than even the oldest Biblical manuscript fragments (which date to 150 BCE at the earliest). Where would they have to be stored?

The oldest examples of writing goes back to about 3200 BCE. There are some things that might be writing that are older, and there are numerical records that are older. Those earliest writings are on baked clay tablets. There are some things on gold that are more than 2500 years old.

So could survive from 10,000 BCE? Probably, but it would have to be on ceramic or gold, and the medium would have to be buried in a place where it wouldn't be found by grave robbers, archeologists, or similar.

You might want to read about the mystery of Minoan Linear A, which was only deciphered a few years ago. Samples of Linear A have been known for a long time, and Linear B was deciphered about 60 years ago, but that language only goes back to around 1700 BCE. You might also want to look at the Etruscan language.

ClareGreen
04-20-2014, 09:37 PM
As an example, one of the texts that one of my MCs is given to transcribe to digital format might be an account by a princess of an ancient kingdom before recorded history. Considering how few people would even have any idea what it is, what are the chances that something from ten-thousand years ago or more might end up in a modern English translation? It would be many generations removed from the original, of course, translated every so often into the current language. How plausible is this?

Quick thought: if they're records, supposed to be from before recorded history, I heartily recommend a change of terminology!

Other than that, there's a body of thought that suggests that legends still told in Europe are a memory of events from millenia ago. In Wales and Cornwall (and Brittany as well, I gather), there are legends of fertile land that was swallowed by the sea long ago. These are areas where the post ice age melt really did swallow the forests, and if that sort of memory can survive (albeit in altered form), the chances of similar survivals are quite high.


Also, would the original manuscripts survive such a long time? These would be far older than even the oldest Biblical manuscript fragments (which date to 150 BCE at the earliest). Where would they have to be stored?

Depends what they're written on and where. If they're on stone tablets, carved into clay which was then fired, or gold, that's a vastly different proposition to bits of hide; if they're painted on the wall of a cave, there's this-world precedent for them being fine.

NDoyle
04-20-2014, 10:12 PM
Some people think that the Atlantis myth is an actual example of what you describe, so getting most readers to suspend their disbelief should not be all that hard.

As for preservation issues: a carved or even a painted inscription on stone protected from the elements would potentially survive. (Lascaux, anyone?) Again, given proper conditions of preservation, a text could even survive on otherwise more perishable material. How advanced was this super-ancient civilization?

The real trick would be:

1) identifying/translating the original document (there are a number of much younger languages that have defied translation, and we know about their cultures!)

2) and then connecting it to known version(s) of the story. Think of a 10,000+ year game of "telephone." There are likely to be differences between the two texts--not just in language but in content, interpretation, etc. The story would probably not pass untouched by the various cultures that relayed it through time.

Medievalist
04-20-2014, 11:50 PM
Writing is roughly 5000 years old +/- 500 years*

Recent scholarship suggests that the very earliest writing may not be on clay tablets (Sumerian) but is on fragments of turtle shell (proto Chinese).

I'd suggest metal would be a good option; see for instance early Greek, Latin, and Gaulish calendars, curses and prayers written on pieces of lead and bronze. Metal is portable and durable, and allows for more flexible writing systems than either clay or stone. Metal can also be layered and compressed.

*it gets complicated in terms of which counting systems are "tokens" and which qualify as writing.

frimble3
04-21-2014, 11:34 AM
This is where your cults and secret societies really shine. Create a group who have dedicated themselves to passing on 'The Hidden Knowledge'. They were the first recipients of the texts, and have made it their mission to periodically transcribe the texts into whatever is currently popular, as well as training replacements.

So, your MC is either the latest trainee/replacement (perhaps unknowingly?) or, the chain was broken at some point, and your MC's group is trying to patch together the meaning of the texts.

You might want to make it less than 'modern' English. If your latest copy of the texts is already in contemporary English, all that needs to be done is scanning, or at worst, keying it into a computer to get it into a digital format. Like an e-edition of a current hard-copy book.
But, if you make it, say, Elizabethan English, then you'd need someone with some training to 'translate' it into contemporary, especially if there are references to weird science, or things that they just didn't have terms for in Elizabethan English. That would require a more personal touch. Especially if the professor thinks there might have been some 'slippage' over the centuries, and meanings were changed, or misinterpreted.

robjvargas
04-21-2014, 04:13 PM
Egyptian hieroglyphics were largely a mystery until the discovery of The Rosetta Stone (http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/writing/rosetta.html).

So a direct translation isn't completely necessary. If you find ancient knowledge in a forgotten script, maybe someone discovers an intermediate translation along the lines of The Rosetta Stone.

King Neptune
04-21-2014, 04:58 PM
Then there's the matter of mistranslation or misinterpretation. That was the heart of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and it may have happened in the real world. Just looking a few of the result from a search give some idea of how bad it could be a major issue in the Bible, and, now that I think about it, there are people who think that the Koran may have been intended very differently from how it is generally interpreted.

You could have your characters come up with something new and different, or have them correct an earlier mistranslation. Good fun.

Bolero
04-21-2014, 08:32 PM
Then there's the matter of mistranslation or misinterpretation. That was the heart of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and it may have happened in the real world. Just looking a few of the result from a search give some idea of how bad it could be a major issue in the Bible, and, now that I think about it, there are people who think that the Koran may have been intended very differently from how it is generally interpreted.

You could have your characters come up with something new and different, or have them correct an earlier mistranslation. Good fun.

I seem to remember that the historical Hindu custom of suttee - of the widow throwing herself on the funeral pyre of the husband - was thought by some to come from a mis-copying - that it should have been something of the lines of "go within" as in lead a secluded life as a widow, but the way it was copied, turned it into the widow "going within the funeral pyre". Whether that is accurate or not, I am uncertain. Possibly came from MM Kaye, or another writer of historical fiction set in India.

King Neptune
04-21-2014, 10:18 PM
I seem to remember that the historical Hindu custom of suttee - of the widow throwing herself on the funeral pyre of the husband - was thought by some to come from a mis-copying - that it should have been something of the lines of "go within" as in lead a secluded life as a widow, but the way it was copied, turned it into the widow "going within the funeral pyre". Whether that is accurate or not, I am uncertain. Possibly came from MM Kaye, or another writer of historical fiction set in India.

That's almost funny, but it is easy to see how that could happen.

Mark Moore
04-22-2014, 07:48 AM
Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I'll look into having the really old material originally written on something more durable.

The ancient civilization would have been at a roughly late-medieval level - with maybe a few later developments such as mechanical clocks and music boxes thrown in.

I'm definitely including a secret society, and that should help with the passing down of the texts. I haven't worked out the details yet, such as whether this is an unbroken continuation dating from ancient times or a relatively much newer society looking to gather, translate, and restore as much of the original knowledge as possible.

I've given a vague hint of the society so far. A group of people leave the professor's office as the MCs enter, and he meets with them privately (along with his protege, a younger instructor at the university). After he explains what he knows and mentions that the MCs are important in some fashion (without letting on right away just how important), he'll assign some tasks, and they'll have access to various texts. I'm not sure just when to reveal there's a whole society dedicated to this (and I gotta come up with a name for it), but I figure the whole scope of everything will be revealed as the series progresses.

King Neptune
04-22-2014, 03:58 PM
Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I'll look into having the really old material originally written on something more durable.

The ancient civilization would have been at a roughly late-medieval level - with maybe a few later developments such as mechanical clocks and music boxes thrown in.

Mrchanical, water powered musical things and clocks are ancient. The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks made such things.


I'm definitely including a secret society, and that should help with the passing down of the texts. I haven't worked out the details yet, such as whether this is an unbroken continuation dating from ancient times or a relatively much newer society looking to gather, translate, and restore as much of the original knowledge as possible.

I've given a vague hint of the society so far. A group of people leave the professor's office as the MCs enter, and he meets with them privately (along with his protege, a younger instructor at the university). After he explains what he knows and mentions that the MCs are important in some fashion (without letting on right away just how important), he'll assign some tasks, and they'll have access to various texts. I'm not sure just when to reveal there's a whole society dedicated to this (and I gotta come up with a name for it), but I figure the whole scope of everything will be revealed as the series progresses.

The secret society is one place where such stories can easily break down.