According to most historians the writing “translated” in these poems should not exist. Sumerians invented writing around 3200 BCE. The alphabet was invented later by the Phoenicians around 1050 BCE; and this is usually believed to have been derived from the Proto-Sinaitic script, in use from around 1850 BCE. The Vinca or Danube or Old European symbols have no place in what we thought we knew of the past. Found on household artefacts across south-east Europe, these symbols are in the wrong place and from the wrong time — the oldest of these artefacts being a wooden disk carbon-dated to 5260 BCE.

From northern Greece, the symbols proliferate with the rise of the Vinca culture in the Lower Danube, and can be seen to spread north along the shores of the Black Sea with the rise of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture from 4800 BCE.

Though sometimes called “pro to-writing”, the linearity of the Old European script, considered in relation to the limited number of symbols employed, must make such a designation dubious: the first being a feature consistent with true writing, the latter with the alphabet and syllabary. In fact, some Vinca signs look more like characters in Greek, Etruscan and Indus than the ostensible originals in the Phoenician script.

This apparent (perhaps deceptive) familiarity encourages (often wild) speculation. This poem participates in this creative paranoia, beginning with the assumption that the half-dozen basic symbols represent vowels, that additional marks modifying these represent consonants: a semi-syllabary, like the later Iberian script, but part, too, of the (as yet) incomplete alphabet: those six or seven letters that Robert Graves believed the Pelasgoi possessed before King Cadmus brought the Phoenician characters to Greece.


Xaragmata was published by Burner Veer in 2013. The first poem in the collection can be read here. The Veer pamphlet is available to buy here.


Xaragmata asks what is the thereness of things such as the earliest surviving weavings, fragments of pre-alphabetic script, recordings of the blitz and so on in order to turn that question back to the mode of existence of poetry. This unusual book takes us on a journey through meetings of materials and concepts so that they become transmissions which reach out beyond the original material and exist – as forms of delight – for the senses and the mind.” — William Rowe

“David Ashford’s Xaragmata (pamphlet from Veer) is just about the most amazing stuff we have seen in the last 20 years. Described by Harry Gilonis as ‘Way Beyond Weird’, the fabric of the poetry goes so far into the recondite, dense, and plain difficult that you can only grasp it through the notes. We were overwhelmed. Sketchy research suggests that it should be ‘kharagmata’, with a chi not ski, from a word meaning ‘stamp’ used in the Scriptures for ‘the mark of the Beast’ and describing for Ashford the anomalous 6th millennium signs (or quasi-writing??) on tablets from Tartaria in Rumania which appear on the cover of the pamphlet. A fascination for mathematics, objects constructed by numbers, and archaeology helps to push this language into the realm of dazzle and darkness. … The interest in the point of origin of the European languages coincides with the interest in the origins of European peasant society and the invention of writing — all points on the horizon of knowledge, where haze merges into darkness. We see the first known examples of the cultural systems we use and also a zone where they merge into something else.” — Andrew Duncan, Angel Exhaust 23: Perimeter Thralls (Autumn 2015): 194-195.