History Technology The Irish Language - An Ghaeilge

Ogham – Ireland’s Indigenous Alphabet

In the field with the Ogham in 3D project (Íomhá: PDDNET)
In the field with the Ogham in 3D project (Íomhá: PDDNET)

Here’s a fascinating article on the Product Design and Development website examining an archaeological project in Ireland to preserve in electronic form the earliest written examples of the Irish language, the inscribed Ogham alphabet from the early centuries CE.

“Dotted around the rugged landscape of Western Ireland and the Irish Sea are individual stones standing three or more feet out of the ground marked with symbols, mini-memorials that tell the stories of prominent people and tribes in the first language of the Irish more than 1,500 years ago.

Ogham stones are among Ireland’s most remarkable national treasures. These perpendicular-cut stones bear inscriptions in the unique Irish Ogham alphabet, use a system of notches and horizontal or diagonal lines/scores to represent the sounds of an early form of the Irish language. The stones are inscribed with the names of prominent people and sometimes tribal affiliation or geographical areas. These inscriptions constitute the earliest recorded form of the Irish language and, as the earliest written records dating back at least as far as the 5th century AD, are a significant resource for historians, as well as linguists and archaeologists.

Recently, many of the stones, in the ground in their many locations, were individually scanned for the sake of research and language preservation using an Artec, Eva hand-held scanner. Climbing mountains and walking through valleys, researchers carried their scanning equipment to advance the study of the Irish language; a heritage project supported by The Discovery Programme and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Over the centuries the stones continue to weather, slowly losing their inscriptions as the elements erode the carved language and symbols.  Preserving these remnants of an ancient language – and capturing the physical depth of the writing and the shape of each stone – was a perfect application for advanced, portable, hand-held 3D scanning.

The stones vary in size, with an average height of approximately 1.5m. They are often located in remote and exposed parts of Ireland which adds to the challenge of getting to them and recording their inscriptions and physical shapes in a high resolution. A small forensics tent enclosed each stone, creating a mini, controlled lighting environment and to ensure measurements could proceed whatever the weather. To ensure sufficient power for the scanner and a laptop, a portable generator was often used.  Most sites are rugged and remote and a long way from a source of electricity.”

There is more information about this invaluable project at the website Ogham In 3D with some excellent background detail to Ogham, a body of ritualistic symbols made by hand or carved in wood and later adapted to the Roman alphabet for use with the Irish language (and named after the Tuatha Dé Danann figure Oghma).

In the field with the Ogham in 3D project, and a gallán or standing stone inscribed with Ogham and early Christian symbols (Íomhá: PDDNET)
In the field with the Ogham in 3D project, and a gallán or standing stone inscribed with Ogham and early Christian symbols (Íomhá: PDDNET)
An example of written or manuscript Ogham, a later Medieval development of the alphabet (Íomhá: DIAS)
An example of written or manuscript Ogham, a later Medieval development of the alphabet (Íomhá: DIAS)

 

2 comments on “Ogham – Ireland’s Indigenous Alphabet

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: