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Cherokee tribal writing inside Alabama cave finally decoded

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FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Archaeologists and Cherokee scholars have collaborated to interpret tribal inscriptions written in an Alabama cave.

The inscriptions inside Manitou Cave near Fort Payne are evidence of the tribe’s syllabary, which the Cherokee scholar Sequoyah developed using symbols for each sound. It was formally adopted as the tribe’s official written language in 1825.

The study of the inscriptions was published in the April issue of Antiquity, an international archaeological journal. Experts say they describe secluded ceremonial activities in the years before the Cherokee were forcibly removed from the region along the Trail of Tears.

One inscription describes a particular game similar to lacrosse in 1828 when players entered the cave before the games and during intermission. Another was “written backwards, as if addressing readers inside the rock itself.”

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