University of Calgary Professor Emeritus of Archaeology David H. Kelley explains the ancient Gaelic Ogham cipher
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David H. Kelley, University of Calgary Professor Emeritus of Archaeology, explains Gaelic Ogham cipher
The Book of Ballymote in the 14th century gives a comprehensive account of Ogham. Now the alphabet is a most unusual alphabet in that it is really, simply a, ah, counting method, a tally method, which is very like a cryptographic system. It's as if we were using the letter 'A' but never wrote 'A', we simply wrote '1'. 1, 2, 3 – A, B, C. Ah, the order of the alphabet is different. The order which was used was 'Beith, Luis, Fearn, Saille, Nuin'. And these are the first five and you could simply equate them as '1, 2, 3, 4, 5'. You have these as five hanging strokes on a line. Ah, then, rather than increasing the number, ah, they used 5 strokes above the line and 5 strokes through the line. Ah, and, the names which are given to the letters of the alphabet are, very curiously and interestingly, all names of trees. And, ah, it seems as if, ah, tree worship was involved. The primary word for a priest in, ah, the ancient Gaelic country was 'druid' which is a word which actually indicates, ah, an Oak Priest. And so, again you see the emphasis on trees found in this. Ah, the Ogham alphabet was used in, ah, particularly the, ah, area of Ireland and parts of Wales and Scotland and just a little bit into England. Ah, the inscriptions which have been found, ah, in Scotland have not yet been deciphered. The letters can be read, the, the sounds are known, but it has been impossible to read because apparently the language itself, ah, is not known; it is something other than, ah, Gaelic. All of the other inscriptions, however, appear to be in Gaelic. Now, I think maybe that word 'appear to be' should be emphasized because, ah, it's not impossible that, ah, occasional short inscriptions could be read either as Gaelic or some other related language.

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