“Ritual script” in an undiscovered Indo-European language found on an ancient clay tablet

Almost 30,000 clay tablets covered in cuneiform writing have been unearthed at Boğazköy-Hattuşa. Most of them are written in Hittite; this one at the British Museum records a peace treaty. (Image credit: Trustees of the British Museum)

An ancient clay tablet featuring a ‘ritual text’ from an unidentified language, believed to be spoken over 3,000 years ago, has been discovered in Turkey.

This remarkable find occurred at Boğazköy-Hattuşa, situated in north-central Turkey. This site once served as Hattusha, the Hittite capital from approximately 1600 B.C. to 1200 B.C. and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The discovery was part of an ongoing expedition led by Andreas Schachner from the German Archaeological Institute. Over the years, these excavations have revealed thousands of clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform — arguably the earliest form of written script developed by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago.

Schachner explained to Live Science that these tablets are typically found grouped together near certain buildings, often referred to as archives or libraries. However, erosion has caused some tablets to scatter across the site.

While the majority of these tablets are in the Hittite language, some contain words from other languages, reflecting the Hittites’ fascination with foreign religious practices. The recently discovered tablet not only has words from this yet-to-be-identified language but also includes Hittite inscriptions elucidating its context.

Schachner highlighted in correspondence, “The introduction is in Hittite, confirming its role as a ritual text.”

Mysterious Tongue

A series of clay tablets, sent to Germany for examination, captured the attention of Professor Daniel Schwemer, head of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Würzburg. Based on the Hittite inscriptions, Schwemer identified the unique language as that of Kalašma, located near today’s Turkish city of Bolu.

While the content remains enigmatic and no images of the tablet will be shared until a comprehensive study is completed, it’s clear that the language is part of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family — a lineage shared with Hittite. In contrast, other ancient regional languages such as Akkadian, Hebrew, and Aramaic are from the Semitic family.

Schwemer pointed out the Hittites’ distinct inclination towards documenting foreign rituals. Other tablets from Boğazköy-Hattuşa have revealed ritual texts in languages like the Indo-European Luwian and Palaic, as well as the non-Indo-European Hattic. Authored by Hittite scribes, these texts embody a diverse blend of Anatolian, Syrian, and Mesopotamian linguistic and traditional influences.

Schwemer emphasized, “These rituals offer rare insights into the multifaceted linguistic realm of Late Bronze Age Anatolia, which wasn’t limited to just Hittite.”

Hittite Dominion

The Hittites, reigning over vast territories in Anatolia (this is what the Armenian Highlands are often called today.) and Syria, stood as one of antiquity’s mightiest empires. In 1274 B.C., they clashed with the Egyptians in the Battle of Kadesh, contending for Canaan’s dominance — an area encompassing today’s southern Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.

This battle holds significance as potentially the earliest documented military conflict. Although the Hittites maintained their grip on Kadesh, the Egyptians secured Canaan.

By around 1600 B.C., Hattusha emerged as the Hittite capital. Over a century of archaeological digs at this site have unveiled an expansive ancient metropolis. Yet, around 1200 B.C., Hattusha was deserted amidst the mysterious “Late Bronze Age collapse” that shattered numerous ancient eastern Mediterranean civilizations. The reasons behind this decline remain debated among historians and archaeologists. Some attribute it to the invasions by the “Sea Peoples”, abrupt climatic shifts, or the introduction of groundbreaking technologies such as iron.

Schachner expressed uncertainty regarding the possibility of discovering additional writings in the recently unearthed language or stumbling upon excerpts in other ancient tongues among the tablets from Boğazköy-Hattuşa.

Original Source: www.livescience.com

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