Linear Elamite deciphered, a 5,000-year-old writing system – time.news

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Only two remain. We are not in the violent world of Highlander, but in the muffled environment of archeology and ancient writing systems. Now both in turmoil for unexpected news: the inscriptions in Linear Elamite dating back to the third millennium BC have been deciphered for the first time. The undertaking was carried out by a French researcher, Franois Desset, who is divided between the University of Tehran and Lyon, and by his colleagues Kambiz Tabibzadeh, Matthieu Kervran and Gian-Pietro Basello.


Without using algorithms and computers

Like his compatriot Jean-Franois Champollion, who at the beginning of the nineteenth century, thanks to the Rosetta Stone, was able to decipher the Egyptian monumental hieroglyphs, Desset and his collaborators did not use algorithms or computers, but compared some pieces of inscriptions in Linear Elamite , which he imagined could correspond to the names of kings and deities, to texts in the Elamite language but written in cuneiform characters. From this key he managed to identify many signs and give them a coherent interpretation. No electronics: only paper, pen and hypothesis after hypothesis until we find the right logical passage, the Apriti Sesame that opened the cave of Al Bab and opened new scenarios on a civilization over 5 thousand years ago.

Never deciphered

The linear Elamite writing system, with which the Archaic Elamite language was written, was discovered in Susa, in southwestern Persia not far from the border with Iraq, by a French archaeological mission in 1901, explains Desset al Corriere della Sera. But, unlike the Elamite language, which we know through other cuneiform inscriptions, it had never before been deciphered. That is: the language was known, but the writing system in which it was written was not understood. I’ve been working on it since 2006, says Desset. The scientific publication of the deciphering will be published in the next few months in a specialized journal in which I will also propose to change the terminology and stop talking about the linear Elamite writing system that only generates confusion with the Elamite language.

Named after two kings and an Iranian deity

Based on eight inscriptions engraved on silver vases preserved in London and 19 on stone and clay in the Louvre, Desset identified the names of two kings and a deity of ancient Iran that we knew from Mesopotamian inscriptions, explains Massimo Vidale. professor of oriental archeology at the University of Padua and member of the Italian mission in Iran managed by the Venetian university and by the Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East. Before Desset started working on it, 6-7 signs of this script were known, now they are about seventy. The proper names were therefore the key to the resolution, exactly as happened with Champollion who started from the identification of the names of the pharaohs and gods enclosed in the royal cartouches.

In the same period as the Sumerian

Elamite was a linguistic island. It was spoken at the same time as Sumerian, but they were two different languages ​​that had no points in common. Sumerian was widespread in Mesopotamia, Elamite in the Iranian plateau: they were geographically close, but they had no linguistic ties, continues the 38-year-old French researcher. The first forms of writing appeared in Mesopotamia at the end of the fourth millennium BC. C. Linear Elamite shows that in the same period writing developed autonomously also in the Iranian plateau. Now that we know how to read the inscriptions, we will learn more about the history of that distant Middle Eastern period.

The writings on sacred offerings

But what do the first deciphered inscriptions in Linear Elamite say? They were written by rulers on sacred offerings, Desset illustrates. The things that kings write are always uninteresting, Vidale jokes about the historical significance of the inscriptions. More or less they always repeat the formula “I am the great sovereign son of King So-and-So, beloved of the gods. I dedicate this gift to the god XY ”. With a risky comparison, the social networks of the second half of the third millennium before our era can be considered. Once linear Elamite is understood, what other ancient systems of writing remain an enigma? Cretan Linear A and the Indus Valley script remain to be deciphered, says Vidale. So there are only two left, for immortals like Highlanders.

January 7, 2021 (change January 7, 2021 | 18:33)

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