TechScientists discover an unknown language from 3000 years ago

Scientists discover an unknown language from 3000 years ago

Fragment of text written in cuneiform script
Fragment of text written in cuneiform script
Images source: © Bogazkoy Excavation Archive

7:52 PM EST, November 18, 2023

Archaeologists have unearthed tablets written in an unknown language from the ancient Hittite archives. This discovery, made in Turkey, sheds light on a language that died out over 3000 years ago.

Archaeological excavations in Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite Empire (present-day Bogazkoy), led to the discovery of this yet-unknown language. The archaeological site is situated approximately 100 miles east of Ankara, Turkey's current capital.

Over the decades, about 30,000 complete and fragmented clay tablets have been excavated in Bogazkoy. All were prepared by Hittite officials using the prevalent cuneiform script in the empire. Most of the records contain content in the ancient Hittite language, which is already well-known to scientists.

About 5% of the discovered texts were written down by Hittite scribes in the languages of ethnic minorities that were part of the empire. These include the languages of the Luwians, Palaians, Hattians, and Hurrians. Among the inscriptions, scientists found a language previously unnoticed by linguists and historians.

Scientists have named this newly discovered language the "Kalasma language", after the area of the Hittite Empire, known as Kalasma, where it was utilized. This region was located at the northwestern edge of the empire.

According to researchers, the records in the languages of ethnic minorities related to the religious rites of the conquered peoples. This suggests that the ancient Hittites potentially had a department dedicated to analyzing the religious customs of their vassals. These customs could then be incorporated into the empire's highly inclusive and multicultural religious system.

The discovery indicates that traces of other previously unknown languages could potentially be found in ancient stone tablet archives. In ancient times, the area of the Near East, now known as Turkey, was populated by people who spoke distinct languages. The Hittite language is still considered one of the most significant proto-languages, contributing many words to contemporary speech.

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