French decode text over 4000 years old

The advertisement – very rare – must have delighted the souls of Father Barthelemy, Sylvester de Sacy, or even Champollion. French archaeologist Francois Desette, of the Archéorient Laboratory in Lyon, announced on November 27, 2020, that he had successfully deciphered 4,400-year-old inscriptions! They are all written in Elamite calligraphy, a script used by the Elamites who later inhabited Iran. Scholars gathered online to learn about the discovery from the cultural property department atUniversity of Padua From Padua (Italy), they were excited. For more than a century, this writing system was used on the Iranian plateau in the former Kingdom of Elam (now Iran) between the end of 3The tenth Millennium and the beginning of 2The tenth A thousand years before our era it has survived decoding, as is the case for Cretan A or Indus Valley writing. Among the signs of admiration and congratulations from his colleagues, the Frenchman explained, in his recent graduation from the University of Tehran (Iran), where he has been studying since 2014, in English that:This writing was first discovered at the ancient site of Sousse (Iran) in 1901, and for 120 years we had not been able to read what was written 4,400 years ago because it did not exist. I found the key. Something has been done this year (thanks to the opportunity provided by the quarantine of his apartment in Tehran and the collaboration of three other colleagues, Campez Tabizadeh, Matthew Kerfran and Gian Pietro Basilo).


François Desset, archaeologist in the Archéorient Laboratory (Lyon), professor at the University of Tehran (Iran), framed by funerary columns found in tombs from the third millennium BC, in Iranian Baluchistan. © Francois Desset

Contemporary writing systems

The oldest examples of writing known to date come from Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and date back to the Bronze Age, around 3300 BC: these are the primary cuneiform tablets. But deciphering the linear Elamites calls into question this supremacy! “We discover that around 2300 BC, there was a parallel writing system in Iran, and that the oldest version of it – The script is called Proto-Elamite, (3300 B.C. – 2900 BC) – as far back as the first cuneiform texts of Mesopotamia ! François Desset defines. AlsoI can now say that writing did not appear first in Mesopotamia and then in Iran later: these two systems, the early cuneiform of Mesopotamia and the Iranian early Elamite system, were in fact contemporaries! There was no original text in which the primitive Elamite would be the daughter, there were two sister scriptures. On the other hand, in Iran, there were no two independent systems of writing as specialists believed until then, with Proto-Elamite on the one hand and Elamite script on the other. , But the same writing that underwent historical development and was copied with differences in two different periods. ”

This completely changes the perception of the appearance of the writing system in the Middle East because it is now more accurate to say that Iran developed its writing system “at the same time” as in Mesopotamia and that the Iranian plateau should no longer be ignored in the processes of historical reconstructions that It deals with the origins of writing …


In green, Elamite calligraphy spreads on 3/4e Millennium BC © Francois Desset

This is the latest form of Iranian writing (Elamite script) that has been deciphered. Presently, these are forty inscriptions from southern Iran, from the ancient city of Sousse, across Persia (with the Cam Fairouz region and the Maraf Dasht plain, just next to the famous Persepolis site of Achaemenid) then southeast Iran with Baghdad province and the famous Kunar Sandal / Jiroft site. Unlike Mesopotamia’s cuneiform writing, which is a mixed writing system that combines phoneme (signs of transcription of sound) with recordings (signs that record an object, idea, word), linear elamite presents its unique properties. In the world in 3The tenth Millennium BC, to be a purely verbal writing (with signs indicating syllables, consonants, and vowels). Iranian writing was used from about 3300 to 1900 BC, and has developed greatly between its earliest (Proto-Elamite tablets) and the most recent (written Elamite texts), especially with the “rapid reading” process. Of the 300 initial signs that make it possible to inscribe correct names in the Elamite primary tablets (the vast majority of them are currently preserved in the Louvre), only 80 to 100 will remain in the linear Elamite thereafter. Its latest release. About a hundred signs have been in continuous use for about 1,400 years and are generally written from right to left and top to bottom. “To work, we divided The Forty texts That we had it in 8 groups, by origins and periods. As for linear elamite, it was used from 2300 to 1900 BC under the rule of different rulers and dynasties and in different regions. The archaeologist continues. Most of the texts are fairly frequent royal inscriptions, dedicated to ancient deities, such as : “I am [le nom]And the The great king [nom], Son [nom du père]And the I created this object for [nom du dieu ou d’une personne]”.

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Click on “Junagi Vases”

For François Desset, a decoding “click” occurred in 2017 while analyzing a set of 8 texts written on silver vases, dated with “Junaghi vases,” dated between 2000-1900 BC. BC and from graves in the Cam Fayrouz area (currently in a private collection in London). Since these vases presented very repetitive sequences of signs, already standardized, the archaeologist was able to identify the signs used to write the names of two kings, Accidents And the My second needle (After both prevailed around 1950 B.C) and Abd al-Ilah al-Ra’is in southwestern Iran, Nabercha.


An Elami calligraphy inscription at the top of this silver vase is from Marv Dasht (Iran), dated to the third millennium BC. © Francois Desset

This first step of decoding, published in 2018, this year culminated in a full decoding, which will be scientifically published in 2021. Thus, for example, the decoding of a wonderful silver vase discovered in the Marv region in the 1960s and is now preserved in The National Museum in Tehran (Iran), where you now read: “To Our Lady Marafsha [toponyme]And the Shumar Aso [son nom]And the I made this vase in silver. In the temple that will be famous for my name, Hamshat, I have kindly made it an offering to you. ”. The result of years of hard work. “I’ve been working on these writing systems since 2006, Researcher L. Science and the future. I didn’t wake up one morning to tell myself that I had deciphered my linear elamite. It took me more than 10 years and I wasn’t sure I would get there. “

Elamite cursive writing notes a specific language, Elamite. It is a language isolation that cannot currently be associated with any other known language family, such as the Basque language. “Until this decoding, everything related to the inhabitants occupying the Iranian plateau had come from the writings of Mesopotamia.. These new discoveries will finally allow us to access the special point of view of the men and women occupying an area that they defined by Hatimati, while the term Elam, which we have known until then, actually corresponds only to “an external geographical concept, coined by their neighbors in Mesopotamia.”


Terracotta cone with Elamite calligraphy dated approximately 2500-2300 BC © François Desset

This decryption breakthrough has important implications in three areas, François Desset continued:In Iranian history. On the development of writing in Iran in particular, and in the Middle East in general, with considerations regarding the continuity between the Elamite writing systems and the Elamite script; And on the Hamitic (Elamite) language itself, which has been better documented in its earliest forms and is now available for the first time by a writing system other than the cuneiform script of Mesopotamia (see box).

For Massimo Vidal, Italian organizer of the Protestant historian of the Padua Conference, (incl Science and the future Just posted the work on the siteHatra City God Soul(Iraq) in its magazine dated December 2020, which is currently available on newsstands) “France, with this new decoding, is maintaining its priority in” cracking “lost old writing systems!. As for François Desset, he has already set out to decipher the oldest country of Iranian writing, the Proto-Illamite tablets, which he considers to have now opened a “highway”.

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About deciphering ancient scriptures

We must not confuse language (spoken sounds) with writing (visual signs). Hence, the same writing system can be used for notation of different languages. For example, the Latin alphabet currently allows for example French, English, Italian and Turkish transcription. Likewise, the cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia made it possible to transcribe several languages ​​such as Akkadian (a Semitic language), Old Persian (an Indo-European language) or even Elamite and Sumerian (linguistic isolations). On the contrary, the language can also be transcribed by different writing systems such as Farsi (an Indo-European language) which is currently also written with the Arabic alphabet in Iran (and sometimes the Latin alphabet with the amazing phenomenon) Fingers), From the Cyrillic alphabet in Tajikistan where it was observed in the past with the cuneiform system in the Achaemenid period (about 520-330 BC, for ancient Persia) or the Aramaic alphabet in the Sasanian period (3The tenth-7The tenth A century of our era to Central Persia). In the case of the Elamite language, it was known until now only through cuneiform writing. Through the decoding of the linear Elamite writing done by François Desset, we now have access to this language through a writing system that may have been developed specifically for it and thus better reflect the subtle phonemic details of this language than cuneiform writing.

Some great “decoders”:

Father Barthelemy (1716-1795) decoded Palmyra’s alphabet in 1753, then the Phoenician alphabet in 1754.

Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810-1895) was one of the four joint deconstructors of cuneiform referring to the Akkadian language.

“Linear B” was decoded by Michael Ventris (1922-1956) in 1952, one of the three writings discovered in Knossos (Crete) used in 2The tenth Millennium BC to note an ancient form of Greek.

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