A French archaeologist deciphers the ‘Elamite’, a language of 4 millennia

Elamite inscriptions in Iran

Elamite inscriptions in Iran

French archaeologist François Desset succeeded decipher one of the last ancient languages that still did not understand each other, the ‘Elamite’, spoken in present-day Iran about 4 millennia agos.

As published in its issue this month by the journal ‘Sciences et avenir’, Desset, who currently works at the University of Tehran, has passed 10 years trying to decipher the meaning of some scriptures found in 1901 on various ceramics and other objects.

It was about a phonetic language which belonged to the kingdom of Elam and which, due to its antiquity, is at the same level as the Mesopotamian Protocuneiform and the Egyptian hieroglyph, the oldest known to date.

Its discovery took place in some ruins in the city of Susa and where, in 1901, archaeologists found a series of vessels with symbols that, however, no one had been able to decipher. Desset, a professor also associated with the University of Lyon, an expert on the Bronze Age and the Iranian Neolithic, has succeeded after hard work.

The researcher achieved identify a series of repeating characters and concluded that they were proper names. He associated them with the names of two Elemite rulers and the local goddess Napirisha, which allowed him to establish tables of correspondence with the words found. “Thanks to these works, I can affirm that writing did not appear first in Mesopotamia exclusively, two writings appeared in two different regions at the same time,” Desset told ‘Sciences et avenir’.

The origin of writing, located until now in present-day Iraq, will have to coexist with this new discovery, which also places it in Iran. “It is not about a mother and daughter writing, as was believed until now, they are two sister scriptures“, he assured.

Unlike the Mesopotamian cuneiform, which is phonetic (signs that express sounds) and logogrammic (signs that express concepts), the ‘Elamite’ is made based on signs that express syllables, consonants and vowels, according to the archaeologist.

This language, used for 1,400 years, was written from right to left and top to bottom. Deciphering this language will also allow us to learn more about that culture. Starting, according to Desset, with his name, since Elan’s had been given to him by outer towns and they called themselves ‘Hatamti’.


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