3,200-Year-Old Stone Inscription Describes A Mysterious Lost Civilization

Luwian Hieroglyph/Luwian Studies

A Trojan prince, a usurper, and a powerful but mysterious civilization simply referred to as "the Sea Peoples". It might sound like a new fantasy drama show but it is actually a translation of a 3,200-year-old stone inscription.

It's taken over a hundred years for archaeologists and linguists to decipher the text, which is written in an ancient language called Luwian. This week it was announced that scholars had finally finished the job. Fred Woudhuizen, an independent scholar and translator of Luwian, and Eberhard Zangger, a geologist and president of the Luwian Studies foundation, will have their research published in the journal Proceedings of the Dutch Archeological and Historical Society's December issue. 

The inscription describes the rise of a powerful kingdom known as Mira. According to the translation, Mira's ruler, King Mashuittas, stole the Trojan throne from King Walmus and then handed it back in exchange for Troy's loyalty to Mira. When Mashuittas' son, Kupantakuruntas, succeeded his father, he took control of Troy and named himself its guardian. He pleaded with the future rulers of Troy, telling them to "guard Wilusa [an ancient name for Troy] (like) the great king (of) Mira (did)." 

Woudhuizen and Zangger believe that the kingdom of Mira was part of the Luwian civilization, often referred to both by historians and in ancient Egyptian scripts as the vague and mysterious "Sea Peoples". This, according to Zangger, was a forgotten civilization comprised of several petty kingdoms who shared a language (Luwian) in western Anatolia or Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. 

A map showing the language distribution of Luwian. Luwian Studies

Zangger argues the Luwian's played a critical role in what he dubs "World War Zero", a large-scale conflict that culminated in the Battle of Troy and destroyed several powerful civilizations (including the Egyptians and Mycenaeans) within a very short time-span. It was this, he says, that brought an end to the later Bronze Age (c. 1177 BCE) and sparked a new dark age.

The text deciphered is actually a copy, supposedly by archaeologist Georges Perrot in 1878, of an inscription written on a frieze. The frieze itself is no longer available because it was destroyed by villagers who used it as building material for a mosque back in the 19th century. So historians have to rely on Perrot's copy.

This is where things get a little complicated. Many scholars not associated with these new findings have questioned the copy's authenticity, suggesting it could be a forgery by Perrot or someone else. Woudhuizen and Zangger have hit back, saying that it would be extremely difficult to forge such a lengthy text written in a language very few scholars can read, let alone write in. After all, there are no more than 20 scholars alive today able to translate Luwian.

Unfortunately, that means we're left wondering whether this inscription is a historical account, a myth or, indeed, a forgery.

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