A long-lost language that hasn’t been uttered for centuries has been discovered on cuneiform clay tablets among some ancient ruins in Turkey.
The new language was discovered at Boğazköy-Hattusha, aka Hattusa, an archaeological site in north-central Turkey that once served as the capital of the Hittite Empire. The site earned its place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 owing to its impressive urban architecture and stunning artworks that have remained remarkably well preserved for centuries.
The Hittites were an ancient group of Indo-Europeans who migrated to Anatolia, the peninsula of modern Turkey, where they forged one of the area’s most formidable empires of the Late Bronze Age (1650 to 1200 BCE).
Famed for their skill in warfare, the Hittites were well-known for keeping records, documenting their battles and laws on clay tablets. Since the 1980s, archeologists have uncovered almost 30,000 clay tablets with cuneiform writing at the Boğazköy-Hattusha site. Most of the texts are written in Hittite, but recent research has revealed that some of the tablets were written in a previously unknown language.
Since this is a newly discovered language, researchers have yet to decipher what most of it means. However, it does seem that it was most likely spoken by the people of Kalašma, an area on the north-western edge of the Hittite heartland around present-day Bolu or Gerede. Features of the language also bear distinct similarities with Luwian, a well-known language used within the Hittite Empire.
Furthermore, the researchers suspect the tablet speaks of an ancient cultic ritual carried out in Kalašma.
"The Hittites were uniquely interested in recording rituals in foreign languages," Professor Daniel Schwemer, an expert on the ancient Near East from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, said in a statement.
While the language is unusual, it is clearly related to the Indo-European languages, a family of languages still spoken today across the vast majority of Europe, as well as the Iranian plateau and the northern Indian subcontinent.
Encompassing a vast geographical array, this family of languages includes everything from Hindi and Persian to Russian and English. In fact, one of the only surviving languages in Europe that doesn’t stem from the Indo-European family is Basque, an exceptional language spoken only in Basque Country, a small autonomous region on the western edge of the Pyrenees mountains between the borders of France and Spain.