French archaeologist deciphers ancient language

French archaeologist deciphers ancient language
CREDIT: Science et avenir

A FRENCH archaeologist has deciphered ‘Elamite’, a 4,000-year-old writing system using symbols which he has spent 10 years studying.

François Desset has managed to decipher one of the last ancient languages ​​that were still not understood: Elamite, spoken in modern Iran about 4,000 years ago.


As published in this month’s issue of the journal ‘Sciences et avenir’, Desset, who currently works at the University of Tehran, has deciphered the meaning of writing found from various ceramics and other objects found at ruins of the city of Susa in 1901.

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

Desset, a professor also associated with the University of Lyon and an expert on the Bronze Age and the Iranian Neolithic, has managed to identify a series of characters that were repeated and concluded that they were proper names. He associated them with the names of two Elamite rulers and the local goddess Napirisha, which allowed him to establish tables of correspondence with the words found.

“I can say 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’.

Unlike the Mesopotamian cuneiform, which is phonetic (signs that express sounds) and logogrammic (signs that express concepts), Elamite is made up of 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.

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Jennifer Leighfield, born in Salisbury, UK; resident in Malaga, Spain since 1989. Degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, French and English from Malaga University (2005), specialising in Crime, Forensic Medicine and Genetics.Published translations include three books by Richard Handscombe. Worked with Euro Weekly News since November 2006. Well-travelled throughout Spain and the rest of the world, fan of Harry Potter and most things ‘geek’.


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