In the ruins of an ancient palace in the Middle East, an archaeologist from Cambridge recently discovered an amazing artifact. No, it wasn’t the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. Sorry, Indiana Jones. Instead, it’s the remains of a forgotten language, long extinct, that scholars were unaware of until now.
The language, found inscribed on clay tablets in an Assyrian stronghold that dates back 2,800 years, was likely spoken by nomads living in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.
So far, knowledge of the mystery language is limited to the names of 45 women. According to the Independent, archaeologist Dr. John MacGinnis discovered them while translating a clay tablet used as an administrative record book by the palace bureaucrats. The names were clearly not Assyrian, as the Assyrian tradition at the time was to create names by combining existing words together.
From the Independent, here are some of the names in question: Ushimanay, Alagahnia, Irsakinna and Bisoonoomay.
Look for a celebrity to choose one of these for their baby girl sometime within the next year — after all, what could be more unique than a name in a forgotten language?
But who were these women? And who were their people? At the this time, all we know is that they probably weren’t there of their own free will. As the Independent notes,
“The 60 women (including the 45 with evidence of the previously unattested language) were almost certainly being deployed by the palace authorities for some economic purpose (potentially a female-associated craft activity like weaving). Indeed the text mentions that some of them were being allocated to specific local villages.”
Now, they are at the center of a linguistic mystery, and the race is on to try to get a better idea of where they were from. The 45 names will be compared to existing regional languages to see if any relationship can be found that might help place them. Their language may not ever be deciphered or named, but almost 3,000 years later, history has not forgotten them.