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New Indo-European Language Discovered in Ancient City of Hattusa

Lion Gate of Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite Empire during the bronze age
A new Indo-European language was found during excavations in Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite Empire during the bronze age. Credit: Carole Raddato / wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 2,0

An unknown Indo-European language found on a clay tablet inside a Hittite ritual text has been discovered during an excavation in Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite Empire.

The Hittite Empire was one of the great powers of Western Asia during the Late Bronze Age (1650 to 1200 B.C.). The excavation was conducted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Boazköy-Hattusha in modern-day Turkey.

Professor Daniel Schwemer, Chair of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Germany who studied the clay tablet is investigating the discovery.

Excavations in Boğazköy-Hattusha have been going on for over a century under the direction of the German Archaeological Institute. The site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.

So far, almost 30,000 clay tablets with cuneiform writing have been found in the area, shedding light to the history, society, economy and religious traditions of the Hittites and their neighbors.

Current site director Professor Andreas Schachner of the Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute studies the texts, most of them written in Hittite, the oldest attested Indo-European language.

This year’s excavations yielded an unexpected finding: Inside a ritual text written in Hittite, there is a recitation in an unknown Indo-European language.

Hittites and Foreign Languages

The Hittites were Indo-European people who appeared in Anatolia at the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. and by 1340 B.C. they became a dominant power in the Middle East.

The Hittite Empire (c. 1400 B.C. – 1200 B.C.) was rich in metals, especially silver and iron. In the empire period the Hittites developed iron-working technology, helping to initiate the Iron Age in the region

Professor Schwemer, who is working on the Hittite cuneiform finds from the excavation reports that the Hittite ritual text refers to the new idiom as the language of the land of Kalašma.

This is an area on the north-western edge of the Hittite heartland, probably in the area of present-day Bolu or Gerede.

According to Schwemer, “The Hittites were uniquely interested in recording rituals in foreign languages.”

Ritual texts, written by scribes of the Hittite king reflect various Anatolian, Syrian, and Mesopotamian traditions and languages. The rituals provide valuable information on the languages of Late Bronze Age Anatolia.

New Indo-European language

The cuneiform texts from Boğazköy-Hattusha include passages in Luwian and Palaic, two other Indo-European languages closely related to Hittite, as well as Hattic, a non-Indo-European language.

Researchers study the newly-discovered Kalašma language, that can now be added to the above after they find a more precise classification.

Professor Elisabeth Rieken (Marburg University), a specialist in ancient Anatolian languages, has confirmed that the idiom belongs to the family of Anatolian-Indo-European languages.

According to Rieken, while the new language is close to the area where Palaic was spoken, the text seems to share more features with Luwian.


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