Five words on a 1st century BC hand amulet BC are the oldest known written evidence of the Basque language. This is reported by a team of archaeologists from the Aranzadi Science Society headed by excavation leader Mattin Aiestaran de la Sotilla from the Universidad del País Vasco in Lejona. The inscribed object comes from a village of the Vasconen tribe, who lived in the Pamplona region more than 2000 years ago.
So far, only the first word has been assigned with certainty, it is “sorioneku” and is very similar to the modern Basque word “zonioneko”, which means something like “luck” or “good omen”. The find shows that the Vascones also wrote in everyday life and that they actually used an early form of the Basque languages that are still used in the region today.
The “Hand of Irulegi” is 14.3 centimeters long and almost 13 centimeters wide and consists of a one millimeter thick sheet of bronze with characters carved into it. There is a hole at wrist level where the object was probably once hung. It came to light in June 2021 during excavations in a former village of the Vasconen, who are believed to be the ancestors of today’s Basques.
Since 2017, the archaeological team has been excavating in the settlement on the top of Mount Irulegi, where a ruined castle now stands. According to the findings, the Vascones settled there from the 11th century BC. until the village in the 1st century B.C. was destroyed during the Sertorian War. In this episode of the Roman civil wars, local tribes supported the Roman general Quintus Sertorius.
On the one hand, the find drastically changed the image of the Vascons. Up to now, experts mostly assumed that the Celtic tribe had no written everyday culture before the arrival of the Romans and only used characters on coins – based on the Mediterranean model. However, it now turns out that this picture is not correct. As the team writes in a press release, the words are written in the Iberian writing system, which was common in the Iberian Peninsula before the Romans introduced the Latin script.
In addition, the text on the “Hand of Irulegi” is probably the oldest evidence of the Proto-Basque language. Basque is considered the oldest language on the European continent and is not related to any of the surrounding languages. Its origin and history is correspondingly puzzling to this day and also why it was preserved. However, one thing is clear: a form of this language was already spoken in the region before Roman troops occupied the area. And when the empire fell, the Basque language was still there.
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The original of this article “Researchers discover the oldest written testimony of the Ur-Basques” comes from Spektrum.de.