top of page

New Language Discovered on Ancient Tablets

In yet another example of how much we still have to learn about our distant past, a previously unknown language has been discovered in a UNESCO World Heritage Site being excavated in northern Turkey.

The area being excavated is Boğazköy-Hattusha, the former capital of the Hittite Empire - which flourished from 1,500BC to 1,400BC. The Hittites are one of the world's oldest known civilizations, with the world's oldest known Indo-European language, and excavations at that site have been ongoing for more than 100 years, the University of Würzburg said in a statement. The excavations are directed by the German Archaeological Institute. Previously, archaeologists at the site have found "almost 30,000 clay tablets with cuneiform writing," according to the university's news release.

Excavation site in Turkey where new language tablet discovered
The excavation site | Credit: Andreas Schachner | Deutsches Archäologisches Institut

The tablets have helped researchers understand the civilization's history, society, economy, religious traditions and more, but this year's excavations at the site "yielded a surprise," the university said: Within a "cultic ritual text," written in Hititte, there is a "recitation in a hitherto unknown language."

"The Hittites were uniquely interested in recording rituals in foreign languages," said Daniel Schwemer, chair of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the university. This means that the find isn't entirely unexpected. It appears to refer to a language from an area once called Kalašma, on the northwestern edge of the Hittite civilization.

The language is "as yet largely incomprehensible" and is now being studied in order to gain an understanding, and is the fourth such language found among the tablets: Previous researchers have found cuneiform texts with passages in Luwian, Palaic and Hattic languages.

The university said that these ritual texts were usually written by the scribes of Hittite rulers and reflect various Bronze Age traditions and languages. According to the University of Chicago's Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, which keeps the Chicago Hittite Dictionary, a "comprehensive, bilingual Hittite-English dictionary," studying Hittite languages can help illuminate how Western civilization began.


bottom of page