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Posts from the ‘ancient civilizations’ Category


Decyphering ancient languages with modern technology

There’s a new language available online for free public access on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website, and it’s the oldest unsolved language in the world.  The documents written in the so-called proto-Elamite writing system are a peculiar artifact of an ancient time.  Composed in ancient Iran from 3,200 to 3,000 BC, this is the oldest undeciphered writing system that we’ve found.

It’s not a complete mystery — some of the features of the language are known. Some signs are shared with or borrowed from Mesopotamia — numbers and signs for objects like sheep, goats, and grain, but some80-90% of the signs remain undeciphered.

So why is it such a mystery?  Part of the reason is that it was only in use for a couple of centuries and was only used in administration and for agricultural records (imagine for a moment, future linguists trying to decipher Shorthand).  Since it wasn’t often taught in the schools of that day, documents are full of mistakes and this outmoded system of writing may have become useless.

The Louvre gave the researchers access to about 1100 proto-Elamite tablets, and half can now be viewed on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website.

Full story here:

By viewing extremely high quality images of these documents, and by sharing them with a community of scholars worldwide, the Oxford University team hope to crack the code once and for all.