A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, May 14, 2012

An Undiscovered Ancient Language from the Zagros Region?

Let's start the week with something quite different from a few millennia  back. This report in The Independent summarizes an article in which Cambridge University Archaeologist John MacGinnis describes what may be evidence of a previously unknown Middle Eastern language. An Assyrian tablet listing the names of some 60 names of women, of whom 45 of the names are not identifiable as from any known language. If you have access to JSTOR (I can only access the Middle East Journal, not other JSTOR archives), the original article in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies is here.

For contextual reasons, MacGinnis suggests the list is of captives from Assyrian conquests in the Zagros region, suggesting the mystery language was spoken in that area.

Of course if this is a language that was never reduced to writing, surviving only in these names written down by an Assyrian scribe, this may be a dead-end street, but it's still a reminder that our knowledge the ancient past is often limited by what was written down or what can be recovered by archaeologyl

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