History Files


Ancient Mesopotamia

Earliest Writing Rival

by Soudabeh Sadigh, CHN, 4 January 2008

Studies by five linguists from the United States, France, Russia, Denmark, and Iran on an inscription discovered in Jiroft indicate that this Elamite script is three hundred years older than that of the great civilization of Susa.

Archaeologists believe that Jiroft was the origin of Elamite written language in which the writing system developed first and was then spread across the country and reached Susa. The discovered inscription of Jiroft is the most ancient written script found so far.

The city of Jiroft is situated close to Halil Rud historical site. Halil Rud, located on the basin of River Halil Rood enjoyed a rich civilization.

Many stone and clay objects as well as other historical evidence belonging to the third millennium BC have been discovered during archaeological excavations and also by illegal diggings by smugglers in this area. A total of 120 historical sites, including that of Jiroft, have been identified in the basin of the 400 kilometre length of the River Halil Rud.

According to archaeological studies, the history of Halil Rud area goes back to around 3000 BC. The stone dishes which were discovered in the area belong to the first half of the third millennium BC and reflect the art of carving on stones that was current at that time.

"Five Elamite professional linguists from different countries have studied the brick inscription discovered in Jiroft. According to the studies, they have concluded that this discovered inscription is 300 years older than that found in Susa; and most probably the written language went to Susa from this region. However, more studies are still needed to give a final approval to this thesis," said Yousof Majid Zadeh, head of archaeological excavation team in Jiroft.

"This inscription was discovered in a palace. Although it is not yet known which Elamite king this inscription belongs to, it is definitely an Elamite inscription. More studies are needed to determine the exact time at which it was inscribed, but most probably it is the most ancient written language [available in this region]. Further excavations are being carried out to find the rest of the inscription. However, what is obvious about this inscription is that it is older than the Elamite inscription which was found in Susa," explained Majidzadeh.

In Depth

The inscription was carved on a brick, and only the lower left corner of it has survived. Although only two lines with a few words remain intact on this inscription, there is no doubt that it is an Elamite written script.

The most famous Elamite script is the Susinak inscription which was unearthed during archaeological excavations in Susa. This inscription most probably survives from the reign of Susinak, the Elamite king who ruled during the second half of the first millennium BC.

Elamite language is only partly understood by scholars. It had no relationship to Sumerian, Semitic or Indo-European languages, and there are no modern descendants of it. After 3000 BC the Elamites developed a semi-pictographic writing system called Proto-Elamite. Later on, cuneiform script was introduced.

Archaeological excavations are being carried out on the northern and southern shores of the River Halil Rud in order to uncover the various dwellings and cemeteries which should exist in the region.



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