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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 of an inscription which was discovered in Jiroft indicate that this Elamite script is three hundred years older than that of the great civilisation of Susa.

Archaeologists believe that Jiroft was the origin of Elamite written language in which the writing system first developed and was then spread across the country to reach Susa. The discovery of this inscription in Jiroft is one of the most ancient written script to have been found.

The city of Jiroft is situated close to Halil Rud historical site. Halil Rud itself is located on the basin of the River Halil Rud and in its time it enjoyed a rich civilisation.

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 the 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 these reflect the art of carving on stones which was current at that time.

'Five Elamite professional linguists from different countries have studied the brick inscription which was discovered in Jiroft. According to their studies they have concluded that this discovered inscription is three hundred years older than that found in Susa; and most probably the written language went to Susa from this region. However, more studies are needed to be able to produce a final approval to this thesis,' said Yousof Majid Zadeh, head of the 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 study is required in order to be able to determine the exact time at which it was inscribed, but most probably it is the most ancient written language to be 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.

The inscription was carved on a brick, and only the lower left-hand 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.

At this stage the Elamite language was 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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