Archaeologists In Turkey Just Discovered A Long-Lost Ancient Language On Cuneiform Tablets In The Ruins Of The Hittite Empire

Published September 27, 2023

The language was discovered on a tablet at the archaeological site of Boğazköy-Hattusha, once the capital of the ancient Hittites during the late Bronze Age.

Hittite Tablet Dig Site

Andreas Schachner/Deutsches Archäologisches InstitutThe Boğazköy-Hattusha archaeological site has been home to several important discoveries from the Hittite Empire.

Excavations in the ancient city of Boğazköy-Hattusha in Turkey just revealed a tablet that contains a previously unknown Indo-European language.

Translation and identification of the language will take time, but specialists confirmed the language belongs to the family of Anatolian-Indo-European languages and is likely the language of the land of Kalašma, an ancient city in current-day northwestern Turkey.

Boğazköy-Hattusha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once the capital of the Hittite Empire during the late Bronze Age between around 1650 and 1200 B.C.E. Excavations have been going on at the site for over a century through the German Archaeological Institute.

Since excavations of the site began, researchers have found almost 30,000 clay tablets with cuneiform writing, which “provide rich information about the history, society, economy and religious traditions of the Hittites and their neighbors,” according to the University of Würzburg.

Most of the texts at the site are written in Hittite, the oldest-known Indo-European language. But this year’s excavations found recitations written in this unknown language.

“The new language was written in cuneiform,” Andreas Schachner, leader of this year’s excavation, said in an interview with Newsweek. “It is the same writing system the Hittites used. The text is part of a longer text starting in Hittite. As it continues it says at one point: ‘Continue in the language of the Land [of] Kalašma.'”

More than 3 billion people speak an Indo-European language, a family of related languages that are thought to have a single common prehistoric ancestor.

The clay tablets found at Boğazköy-Hattusha are all written in cuneiform, the oldest known writing system, developed by ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago. Cuneiform was used to write many of the languages of the ancient world, including Sumerian, Babylonian, Old Persian — and now what is being referred to as “Kalasmaic.”

Schachner Hieroglyph

ArkeonewsAndreas Schachner discovered nearly 250 hieroglyphs from the Hittite Empire at the Hattusa site last year.

The Hittite Empire reached its peak during the 14th century B.C. under King Šuppiluliuma I. The Hittite Empire encompassed the Anatolian Peninsula, which constitutes much of modern-day Turkey, and parts of upper Mesopotamia. It was a powerful empire during the late Bronze Age until it was conquered by the Assyrian Empire.

The Hittite Empire likely developed the earliest known constitutional monarchy and the Hittite people are referenced multiple times in the Bible as living among the Israelites.

Archaeologists have made several interesting discoveries from the Hittite Empire. Just last month, the startlingly well-preserved remains of two individuals from the Bronze Age Hittite Empire were found in western Turkey at Tavşanlı Mound, known as the “Heart of Western Anatolia.”

Researchers found skin and brain remnants on the remains, preserved through carbonization that occurred when the bodies were exposed to extreme heat. The researchers believe the two individuals were set on fire during an attack on the city, and the remains date back to nearly 1700 B.C.

Nearly 250 hieroglyphs were also found at the Hattusa site last year in the Yerkapı Tunnel. The tunnel was most likely used for cult ceremonies, and the hieroglyphs were estimated to be drawn 3,500 years ago, according to Arkeonews.

“We have identified a total of 249 Anatolian hieroglyphs here, but they are not all different from each other,” said Schachner, who worked on both the hieroglyph discovery last year and the Kalasmaic language discovery this year. “We can divide them into eight groups in total. They add innovation to us socially. Since they are written with paint, we need to interpret them more in the style of graffiti. We think it was done quickly and so that it could be understood quickly.”

After reading about the new language discovered in Turkey, read about how the Rosetta Stone helped decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. Or, read about the ancient Canaanite language found in Iraq last year.

Hannah Reilly Holtz
Hannah Reilly is an editorial fellow with All That's Interesting. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Texas Tech University and was named a Texas Press Association Scholar. Previously, she has worked for KCBD NewsChannel 11 and at Texas Tech University as a multimedia specialist.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Holtz, Hannah. "Archaeologists In Turkey Just Discovered A Long-Lost Ancient Language On Cuneiform Tablets In The Ruins Of The Hittite Empire.", September 27, 2023, Accessed June 14, 2024.