Pamplona, Nov 15 (EFE).- Archaeologists in the northern Spanish region of Navarre have discovered what they believe to be the oldest Basque language text.
The “exceptional” finding could represent a major breakthrough in tracing the origins of Basque, which has long been shrouded in mystery as it is not related to any other modern language, the researchers have said.
Five words made up of 40 characters over four lines were found inscribed on an ornamental bronze hand dating from the first quarter of the first century BC that the researchers believe would have been hung above the doorway as a ritualistic object to protect the home.
The first word was “sorioneku”, which easily translates to the modern Basque word “zorioneko”, meaning “good fortune”. The rest of the inscription has not been deciphered yet.
The hand was discovered during an archaeological dig in the village of Irulegi in the Aranguren valley, which was inhabited between the mid-Bronze Age (15th to 11th century BC) and the end of the Iron Age (1st century BC) and was destroyed by Roman troops.
The so-called “hand of Irulegi” was found on June 18, 2021, next to the entrance of one of the houses excavated at the site, but the inscription was not discovered until January this year, when cleaning and restoration work began.
The piece is a sheet of bronze cut to represent the shape of a life-size right hand.
The artifact represents a major archaeological and linguistic discovery, and could prove that the Basque language was being used more than 2,000 years ago.
Javier Velaza, expert in epigraphy and professor of Latin Philology at the University of Barcelona, said the finding is “an extraordinary and exceptional piece”.
Joaquín Gorrochategui, expert in paleolinguistics and professor of Indo-European Linguistics at the University of the Basque Country, agreed that “the piece is really exceptional” and has underlined that it presents characteristics that make it “Basque” and not generically “Iberian”.
It is, he clarified, “a convincing hypothesis, but it is still a hypothesis”, since “we have three more lines to read and we are stunned because we don’t understand anything”.
The regional Navarre president, María Chivite, has said the discovery is “a historical milestone of the highest order”, since it represents “a leap like few others in the knowledge that we had until now of our history and our culture”. EFE