Ancient bronze hand inscription mirrors contemporary Basque words

Credit: Antiquity.

In the rich tapestry of human history, language serves as one of the most profound artifacts left behind by ancient civilizations, offering us a glimpse into their lives, beliefs, and societies.

A remarkable discovery by the Aranzadi Science Society, published in Antiquity, has brought to light a fascinating connection between the ancient and modern Basque language, bridging a gap of over two millennia with a single word.

The discovery was made at the Iron Age site of Irulegi, nestled in northern Spain, where archaeologists unearthed a bronze artifact shaped like a human hand.

This wasn’t just any ordinary piece of bronze; upon cleaning, it revealed an inscription that promised to unlock secrets of a bygone era.

The words etched onto the surface were in a Vasconic language, a linguistic group that includes modern Basque and several extinct counterparts, offering rare written evidence of its ancient use.

Among the inscribed words, one stood out for its uncanny resemblance to the modern Basque word “zorioneko,” meaning “good fortune.”

Spelled as “sorioneke” or “sorioneku” in the script, this discovery has intrigued scholars and linguists alike, pointing to the deep historical roots of the Basque language.

Unlike most European languages, Basque is an enigma, having survived the influx of Indo-European languages and remaining as one of the last vestiges of the pre-Indo-European languages in Western Europe.

Dated to around 2,100 years ago, the bronze hand not only serves as a linguistic relic but also as a cultural artifact. The presence of a hole where the palm meets the wrist suggests it was designed to be hung, likely over the entrance of a room.

Found near a door, it is believed to have served a ritualistic purpose, possibly to bestow good fortune upon those who entered.

This artifact represents the longest text found to date inscribed with the Vasconic script, with the only other known samples appearing on a few coins.

The discovery has opened new avenues for researchers to explore the connection between the ancient Vasconic languages and modern Basque, potentially offering insights into the evolution of language and its role in the identity and continuity of the Basque people.

As the Aranzadi Science Society continues its efforts to decipher the rest of the text, the bronze hand of Irulegi stands as a testament to the resilience of language and culture.

It challenges our understanding of linguistic extinction and survival, proving that even the most ancient words can still resonate with meaning in the modern world.

This discovery not only enriches our understanding of the Basque language’s historical depth but also highlights the significance of archaeology in uncovering the enduring legacies of human civilization.

The research findings can be found in Antiquity.

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