An excavation in Turkey has revealed a previously unknown Indo-European language, and Professor Daniel Schwemer, an expert in the ancient Near East, is actively involved in exploring this remarkable discovery.
This newfound language came to light at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Boğazköy-Hattusha in north-central Turkey, which once served as the capital of the influential Hittite Empire during the Late Bronze Age (1650 to 1200 BC).
The archaeological efforts at Boğazköy-Hattusha have persisted for over a century, directed by the German Archaeological Institute. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, this site has yielded an impressive treasure trove of more than 30,000 clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing. These tablets, recognized as part of the UNESCO World Documentary Heritage in 2001, offer a wealth of insights into the history, society, economy, and religious practices of the Hittites and their neighboring civilizations.
Under the leadership of the current site director, Professor Andreas Schachner from the Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute, yearly archaeological campaigns have continued to unearth additional cuneiform texts. While the majority of these texts are composed in Hittite, the oldest known Indo-European language and the dominant one at this site, this year’s excavations brought an unexpected surprise: Concealed within a ritual text inscribed in Hittite, researchers uncovered a recitation in a previously undocumented language.
Hittites were interested in foreign languages
Professor Schwemer, who leads the Chair of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Germany, is actively involved in examining the cuneiform discoveries from the excavation. According to his findings, the Hittite ritual text makes reference to the newly discovered language as the “language of the land of Kalašma.” This region is believed to have been situated on the northwestern fringes of the Hittite heartland, likely in the vicinity of present-day Bolu or Gerede.
The revelation of another language within the archives of Boğazköy-Hattusha isn’t entirely surprising, as Professor Schwemer elucidates: “The Hittites had a distinctive penchant for documenting rituals in foreign languages.”
These ritual texts, transcribed by scribes in the service of the Hittite king, encompass a diverse array of Anatolian, Syrian, and Mesopotamian customs and linguistic contexts. These rituals offer valuable insights into the relatively obscure linguistic diversity of Late Bronze Age Anatolia, where Hittite wasn’t the sole spoken language. Consequently, the cuneiform texts from Boğazköy-Hattusha include passages in Luwian and Palaic, two other Anatolian-Indo-European languages closely linked to Hittite, as well as Hattic, a non-Indo-European language. Now, the language of Kalasma can be added to this remarkable linguistic mosaic.
More precise classification of the new language is in progress
Since the Kalasmaic text is composed in a recently unearthed language, it remains mostly unintelligible. Professor Elisabeth Rieken, a colleague of Prof. Schwemer from Marburg University and an expert in ancient Anatolian languages, has verified that this language falls within the Anatolian-Indo-European language family.
According to Rieken’s analysis, despite its geographic proximity to the region where Palaic was spoken, the text appears to exhibit more linguistic traits in common with Luwian. The degree of kinship between the language of Kalasma and other Luwian dialects from the Late Bronze Age in Anatolia will be the focus of forthcoming investigations.