The world is home to an estimated 7,000 spoken languages, but that pales in comparison to the number of languages that have been lost throughout human history. Linguistics, the study of languages, often stumbles upon ancient scripts, hieroglyphs and inscriptions that point towards lost languages. These lost languages often carry profound mysteries about ancient civilizations and their cultures. This blog post will delve into ten such fascinating lost languages and the mysteries they hold.
The Etruscan Language
The Etruscan civilization was one of the most advanced and mysterious in ancient Italy. Despite their cultural influence on the Romans, their language did not survive. Only a few Etruscan inscriptions remain, and they reveal a language distinct from any other known language group. The mystery of the Etruscan language is its isolation - it does not seem to belong to any known language family.
The Linear A Script
The Minoan civilization of Crete devised the Linear A script around 1800 BC. Despite deciphering its successor, Linear B, as an early form of Greek, Linear A remains a mystery. It contains symbols similar to Linear B, but the language it represents is unknown. This unknown language holds secrets to the Minoan civilization, one of the earliest in Europe.
The Harappan Script
The Indus Valley civilization, also known as the Harappan civilization, was one of the world's earliest urban cultures. Despite their advanced city planning and standardized weights and measures, their script remains undeciphered. The Harappan script, found on seals and pottery, is unique and does not resemble any other known writing system. It holds the key to understanding this advanced ancient civilization.
The Rongorongo Script
Rongorongo is a system of glyphs discovered in the 19th century on Easter Island. Despite efforts, it remains one of the few ancient scripts yet to be deciphered. The Rongorongo script is particularly intriguing because it appears to be an independent invention of writing, a rarity in human history.
Ancient Cretan Hieroglyphs
Before the Linear A and Linear B scripts, the Minoans used a form of hieroglyphic writing. The ancient Cretan hieroglyphs are among the oldest in the world, but we know little about what they mean. The decipherment of these hieroglyphs could shed light on the origins of the Minoan civilization.
The Khitan Scripts
The Khitans were a powerful tribe in northern China who developed two scripts, known as the large and small scripts. While some progress has been made in deciphering the small script, the large script, used mainly for ceremonial purposes, remains a mystery. It is a unique logographic script with no known parallels.
The Isthmian Script
Used in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico, the Isthmian (or Epi-Olmec) script is one of the Mesoamerica's most mysterious writing systems. It is believed to be a bridge between the Olmec and Mayan civilizations, but its decipherment remains elusive.
The Proto-Elamite Script
Dating back to 3000 BC, the Proto-Elamite script from ancient Iran is one of the world's earliest writing systems. Despite decades of attempts, the script remains undeciphered. It is believed to hold information about the Proto-Elamite civilization, which remains largely unknown.
The Southwest Paleohispanic Script
Used in the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, the Southwest Paleohispanic script is one of the earliest scripts in the region. While its signs are similar to those of other scripts in the Mediterranean, the language it represents is unknown. The script could hold clues about the pre-Roman civilizations in Iberia.
The Meroitic Script
Used in the ancient Meroë Kingdom of Sudan, the Meroitic script is one of Africa's earliest writing systems. While the script has been deciphered, the language it represents remains unknown. It is a mystery how this language, which appears to be unique, developed in the region.
Lost languages and scripts are more than historical curiosities; they are keys to understanding our past. Each undeciphered script holds the potential to shed light on a civilization, a culture, a way of life. The mysteries they hold remind us of the vastness of human history and the endless possibilities for discovery. As the saying goes, the past is a foreign country - but with every script we decipher, we understand it a little better.