Archaeologists unearth key to ancient script
Wednesday December 17, 2008
KHARTOUM: Three ancient ram statues brought to light 180 kilometres north of the Sudanese capital Khartoum could help decipher the oldest script in sub-Saharan Africa, a French archaeologist announced.
Three ancient ram statues newly discovered in Sudan could help decipher the oldest script in sub-Saharan Africa whose secrets are mysterious to the modern world, a Western archaeologist said on Tuesday.The rams were excavated at El-Hassa, 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Khartoum, on a sacred causeway leading to an ancient temple, said Vincent Rondot, head of the French Section of the Directorate on Antiquities of Sudan.
The site is one of the most southern temples built to Amum, considered an omnipotent god, creator and guardian by people who lived throughout the Nile valley during the Merotic period 300 BC to 450 AD, said Rondot.Key to the discovery three weeks ago is a royal inscription that bears the name of little known king Amanakhareqerem, said Rondot, whose unit is funded by the French foreign ministry."Merotic language is one of the last antique writings that still waits for its understanding... and it is the most ancient (sub-Saharan) African language written in script," Rondot told reporters.
Experts can pronounce the text and can read names, but cannot understand the words. Merotic is a branch of the same linguistic tree as languages spoken in contemporary Sudan and Eritrea, the archaeologist said. "It is absolutely essential to understand it... We only need to read the last words remaining on the inscription," said Rondot. "And it is very useful to be able to do so on that kind of inscription because there are only very few words and we suppose what they should mean. "This year we found one with the complete inscription around. So, for the first time, we have a complete text," he added.
Proper excavations on the site began in 2002, 17 years after local peasants digging an irrigation canal for orchards dragged out a ram statue by tractor from a temple first known in the West through 19th century European travellers.