Sudan statue find gives clues to ancient language

Tue Dec 16, 2008 12:10pm EST
 
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By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Archaeologists said on Tuesday they had discovered three ancient statues in Sudan with inscriptions that could bring them closer to deciphering one of Africa's oldest languages.

The stone rams, representing the god Amun, were carved during the Meroe empire, a period of kingly rule that lasted from about 300 BC to AD 450 and left hundreds of remains along the River Nile north of Khartoum.

Vincent Rondot, director of the dig carried out by the French Section of Sudan's Directorate of Antiquities, said each statue displayed an inscription written in Meroitic script, the oldest written language in sub-Saharan Africa.

"It is one of the last antique languages that we still don't understand ... we can read it. We have no problem pronouncing the letters. But we can't understand it, apart from a few long words and the names of people," he told reporters in Khartoum.

Sudan has more pyramids than neighboring Egypt, but few people visit its remote sites, and repeated internal conflicts have made excavation difficult.

Rondot said the dig at el-Hassa, the site of a Meroitic town, had uncovered the first complete version of a royal dedication, previously found only on fragments of carvings from the same period.

He said experts were still trying to work out the meaning of the words by comparing them with broken remnants of similar royal dedications in the same script.

"It's an important discovery ... quite an achievement," Rondot said.   Continued...

 
<p>Three ancient statues are seen at a dig at el-Hassa, the site of a Meroitic town in Sudan in this undated handout photograph. Archaeologists said on Tuesday they had discovered three ancient statues in Sudan with inscriptions that could bring them closer to deciphering one of Africa's oldest languages. REUTERS/Ren&eacute;-Pierre Dissaux/Section Fran&ccedil;aise de la Direction des Antiquit&eacute;s du Soudan/Handout</p>