Meroitic Inscriptions Found.

Charles Q. Choi reports for Live Science on an exciting discovery:

A huge cache of stone inscriptions from one of Africa’s oldest written languages have been unearthed in a vast “city of the dead” in Sudan.

The inscriptions are written in the obscure ‘Meroitic’ language, the oldest known written language south of the Sahara, which has been only partly deciphered.

The discovery includes temple art of Maat, the Egyptian goddess of order, equity and peace, that was, for the first time, depicted with African features. […]

“The Meroitic writing system, the oldest of the sub-Saharan region, still mostly resists our understanding,” Vincent Francigny, an archaeologist at the French Archaeological Unit Sudan Antiquities Service, and co-director of the Sedeinga excavation, told Live Science. “While funerary texts, with very few variations, are quite well-known and can be almost completely translated, other categories of texts often remain obscure. In this context, every new text matters, as they can shed light on something new.”

There’s lots of background on Nubia and and Meroe, and some nice images. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. >The site of Sedeinga is home to a large necropolis, known as the “city of the dead,”

    Live Science is weird, but I’m glad it’s there covering things that might not otherwise get covered.

    I would be really amused if Sedeinga meant city of the dead in Meroitic. And etcetera.

    Anyway, this does seem like a pretty exciting find.

  2. Does anyone know the etymology of Sedeinga or at least what language it comes from? I also see it spelled as Sadinga.

  3. SFReader says:

    I have no idea, but it’s in the area where Nubian language was spoken for the last two thousand years.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    Wordlist Nubian of Dongola. The Nubian word for ‘die’ is di, making it not only the obvious root of sadinga, but a Nubo-Germanic cognate of its gloss.

  5. Trond Engen says:

    Nubo-Germanic

    The Meroitic phase in Nubia ended in 350 CE. In 358 CE the Salian Franks were allowed to settle inside the Roman Empire. When they grew to prominence a few decades later their rulers called themselves Merovingians.

  6. It’s all becoming clear…

  7. And a few decades after that, revanchists Merovingians headed back south towards their homeland, but stalled in the Levant where they formed the Maronite community.

    Yet so little attention has been paid to these movements.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    Also, the suffix -inga is common in toponyms all over the Germanic speaking world.

  9. SFReader says:

    side
    From Middle English side, from Old English sīde (“side, flank”), from Proto-Germanic *sīdǭ (“side, flank, edge, shore”), from Proto-Indo-European *sēy- (“to send, throw, drop, sow, deposit”). Cognate with West Frisian side (“side”), Dutch zijde, zij (“side”), German Seite (“side”), Danish and Norwegian side (“side”), Swedish sida (“side”).

    suffix -inga is explained above.

    So Sedeinga is simply Siding – a placename typically found in England and throughout the English speaking world.

  10. Trond Engen says:

    Both my grandmothers were named Inga.

  11. “We’ve got to write the kings of the Franks, explaining politely that it’s not our fault if the Burgunds prefer our rule to theirs, but that we certainly don’t propose to give them back to their Meroving majesties.” —Martin Padway in Lest Darkness Fall

  12. According to a footnote in this journal article, Sedeinga was ancient Adeye:

    “Sedeinga is the Nubian name for the archaeological site itself, the administrative territory bearing the modern name of Qubbet Selim. The nearest hamlet, a little to the south, is Nilwa, ‘the white,’ so named because of an extensive vein of quartz.

    “The inhabitants also use the name Aday or Adey for the ruins. ‘Aday’ was noted by Fr. Cailliaud when he passed there on January 3, 1821; ‘Adey’was recorded by E. Combes in 1834. This name goes all the way back to the time of Amenophis III (beginning of the 14th century B.C., when Hwt Tiy designated the temple of queen Tiy.

    “Several inscriptions from the Meroitic period mention ‘Atiye'”.

  13. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Per Wikipedia, Meroitic has never been securely classified due to sparse attestation. If that’s so, then this cache should hopefully provide brand new insights on the relevant historical linguistics, right?

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Of course.

  15. Jeffry House says:

    “And a few decades after that, revanchist Merovingians headed back south towards their homeland, but stalled in the Levant where they formed the Maronite community.”

    Yet so little attention has been paid to these movements.”

    To say nothing of their interbreeding with Mennonites! The MCM don’t want us to make these connections….

  16. And let’s not forget Merino sheep.

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    this cache should hopefully provide brand new insights on the relevant historical linguistics, right?

    Unfortunately it sounds a bit like the position with Etruscan, where we know pretty well how they said “Here lies X, dearly beloved mother/father/wife/husband/child/BFF of Z, honoured by all”, but frustratingly little otherwise. Still, it can only help.

    The later Christian kingdoms of Nubia, with their Greek culture and the oldest written language south of the Sahara that we can actually read – they’re one of those delightful discoveries that show that the world is just so much more interesting than you might think. I was celebrating Prince George of Makuria only yesterday (seemed appropriate.)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgios_I_of_Makuria

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ach, I was forgetting Ethiopic. I think I can save the phenomena by declaring that Ethiopia is not sub-Saharan.
    Better, at any rate, than the blurb on the back of my copy of Gerald Browne’s Old Nubian Grammar, which unblushingly perpetrates the line “it is the only indigenous African language whose development we can follow for over a millennium.”

  19. Both the late Merovingians and the Merino sheep are renowned for their inbreeding, so…

  20. >the suffix -inga is common in toponyms all over the Germanic speaking world.

    Trond,

    In the spare Norwegian novel Out Stealing Horses, one of the main characters is named Odd.

    And the central character is Trond. But whether it’s our Trond, I can’t say.

    Anyway, my question – can you tell us anything about the Nubo-Germanic forebears of the Kenyan leader Raila Odinga?

  21. “Merino”, btw, is from the name of a Berber tribe of medieval Morocco, the Banu Marin…

    Claude Rilly has put together a pretty reasonable case that Meroitic is an Eastern Sudanic language, rather distantly related to such languages as Nubian and Maasai. But not everyone seems to buy it.

  22. “Merino”, btw, is from the name of a Berber tribe of medieval Morocco, the Banu Marin…

    It’s all coming together! Now to find a Dan Brown to put it in novel form.

  23. In Umayyad and Abbasid times, having the Arabic Banu prepended to a tribal name was an important honorific, signifying a high degree of Arabization. Most of the Algerian/Moroccan Berbers, of course, were never part of the Abbasid Caliphate, and were ruled by nominally Umayyad leaders for hundreds of years.

  24. Rilly wrote an introduction to his approach to interpreting Meroitic as Northern East Sudanic (a poorly documented and endangered family, as he very rightly points out.) He later wrote a full-length book on the subject. That book has been reviewed by Lipiński, who offers an alternative interpretation of the language as Semitic or at least Afro-Asiatic.

    (I posted two links, but they were eaten. The articles are Rilly, Towards the translation of Meroitic texts: prospects and methods; and Lipiński, Meroitic (Review article). Both are online.)

    At a quick glance, both purported cognate lists are unsystematic. Rilly offers no regular sound correspondences and is loose with the semantics. Lipiński offers no sound correspondences, and cherry-picks supposed cognates from whatever language is handy. Neither makes an attempt to separate loanwords from the inherited lexicon.

  25. (I posted two links, but they were eaten

    Dammit. Sorry about that; I added a link for the Lipiński but couldn’t find one for the Rilly — can you try putting it in a comment, and if that doesn’t work e-mail it to me?

  26. Thanks!

  27. the Banu Marin

    Who moved to Northern California and founded a line of hashish-smoking comics.

  28. The tribal anthem of the Banu Marin. And of course they invented marinated food.

  29. Trond Engen says:

    ryan: In the spare Norwegian novel Out Stealing Horses, […]

    A very good novel too. I pushed it on Siganus Sutor last year.

    […] one of the main characters is named Odd.

    Yes. There was a story of a Norwegian math professor naming his twin sons Odd and Even, Both are common Norwegian names.

    And the central character is Trond. But whether it’s our Trond, I can’t say.

    Per Petterson’s Trond is a retired businessman of some sort who looks back on a summer of his early youth that became a turning point in his life. I’m too busy discussing linguistics online to look back on anything.

    Anyway, my question – can you tell us anything about the Nubo-Germanic forebears of the Kenyan leader Raila Odinga?

    Easy. Raila is obviously a weak declension hypochoristic based on a name starting in *rai­ða-l-, e.g. *raiðalaiβaz. Odinga is a clan name claiming descendance from Freya’s husband Óðr. Besides, Raila Odinga lived in exile in Norway in the nineties. Why would he come here if not for the familiar language?

  30. ktschwarz says:

    Now to find a Dan Brown to put it in novel form.

    There actually is a novel whose plot is driven by the mystery of Meroitic, and it’s well above Dan Brown quality: Gospel by Wilton Barnhardt, an adventure-travelogue about the quest to decode a first-century gospel written in Meroitic. A ragtag band of academics chase after dictionaries and reference books from Oxford and Ireland to Rome, Mt. Athos, Jerusalem, Cairo, and Sudan. It’s a fun read, consisting in large part of the author finding a way to stick in every bizarre anecdote he knows from church history.

  31. That does sound like fun!

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: (ryan) … the spare Norwegian novel Out Stealing Horses – A very good novel too. I pushed it on Siganus Sutor last year.

    And you “pushed it on me” in French translation too!

  33. Gospel ordered!

  34. David Marjanović says:

    That does sound like fun!

    Seconded.

  35. Reading it now (I ordered it for Kindle and then forgot about it). I find the heroine rather irritating so far (only 15% through the book), but I have hopes.

  36. I ordered it for Kindle and then forgot about it

    Tell me about it. Every time I scroll through the back pages of my Kindle listing I find surprises. (And wonder if I’ll ever get around to them.)

  37. I like this sentence: “Knock, O’Hanrahan [Irish-American professor] reminded his friend [a rabbi], was the Lourdes, Disneyland, and PTL Club of Ireland.” Of course it stuck out because we’ve been talking about Knock lately.

    The book was published in 1993, and the action seems to be about contemporary with that date; the Good Friday Agreement has definitely not happened yet.

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