The Independent has a story by David Keys, “Ancient language discovered on clay tablets found amid ruins of 2800 year old Middle Eastern palace,” that will make the heart of any aficionado of the ancient Near East beat faster. Not that they’ve discovered an epic poem, or even a laundry list—it’s just a bunch of names—but we aficionados will take what we can get, and this is actually pretty exciting:
Evidence of the long-lost language – probably spoken by a hitherto unknown people from the Zagros Mountains of western Iran – was found by a Cambridge University archaeologist as he deciphered an ancient clay writing tablet unearthed by an international archaeological team excavating an Assyrian imperial governors’ palace in the ancient city of Tushan, south-east Turkey.
The tablet revealed the names of 60 women – probably prisoners-of-war or victims of an Assyrian forced population transfer programme. But when the Cambridge archaeologist – Dr. John MacGinnis – began to examine the names in detail, he realized that 45 of them bore no resemblance to any of the thousands of ancient Middle Eastern names already known to scholars. […]
Typical names, borne by the women – the evidence for the lost language – include Ushimanay, Alagahnia, Irsakinna and Bisoonoomay.
A full account is published in MacGinnis’s “Evidence for a Peripheral Language in a Neo-Assyrian Tablet from the Governor’s Palace in Tušhan” (JSTOR) in the current issue of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Look for those names to start turning up in historical bodice-rippers any moment (given the instant-publishing world we live in). And there are lots of tablets still to be examined; maybe that epic will turn up after all. (Thanks, Conrad!)