One of Africa’s oldest languages unearthed in Sudan

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Archaeologists have discovered the remains of Africa’s oldest written languages in Sudan. The Meroitic inscriptions contains the Meroitic language. The inscriptions have only been partially deciphered and were found during excavations in late 2017 in what is called Sudan today.

The research made by Archaeologists from the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique and Sorbonne Université as part of the French Section of Sudan’s Directorate of Antiquities. The research is a part of project that first started in 1963 and set to continue till 2022 at the necropolis of Sedeinga.

What builds up today as Sudan is a composition of ancient cities with exceptional historical value, and indispensable historical narratives of civilization.

Prominently among them is the historical city of Meroe. Meroe happens to be the capital of the kingdom of Kush (presently known as the Republic of Sudan). For many centuries, Meroe was famous for its wealth in ancient times.

Among other things, Meroe became an important study case in recent classical studies due to archaeological discoveries of ancient writing scripts generally referred to as Meroitic scripts, traced to the ancient city – an admirable attempt at literacy.

Vincent Francigny, an archaeologist at the French Archaeological Unit Sudan Antiquities Service, and co-director of the Sedeinga excavation told Live Science that“The Meroitic writing system, is the oldest of the sub-Saharan region, still mostly beyond our understanding.”

Francigny is fully convinced that the text would provide more information about the site to help with their research.

The Meroitic scripts were template for writing the Meroitic language of the Kingdom of Meroë/Kush. Meroitic was the primary language spoken in the Nile valley and northern Sudan from about 200 BCE until about the 4th century CE. It is with the notion that the people of Meroe invented the Meroitic scripts so as to keep better records of trade activities, enhance the religious practices and keep better records of royalties.

Archaeological proofs state that the Meroites began codifying the Meroitic language from about 300BC, and the language was written in two modes of the Meroitic alphabets. These were: Meroitic Cursive, which was written with a stylus and was used for general record-keeping; and, Meroitic Hieroglyphic, which was carved in stone or used for royal and religious documents.

The Meroitic script is believed by some archaeologists and historians to be derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs. Because of the similarities of both hieroglyphics, it is, however, different and works differently from the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Howbeit, it could be said that the Meroites took a cue from the Egyptians.

The direction of the Meroitic cursive as written from right to left, top to bottom, while the hieroglyphic form was written top to bottom in columns from right to left. The cursive and hieroglyphic scripts basically follow the same principle as they only differ in the shape of their signs. They were both unraveled by British Egyptologist Francis Llewelyn Griffith between 1909 and 1911.

The Meroitic consists of two alphasyllabary scripts that are composed of 23 characters, and of the 23 characters are four vowels, fifteen consonants, and four syllabus signs. The Meroitic writing method was such that every consonant had an assumed vowel sound /a/, because it was not normally written. But where the intended vowel sound was different, a special sign is written alongside the basic consonant so as to clearly relay the intended meaning.

Despite the scripts being deciphered, the Meroitic script remains largely not understood, as knowledge of the language itself is incomplete. This is occurring because the Meroitic language has not been connected with other known languages. And without understanding the language, scholars have a difficult time accurately translating the texts.

Africh Royale

Africh Royale

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