Previously unknown language found hidden in "cultic ritual text" of ancient tablets

A new language has been discovered in a UNESCO World Heritage Site being excavated in northern Turkey, according to a news release from the University of Würzburg.

The area being excavated is Boğazköy-Hattusha, the former capital of the Hittite Empire. The Hittites are one of the world's oldest known civilizations, with the world's oldest known Indo-European language, and excavations at that site have been ongoing for more than 100 years, the university said. The excavations are directed by the German Archaeological Institute. Previously, archaeologists at the site have found "almost 30,000 clay tablets with cuneiform writing," according to the university's news release.

The tablets have helped researchers understand the civilization's history, society, economy, religious traditions and more, but this year's excavations at the site "yielded a surprise," the university said: Within a "cultic ritual text," written in Hititte, there is a "recitation in a hitherto unknown language."

"The Hittites were uniquely interested in recording rituals in foreign languages," said Daniel Schwemer, chair of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the university, in the release. This means that the find isn't entirely unexpected. It appears to refer to a language from an area once called Kalašma, on the northwestern edge of the Hittite civilization, where the Turkish towns of Bolu and Gerede currently exist.

At this Boğazköy-Hattusha excavation site in Turkey, a cuneiform tablet with a previously unknown Indo-European language was discovered.  / Credit: Andreas Schachner / Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
At this Boğazköy-Hattusha excavation site in Turkey, a cuneiform tablet with a previously unknown Indo-European language was discovered. / Credit: Andreas Schachner / Deutsches Archäologisches Institut

The language is "as yet largely incomprehensible," the news release said, and is being studied for more understanding.

This is the fourth such language found among the tablets: Previous researchers have found cuneiform texts with passages in Luwian, Palaic and Hattic languages. The first two languages are closely related to Hittite, the university said, while the third language differs. The new language was found where the Palaic language was spoken, but researchers believe it shares "more features" with Luwian. The connection between the languages will be studied by researchers.

The university said that these ritual texts were usually written by the scribes of Hittite rulers and reflect various Bronze Age traditions and languages. According to the University of Chicago's Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, which keeps the Chicago Hittite Dictionary, a "comprehensive, bilingual Hittite-English dictionary," studying Hittite languages can help illuminate how Western civilization began.

"Despite what is often thought, modern Western civilization did not start with the Greeks," the institute said on its website. "The real cradle of our civilization stood in what is now the Middle East. Many literary and artistic themes and motifs can be traced back directly to that world. The Bible was embedded in ancient Near Eastern society, and the earliest forms of what we call modern science are found in Babylon. Anatolia is the natural bridge between those Eastern worlds and Graeco-Roman civilization and the Hittites and their later descendants in the same area served as intermediaries, handing down ancient Near Eastern culture to the West."

Taylor Swift attends Chiefs game with Travis Kelce's family

Newest car theft threat: carhackers

Sneak peek: The Betrayal of Linda Slaten