A Fortunate Tongue

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Basque is a unique language that has endured for centuries, despite efforts to eliminate it.

Predominately found in the north of Spain and parts of southwestern France, Basque has around 700,000 speakers and is considered a “language isolate” – meaning that it is unrelated to any other language in the world. Its origins are also murky.

Now, a new archaeological discovery is providing fresh insight into the mysterious language, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Last year, archaeologists found a flat, hand-shaped bronze artifact from a dig site in northern Spain. After careful restoration, they noticed lines of text inscribed on the object, which they dubbed the Hand of Irulegi.

The first word on the bronze hand was sorioneku, which closely resembles the Basque word zorioneku – meaning “fortunate.” Researchers are still trying to decipher the other words but they said the discovery could provide some new understanding of how the Basque language evolved.

They added that the artifact – believed to be an “amulet of protection” – is about 2,000 years old and probably belonged to the Vascones, a late Iron Age tribe that scholars believe gave rise to the Basque people.

Historians previously thought the Vascones only used writing for coins, then only began writing more broadly after the Romans introduced the Latin alphabet.

“This piece upends how we’d thought about the Vascones and writing until now,” Joaquín Gorrochategui, a philologist at the University of the Basque Country, told the Guardian. “We were almost convinced that the ancient Vascones were illiterate.”

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