Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inscription on Sudanese ram statues may hold key to Merotic

I have always been fascinated by the process used to decipher ancient scripts. I think that is why I was so anxious to view the Rosetta Stone when I visited the British Museum a couple of years ago.

Three ancient ram statues newly discovered in Sudan could help decipher the oldest script in sub-Saharan Africa whose secrets are mysterious to the modern world, a Western archaeologist said on Tuesday.

The rams were excavated at El-Hassa, 180km north of Khartoum, on a sacred causeway leading to an ancient temple, said Vincent Rondot, head of the French Section of the Directorate on Antiquities of Sudan.

The site is one of the most southern temples built to Amum, considered an omnipotent god, creator and guardian by people who lived throughout the Nile valley during the Merotic period 300 BC to 450 AD, said Rondot.

Key to the discovery three weeks ago is a royal inscription that bears the name of little known king Amanakhareqerem, said Rondot, whose unit is funded by the French foreign ministry.

"Merotic language is one of the last antique writings that still waits for its understanding... and it is the most ancient (sub-Saharan) African language written in script," Rondot told reporters.

Experts can pronounce the text and can read names, but cannot understand the words. Merotic is a branch of the same linguistic tree as languages spoken in contemporary Sudan and Eritrea, the archaeologist said.