Linear Elamite Partially Decoded, Claims French Archeologist

The antiquated Iranian text, Linear Elamite has frustrated scientists for the past 200 years. Historically, Elam was a region located in today's southern Iran, in the modern-day provinces of Ilam and Khuzestan, though parts of it are also located within southern Iraq.


According to the Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie, a compilation history of ancient near eastern law, and 4,000-year-old writing which describes the vocabulary of Elam, has nearly been translated. Though several questions remain unanswered, this is a big start in gaining knowledge of the terminology utilized by the Elamite realm, which will eventually evolve into the Persian kingdom.

French archaeologist, Dr. Francois Desset, thinks that his group has deciphered only a part of the Linear Elamite but is hopeful this discovery will lead to unlocking the script in its entirety, by utilizing eight different ancient silver beakers with a plethora of characters chiseled into the metal, as a foundation for their cipher.

According to DW, Dr. Desset, currently employed at the Archéorient Research Laboratory in Lyon, France, as well as the University of Tehran in Iran says,

"The cups had long been in the possession of a private collector and were only recently made available to researchers,…"

Similar to the scripts, Minoan Linear-A, Indus Valley Script, and several others, Linear Elamite has baffled many scholastics considering that it was found amid an archaeological dig near the town of Susa (scriptural Shushan) in 1903. While it is a presumed heir of Proto-Elamite ( proto meaning preceding the proper beginning of a thing ), another obscure writing, Linear Elamite, has been the central dialogue of the Elamite vocabulary, within the boundaries of southern Iran from 2300 to 1880 B.C., until it was interchanged with cuneiform from Mesopotamia, according to Biblical Archaeology Review.

Many prehistoric texts have been decoded by utilizing relics from the past. These relics, highlight numerous and un-studied texts, as well as the least known text where the relic deciphers the meaning of the word unfamiliar. One example of this is Egyptian hieroglyphics, finally deciphered thanks to the Rosetta Stone, which incorporates a comparison of the Demotic and Greek, compared to hieroglyphics.

Unlocking the Linear Elamite was a very elaborate task. Even though a few ancient objects are contained in cuneiform and the Linear Elamite, the two writings appeared at no time to complement the other for interpretive purposes. These occasions did allow for some passages to be decrypted, but it was nothing compared to the Rosetta Stone.

In order to break these limitations, a group of scientists set out on a unique course. The group identified several different silver beakers with Elamite etchings that could be correlated to another set of beakers that incorporated engravings scripted in Mesopotamian cuneiform. Even though the writings were not completely equal to one another, the exceedingly patterned style of these writings permitted the group to view them similarly to how the Rosetta Stone was used.

Including the previously mentioned writings, the group was clever to describe various geographic, individual, and godly names in the Linear Elamite titles as well as Elamite terms, stipulations, and statements recognized from its cuneiform counterparts. Following this conceptual path, they eventually triumphed, albeit at a snail's pace deciphering the text, symbol by symbol.

In total, the group was eventually able to discover and translate 72 distinct characters, though this did not consider every character at hand in the Linear Elamite etchings, the untranslated text is now, reasonably few and far between. Considering these, it is feasible that some of the illegible characters might not be much more than illustrated variations of previously translated sets.

According to DW, there is some disagreement in the scientific community as Dr. Desset's findings have been met with some objection. Michael Mader, a linguist and supervisor of the Swiss, Alice Kober Society for the Decipherment of Ancient Writing Systems stated, "Until clear evidence is provided, the Linear Elamite script is not fully deciphered,… It may well be that Desset's work will add more characters to the list of suggestions... But, until we know the function and pronunciation for all characters, we won't know for sure."

Dr. Mader says that there are just 15 parts with acknowledged translation and 19 probabilities. He also has some significant suspicions on Dr. Desset's findings on the writings being "purely photographic," and goes on to say, "Mathematical analyses show that the Linear Elamite writing system consists of only 70 percent phonetic characters and that the remainder is word symbols."

With additional archaeological digs in Iran being conducted, Dr. Desset and the group anticipate more Linear Elamite engravings will be found that will support these findings with residual clues. For the time being, due to more than 95% of the beakers having images published in the group's portfolio of translated characters, some colleagues unaffiliated with the study, spoke to Smithsonian Magazine, saying they were positive about the interpretation, even though some of the characters were still being worked out.

Right before the discovery, not much was established about Elamite writings and the vocabulary was poorly understood. At the present, it can be ascertained that Linear Elamite was pretty different from the texts of former societies at the time, by studying hieroglyphs and cuneiform. While additional writings used logo-syllabic texts (this term is used to articulate the partial phonetic style of the script when the phonetic area is the syllable), Linear Elamite uses alpha-syllables, which generally contain both vowel sounds as well as consonant sounds (“mu”, “ka” or “bi”), and a few types could signify a vowel or consonant by themselves.

The indicated pattern produces a substantially smaller amount of characters, compared to logo-syllabic styles. The group thinks Linear Elamite possibly had a bit more than 100 types, whereas the cuneiform had more than 600. Currently, a majority of alphabetic modes that first emerged in the second millennium, B.C. possess an average of 20 or 30 types.

The Elamite vocabulary was a language that was accepted as the everyday language by orators whose native languages are not the same and diminished greatly by the end of the first millennium B.C., in southern Iran, when it was changed to Persian. The Elamite language stands by itself, as there are no related languages to Elamite, but a couple of theories have emerged to join it with Caucasian, Afro-Asiatic, or Dravidian language clusters, as cited by Biblical Archaeology Review.

The oldest evidence of written material, in Iran, is the untranslated Proto-Elamite text which originally appeared near the end of the fourth millennium B.C. This makes it the single earliest form of writing around the globe, next to the untranslated Indus Valley text and Sumerian cuneiform. Proto-Elamite writing ceased as a spoken language around 2900 B.C. and Linear-Elamite started to show up around 2300 when a native Iranian composition had been published.

The group that solved the Linear Elamite script is certain that Linear Elamite is an offspring of Proto-Elamite, and they seek to find evidence that this task will open the doors to translating Proto-Elamite.

The group of scientists include Gianni Marchesi, Gian Pietro Basello, Kambiz Tabibzadeh, Francois Desset, and Matthieu Kervran.

Last edited by a moderator: