Linguistics and Archaeology: Discovery of New Indo-European Language

Within anthropological studies, there has almost always been an unacknowledged feud between the study of linguistics and archaeology. Although focusing on past human behavior, the work of linguistics, unlike that of archaeology, has languages that “are still living lineages” (Heggarty). However, it is crucial to remember that fundamentally both studies rely on the remains of past societies (whether artifacts or language) and can be used to further the research within the respective fields. Although linguistics “does not need any written history to help” according to linguistic researchers such as Paul Heggarty, archaeological finds have been crucial to the advancement of linguistics. Valuable finds, such as the Rosetta Stone, a granodiorite stela with a text translated in hieroglyphics, demotic script, and Greek, allowed intellectuals to begin to decipher hieroglyphs and “unlock the secrets of the ancient civilization” (Solly).

The World Heritage Site Bogazköy-Hattusha in northern Turkey for the past 100 years has discovered thousands of clay tablets with cuneiform writing providing valuable information concerning the Hittites history. Following the Hittite state, Hattusha was destroyed “around 1200 BC during the Bronze Age collapse” (Milligan). In the past year, archaeologists uncovered a seemingly typical clay tablet with the common Hittite cultic text. After further inspection, researchers found, buried within the Hittite writing, a recitation in a hitherto unknown language. A thrill for linguists and archaeologists alike.

Figure 1: At this excavation site at the foot of Ambarlikaya in Bogazköy-Hattusha in Turkey, a cuneiform tablet with a previously unknown Indo-European language was discovered. (Image: Andreas Schachner)

The language is still undergoing precise classification as it is, presently, incomprehensible. Professor Elisabeth Reiken from the Julius-Maximilians University has confirmed the text to be a part of the Antolian-Indo-European language family. Although close to the origins of the Palaic language, the text seems more compatible with Luwian dialects of Late Bronze Age Anatolia. The new language was an unsurprising find for the Head Chair of Near Eastern Studies, Professor Daniel Schwemer. Whose research on other clay tablets from the site displayed how the Hittite people “were uniquely interested in recording rituals in foreign languages” (Schachner). The tablets offer a slight insight into the Hittite rituals and therefore a further observation of the linguistics within the Late Bronze Age of Anatolia. The artifacts from the Bogazköy-Hattusha Site additionally provided the ability to view passages in Luwian and Palaic which are closely related to Hittite and Kalasma. 

Figure 2: Hittite Cuneiform Tablet, baked clay Hattusha Late Bronze Age 13th century BCE. (Image: Leman Altuntaş)

Although, the majority of data for linguistics is still attainable through the dialects and languages spoken today, without such artifacts these major developments in linguistic studies would not be possible. The clay tablets from the Bogazköy-Hattusha Site were able to help linguists define the nature and culture around language in northern Turkey during the Bronze Age, a period where linguistic data is minimal. Archaeology can help track the movement and lives of people from the past so it shouldn’t be surprising that it can similarly help linguists track the evolution of languages. Even though anthropological fields have historically been separated, it’s important to remember that “the cross-disciplinary whole is far greater than the sum of its individual parts” (Heggarty). It is not possible to have an in-depth understanding of historical linguistics without acknowledging the other aspects and studies of prehistory, such as archaeology.


Altuntaş, Leman. “A New Indo-European Language Discovered in the Hittite Capital Hattusha.” Arkeonews, 21 Sept. 2023, 

Heggarty, Paul. “Archaeology and Language – Fifteen Eighty Four: Cambridge University Press.” Fifteen Eighty Four | Cambridge University Press – The Official Blog of Cambridge University Press, 18 Mar. 2014, 

Milligan, Markus. “Archaeologists Discover Previously Unknown Indo-European Language in Turkey.” HeritageDaily, 22 Sept. 2023, 

Schachner, Andreas. “New Indo-European Language Discovered.” Startseite – Universität Würzburg, 20 Aug. 2023, 

Solly, Meilan. “Two Hundred Years Ago, the Rosetta Stone Unlocked the Secrets of Ancient Egypt.” Smithsonian, Smithsonian Institution, 27 Sept. 2022, 

Additional Sources:

MacGinnis, John. “Archaeologists Discover Lost Language.” University of Cambridge, 10 May 2012, 

Ehret, Christopher. “Linguistic Archaeology – African Archaeological Review.” SpringerLink, Springer US, 18 Sept. 2012, 

Grief may be universal

The practice of burying the dead is a deeply rooted human, or so we thought, tradition that most likely began even before written history. It is not only a ritual to bring peace for the deceased, but can also reflect on the cultural and spiritual beliefs of a group. Turns out this is not only a human ritual, but non-human animal species have also been found to bury their dead. The homo naledi are a primate species that was discovered by Lee Berger at Stony Brook University (Romey). The homo naledi are scarily similar to the homo sapien on a physical level including similar: teeth, jaws and feet (Johanson). Thousands of their bone fragments were found in a deep underground chamber dubbed “the Chute”, located within the Rising Star cave system in South Africa’s Transvaal region (Romey). Although the name suggests that the bodies were dropped down “the Chute”, the condition of the skeletal remains alludes to the idea that the bodies were individually placed, like in graves for modern burials. The researchers who first found these remains said they were “found so deep within the cave system that they must have been intentionally put there by other members of the species (Davis)”. This burial is said to have occurred about 300,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest burials that we know of thus far. The arrangement of bodies within this complicated terrain hint at a symbolic or ritualistic significance. A study was conducted to see if primates were able to conduct rituals and it was found they only met certain qualifications, so it was called proto-rituals (Tennie & Schaik). For humans, to be considered a ritual, the action must be symbolic by nature and must be copied. The definition is similar for primates, which must follow the following criteria: “socially shared, symbolic feature(s) that are created via actions and/or results that require copying” (Tennie & Schaik). Some researchers argue that this presumed burial site reflect the homo naledi’s beliefs in an afterlife or their desire to commemorate the deceased. Others suggest that they may have been a way to strengthen social bonds within the group to express grief or loss. The practice of burying the dead has persisted across hundreds of thousands of years and continues to be a central aspect of human cultures worldwide. While modern burial practices may vary slightly from those of early homo species, the underlying principles of respect for the deceased and the need to commemorate their lives, as well as their ancestral past, remain consistent. 

Archeologists looking at the bones of 1 out of the 15 homo naledi found (Clark). 

Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and the skull replica of a homo naledi (Eloff). 


Clark, Robert. National Geographic, 2023, Accessed 1 October 2023.

Davis, Josh. “Claims that ancient hominins buried their dead could alter our understanding of human evolution.” Natural History Museum, 5 June 2023, Accessed 1 October 2023.

Eloff, Brett. University of Kent, 5 November 2016, Accessed 1 October 2023.

Johanson, Donald C. “Homo naledi | Cave Site & Facts.” Britannica,  5 Jun. 2023, Accessed 1 October 2023.

Romey, Kristin. “A mysterious human species may have been the first to bury their dead.” National Geographic, 5 June 2023, Accessed 1 October 2023.

Tennie, Claudio, and Carel P van Schaik. “Spontaneous (minimal) ritual in non-human great apes?.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 375,1805 (2020): 20190423. doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0423

Further Reading:

The Importance of Pre and Post Colonial Sources in Mesoamerican Cognitive Archeology

Discovering how people once thought is vital in contextualizing the events which unfolded in the past. Learning the rhetoric and philosophies of past people can inform the motivations and ideology which may have contributed to the manner in which events occurred. At a glance, this issue may look like it should be left entirely to historians as thoughts seem to leave no trace in the archeological record. Afterall, you can not dig a 50 centimeter by 50 centimeter sampling hole and find a thought floating around in there.

 What an archeologist can uncover in a sampling hole are symbols (which are pretty darn close to thoughts). A symbol is an object, Item, or idea which represents something else. An archeologist in the Yucatan peninsula might uncover a “yellow glyph” and identify it as the Maya symbol for south. (Miller and Taub 65-67) All human cultures are full of symbols, and very few if any are universal to all cultures. Mesoamerican religions offer strong depictions of serpents as revered gods (Miller and Taub 149) whereas Abrahamic religions are more likely to associate snakes with feared “devil.” It is the job of the archeologist to look past their own cultural symbols in order to decipher past ones.

These Symbols represent different directions. (Miller and Taub, 67)

During the conquest of the Americas, many Spaniards lacked the moral relativism to appreciate the culture of Indigenous Mesoamericans. Mesoamerican texts were labeled as idolatry and were burned. Information regarding thousands of years of recorded religion, culture, and ideology were engulfed by flames. Only fifteen pre-contact Mesoamerican books survived the conquest (Turner, 4). Despite this scarcity caused by Colonial atrocities, much can still be learned from these pre Colonial sources.

A wonderful example of this is the oldest surviving book in the Americas, the Códice Maya de México. Dated to 1051-1154, this document measures the movement of the planet Venus, revealing information about Mayan astronomy and mathematics through the way in which they were able to measure planetary movements. These movements are also contextualized within Mayan religiosity. 

On page 7 of the codex Venus’s 8 day period of disappearance is represented by Mayan numeral 8 () on the top left corner of the codex (also a symbol!). It is thought that Venus enters a “supernatural realm of jade and sunlight” depicted by a lance holding deity beside a “tree whose branches produce precious round jewels” Venus then returns on page 8 as the morning star (Turner, 76). Although the Mayans had a different writing system, a base 20 counting system, and a pantheon of unique deities. It is still possible to understand their symbols and the roles they played within their society. This example regarding pages 7-8 of the codex is only a sample of what we can learn from pre Hispanic books. 

Page 7 of the Codice Maya De Mexico (Formerly known as the Grolier Codex)

While much can be deciphered from the few remaining pre Colonial books, Archeologists and historians also rely heavily on post contact sources while still thinking critically about the biases held by their authors. Bernal Diaz Del Castillo’s Narrative, for example, can tell us much about Aztec foreign relations with neighboring groups. Besides travelogues, ethnographic sources were also made. Book 10 of the Florentine codex by Fray Bernadino de Sahagun has a list of Aztec Tlatoani and the townships conquered during the reign of each of them. Book six of Sahagun’s codex revolves entirely around Aztec rhetoric and moral philosophy making it extremely useful in understanding Mesoamerican thought. Archeologists must combine knowledge from both types of sources in order to get a clearer image of the past.

Florentine Codex - Wikipedia
A page from the Florentine Codex with images and Nahuatl writing.

Today, the internet presents exciting new opportunities for Mesoamerican cognitive archeology. The Getty Museum is set to launch the Digital Florentine Codex, an innovative and intuitive new way to study that source. The codex will include searchable terms, glossaries, lesson plans, and references to other sources including pre Hispanic ones. By combining pre contact and post contact sources, Mesoamerican thought can be better understood, allowing archaeologists to discover the hidden meaning among symbols lying between the stratigraphic layers of Mexico and Central America. By unearthing lost cognition and increasing its accessibility we can begin to counteract the cultural genocide perpetrated by Spanish colonization.

Works Cited (I have a physical copy of both of these books. If anyone wants to borrow them email me at

Turner, Andrew D. “Códice Maya de México: Understanding the Oldest Surviving Book of the Americas” Getty Research Institute, 2022, Los Angeles, California. 

Miller, Mary. Taub, Carl. “An Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and The Maya.” Thames & Hudson, 1993, New York, New York.

Online Sources

Getty page for the digital Florentine Codex

Library of Congress HD images of the Florentine Codex

An amazing visual source for understanding Tenochtitlan

Britannica encyclopedia source on general Mayan hieroglyphs

New York Times source on the codex

Recent Findings Date Earliest Stone Tools at 3.3 Million Years Ago

Recent findings in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya date the oldest stone tools back thousands of years earlier than what was originally thought. The oldest stone tools were previously thought to be made by human ancestor Homo habilis (Figure 1) 2.8 million years ago in modern-day Ethiopia. However, these new stone tools push that date back to 3.3 million years, and were not even made by a direct human ancestor (Figure 1).  

Figure 1: Differences in the parts of the skull (crania, maxillae, and mandibles) of Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus boisei, and Homo habilis.

The tools were found alongside the teeth of Paranthropus boisei (Figure 1), a type of hominin, and co-existed with many human ancestors like the Homo habilis. The teeth being found with the tools could indicate that Paranthropus used these stone tools. Thirty of these stone tools were found at the Lomekwi 3 site of many fossilized animal remains, those remains showing signs of butchery. The animals at the site included ancient hippopotamus, antelope, and baboon. These stone tools included hammerstones, cores, and flakes, all tools used to skin or pound animals and animal meat. The use of stone tools opens up a lot of new food options in the competitive environment. Especially with the tough, leathery skin of a hippo, stone tools would be very beneficial to getting into the meat. Most likely, the Paranthropus found a hippo carcass and cut off the meat they needed, as there were not any stones used for weaponry at the site (Figure 2). 

Partially excavated bones and associated artefacts.
Figure 2: A fossilized hippo skeleton was found alongside the tools. Photograph by: T. W. Plummer

Different methods of dating were used to confirm the date of the tools, such as radioactive dating and geomagnetic reversal dating. Radioactive dating is a method of dating rocks and other minerals by tracking specific radioactive isotopes like uranium or argon. By determining the rate of decay of the isotope, a relative date of the tool in question can be gathered. Geomagnetic reversal dating works by tracking the number of complete reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field, specifically in the poles. These dating methods, together with site analysis, proved that these stone tools were around 3.3 million years old. However, experts question if Paranthropus even made the tools. Some scientists believe that there was no way for the Paranthropus to have used stone tools, as they have teeth that indicate a more vegetarian diet, negating the need for meat-cutting tools. Even if Paranthropus didn’t construct the tools, the earlier date of use is still quite significant. 

However, if Paranthropus boisei did make the tools, it shows a type of convergent adaptation, in that different lineages saw the need for the same type of object. It also goes against the idea that the modern human lineage was the only one capable of tool making for a specific purpose. Humans may not be the only ones capable of this sophisticated tool usage, other organisms can develop it as well, which is a notable development. 


  1. BBC World News. “Ancient Stone Tools Found in Kenya Made by Early Humans.” BBC News, February 10, 2023.
  2. Hunt, Katie. “Sophisticated Stone Tools May Predate Humans, Study Suggests.” CNN, February 10, 2023.  
  3. Kreier, Freda. “Ancient Stone Tools Suggest Early Humans Dined on Hippo.” Nature News, February 9, 2023.  
  4. Weule, Genelle. “Nearly 3 Million Years Ago, a Butcher Hacked up a Hippo with a Crafted Stone Tool. They May Not Have Been Human.” 2.9-million-year-old butchery site in Kenya suggests humans perhaps weren’t first to use crafted stone tools – ABC News, February 9, 2023.
  5. Smithsonian. “2.9-Million-Year-Old Butchery Site Reopens Case of Who Made First Stone Tools.”, February 9, 2023.  

Further Reading

  1. Coleman, Jude. “New Caledonian Crows Keep Their Favorite Tools Safe.” Inside Science, February 15, 2022.  
  2. Muller, Antoine, Ceri Shipton, and Chris Clarkson. “Stone Toolmaking Difficulty and the Evolution of Hominin Technological Skills.” Nature News, April 7, 2022.