Before, Iran, before Persia, there was the kingdom of Elam, dating back over 4000 years. It was already known that Elam existed at the same time as Babylonia, but their written language wasn’t known, nor how old it was. It turns out the Elam language and Babylonian language were not just spoken at the same time, but both were written languages that appeared simultaneously.
This isn’t just a breakthough in archaeology, it’s a historical breakthrough. The deciphered script mentions a goddess named Napirisha. The Elamites worshipped a female god, not a male one.
François Desset is an archaeologist. He has just decoded linear elamite. A phonetic writing, cuneiform type, found on multiple clay tablets, precisely in the ruins of the ancient city of Susa, in Iran. The country was formerly called Persia and even earlier, 4,500 years ago, kingdom of Elam, hence the name of the writing in question, linear Elamite.
This is no small discovery: it was more than a century, in other words since the discovery in 1901 of the first tablets, that this writing system was known. But no one, despite all the attempts in 119 years, has ever found the key. No one, until François Desset, 38, associate researcher at CNRS Archaeorient from Lyon and specialist in the Bronze Age and the Neolithic in Iran.
The archaeologist did not just dream ahead Indiana Jones. Ten years of studies, a thesis, a move to Iran, more than fourteen years of work, and finally a click, in 2017, while studying a series of texts found on a silver funeral vase. He identifies repetitions, sequences of perfectly identical signs and understands that it is a proper name. So he finds the names of two rulers, then that of the local goddess, Napirisha, and from there, decodes the rest, syllable after syllable, finding a prayer.
The Tehran Times has also covered the story, though that newspaper’s article claims written Elam predates written Babylonian. Other articles I’ve seen covering this story say no such thing.
The Kingdom of Elam was located where are today’s Iranian provinces of Ilam and Khuzestan, in southwest Iran. That is less than 300km from the ancient city of Ur, capital of Sumeria, in modern Iraq. (oops 9_9)