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Images of the slate recovered

New Paleo-Hispanic Alphabet Discovered in Spain

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Researchers in have announced a groundbreaking discovery at the Tartessian site of Casas del Turuñuelo in Guareña, Badajoz, Spain. A slate tablet inscribed with what appears to be a third southern Paleo-Hispanic alphabet has been unearthed, providing significant insights into ancient writing systems. 

The 2,500-year-old slate tablet was created by the ancient Tartessos people who lived on the Iberian peninsula between the ninth and sixth centuries BC. It is adorned with figures of warriors and a sequence of 21 distinct letters, was identified by experts from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) as a potential southern Paleo-Hispanic script. 

This find, supervised by CSIC scientists and supported by an expert in ancient scripts, could represent one of the earliest known alphabets in this region, offering a new understanding of prehistoric literacy and cultural exchange. 


The Quest to Decipher the Alphabet 

The initial discovery was made by Joan Ferrer i Jané, a researcher associated with the LITTERA group at the University of Barcelona. Having learned of the slate tablet through media reports, Ferrer quickly recognized the potential significance of the inscribed signs. Upon closer inspection, he noted that these signs appeared to form a coherent alphabetic sequence. Ferrer reached out to the IAM team, requesting detailed photographs to confirm his observations. 

“Beyond the figures, when I looked at the plaque, I saw that on one of the sides there seemed to be a Paleo-Hispanic sign, a sign that cannot be confused with any other. Other traces compatible with signs of a known sequence were also seen,” he explains, according to the CSIC report. 

Alphabet found on a piece of slate from the Casas del Turuñuelo site.  

Alphabet found on a piece of slate from the Casas del Turuñuelo site. (JFiJ / CSIC) 

"After studying the images, everything indicates that it is a southern script alphabet with the initial sequence ‘ABeKaTuIKeLBaNS?ŚTaUE’, which is almost the same as documented in the Spanish alphabet, except for the eleventh sign, which has a special shape," Ferrer explained. This alphabet, inscribed along the outer edge of the plaque, is written from left to right, aligning with known Paleo-Hispanic writing conventions. 

Unveiling the Paleo-Hispanic Legacy 

Paleo-Hispanic scripts are divided into two primary families: northeastern and southern. The newly discovered alphabet at Casas del Turuñuelo belongs to the southern family, which is thought to have derived from Phoenician writing. These scripts were subsequently adapted into what is known as the original Paleo-Hispanic signory, later diverging into distinct northern and southern variants. 

The Casas del Turuñuelo alphabet shows remarkable similarities to other known southern scripts. Specifically, it repeats the first ten signs of the alphabet found at the Espanca site in Castro Verde, Portugal. The Espanca alphabet, containing 27 signs, was previously the only complete southern script known to scholars. 

Another fragmented script was discovered at Villasviejas del Tamuja in Cáceres, Spain. Thus, the Guareña alphabet represents the third known southern script, offering vital new data for comparative studies. 

Left, the whole slate. Right, the initial excitement was about the images of warriors, but this has been eclipsed by the new alphabet 

Left, the whole slate. Right, the initial excitement was about the images of warriors, but this has been eclipsed by the new alphabet. (JFiJ / CSIC) 

Building Tartessus: A Broader Project 

The discovery at Casas del Turuñuelo is part of a larger initiative titled "Building Tartessus," a project funded by the State Research Agency within the State R&D&I Plan of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (MICIU). This project aims to explore Tartessian material culture through detailed architectural analysis of large adobe structures excavated in recent decades. 

By examining these buildings, researchers hope to gain deeper insights into the architectural practices and cultural dynamics of the Tartessians. 

The Casas del Turuñuelo site, located in the Las Vegas Altas del Guadiana region near the Búrdalo River, has been under excavation since 2015. The site's exceptional state of preservation has enabled researchers to document construction techniques and architectural solutions previously undocumented at Tartessian sites. The sixth excavation campaign, currently underway, has led to the discovery of the eastern door of the building, further enhancing our understanding of Tartessian architecture. 

Future Implications 

The ongoing study of the slate tablet and its inscriptions will likely yield more profound insights into ancient Paleo-Hispanic scripts and their development. Collaboration between IAM researchers and experts like Ferrer will be crucial in determining whether the Casas del Turuñuelo alphabet aligns with existing scripts or represents an entirely new variant. 

This discovery underscores the potential for uncovering more hidden inscriptions at the site, which future archaeological campaigns hope to bring to light. As researchers continue to piece together the linguistic and cultural history of ancient Iberia, the findings at Casas del Turuñuelo promise to play a pivotal role in our understanding of early written communication and its evolution in the western Mediterranean. 

Top image: Images of the slate recovered from the Casas del Turuñuelo site Guareña, Badajoz, Spain. Source: JFiJ / CSIC 

Gary Manners's picture


Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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