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A Frenchman Solves Linear Elamite Puzzle And Rewrites Writing History

A Frenchman Solves Linear Elamite Puzzle And Rewrites Writing History


Every once in a while a scientist goes rogue, and it’s happened to a French archaeologist in Tehran who claims the Iranian plateau was the shared birthplace of writing with Mesopotamia, based on his decryption of the Linear Elamite script. And that folks is about as rogue as it gets in the world of history.

So, does the claim have a firm base? French archaeologist Francois Desset from the  University of Tehran  Department of Archaeology is a specialist in Near Eastern archaeology who has written a controversial new study based on his breakthrough work on the Linear Elamite script. The researcher has boldly suggested the Iranian plateau was the true birthplace of writing, “predating Mesopotamia,” which has long been known as the cradle of the cuneiform writing. According to a report in  Sciences et Avenir  Desset’s proof comes from “a 4400-year-old cuneiform bas-relief.” And Desset is so convinced of his findings that he states it’s “a cultural revolution in the history of writing in the world.”

The Linear Elamite script breakthrough took Francois Desset ten years to figure out. (Laboratoire Archeorient)

The Linear Elamite script breakthrough took Francois Desset ten years to figure out. ( Laboratoire Archeorient )

Disputing Writing Origins With The Linear Elamite Script

The Tehran Times  reports that it took the French archaeologist a decade to decipher “the mysteries of the cuneiform inscription,” which was found on hand-carved clay tablets in the ancient city of  Susa in southwest Iran. And according to the Tehran Times article the discovery proves Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq / former  Babylon) was “not the world's first cradle of writing,” but that it developed in Persia at the same time.

Desset told  Sciences et Avenir:

"I did not get up one morning telling myself that I had deciphered Linear Elamite… it really took me ten years (...) but thanks to this work, I can now say that the script did not first appear in Mesopotamia alone but that two scriptures appeared at the same time in two different regions."

With its characteristic wedge-shaped impressions forming signs,  cuneiform is a logo-syllabic script that was used to write several languages of the ancient Near East from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era. The Iranian Linear Elamite script was unearthed in 1901 AD, but no one could decipher it at that time. Now, claiming to have done so, Francois Desset says  "This could be a historical revolution, because scientists have long believed that the cradle of writing of the world is in Mesopotamia, in other words, present-day Iraq.”

Linear Elamite: The Context Of The “First” Written Language

Susa was once the capital city of the Elamite empire, and home of the later Achaemenian  King Darius I , around 522 BC. Elam, in the region of the modern-day provinces of Ilam and Khuzestan in Iran, was culturally united with ancient Mesopotamia. The Tehran Times article says it “was never a cohesive ethnic kingdom or polity but rather a federation of different tribes governed at various times by cities such as Susa,  Anshan, and Shimashki, until it was united during the Middle Elamite period, briefly, as an empire.” It is said that during later domination by the Akkadian dynasty (c. 2334-c. 2154 BC), Elamites may have adopted the Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform script.

Remains of the Elamite temple of god Kiririsha, and the Chogha Zanbil ziggurat, the oldest extant monument in Iran. (Poliorketes / Adobe Stock)

Remains of the Elamite temple of god Kiririsha, and the Chogha Zanbil ziggurat, the oldest extant monument in Iran. ( Poliorketes / Adobe Stock)

“Proto-Elamite” is the oldest known writing system from Iran which is found on clay tablets. The  Elamite language  that was developed in the ancient country of Elam has only ever been found written on three historical documents. The earliest text is a figurative or pictographic script dating from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Documents from the second period, between the 16th and 8th century BC, are written in “Old Elamite.” The third text dates from the reign of the Achaemenian kings of Persia (6th to 4th century BC), and is written in Old Elamite with Akkadian and  Old Persian  inscriptions, called New Elamite.

The Elamite writing discovered on the 4400-year-old cuneiform bas-relief unearthed in 1901, that no one could decipher, is being described as holding evidence that might spark a “a historical revolution,” because it would mean Persia and current day Iran is also the home of writing, and not just Mesopotamia, was in present-day Iraq.

This Is Breaking News And More Insights Are Sure To Follow

Before the expected Linear Elamite archaeological “revolution” happens, the story, and the archaeologist’s “claim” will have to be peer reviewed. However, Desset’s Linear Elamite script  breakthrough is breaking news and “rewrites history” and as such will likely appear in many publications before the end of this year 2020 AD.

Top image: The Lion Table clay tablet, which is part of the Louvre Museum’s collection, written in Linear Elamite script.   Source: Darafsh /  CC BY-SA 3.0

By Ashley Cowie



Nikos Loukeris's picture

This hypothesis is faulty, as in Dispilio, Greece was found a wooden carved inscription preserved in a lake of Kastoria and dated to 5270 BC so its 7300 years old and at least 1000 years older than Elam. The letters are Greek an initial form of Linear A.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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