Breakthrough in Translating Proto-Elamite, World’s Oldest Undeciphered Writing


Scientists at Oxford are hoping that digital imaging will provide the breakthrough they need to finally translate the world’s oldest known un-deciphered writing. The writing, a form of proto-Elamite, is more than 5,000 years old and is thought to be the first writing system to use syllables.

The technological breakthrough takes the form of an advanced sort of 3D imaging. One big hurdle in translation has been the wear and tear on the writing medium, rendering some symbols difficult to make out. Clearer images can make a huge difference in efforts to decipher the meaning of the writing.

There are other problems to contend with as well, some of which technology won’t assist with, but the new images will give translators a big leg up. The images that are taken with the new technology will also be released online, so that anyone who wants to try to help interpret the writing can assist.

The Oxford team behind the project hope that they’ll be able to get a good translation of the writing within the next two years as a result of these measures.

(via BBC)


  1. says

    Hi, Gord:

    Fantastic. I’m a collector of modern and medieval languages and have a thought about the first picture. (I have translated medieval and modern French and Old English, but not professionlayy – actually yes, German and French professionally, but no one wants to pay me for the medieval stuff.)

    I am not trained enough to understand how the scholars have concluded that this language or script, whichever it is, contains syllables as opposed to word symbols or even just numbers. Do you know?

    Thank you so much. Not a lot of folks out there that know about this stuff.

    –Val in Connecticut–

    However, my