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Dick Osseman | all galleries >> Ankara pictures >> Ankara Anatolian Civilizations Museum >> Hittite objects > Hittite hieroglyphs
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Hittite hieroglyphs

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I received a message containing the question: "Not to nitpick though, but on p. 4 the one labeled "Hittite hieroglyphs," wouldn't they be in Luwian and not Hittite (Nesite)?"

These inscriptions were once commonly known as Hittite hieroglyphs, but the language they encode proved to be Luwian (a language related to Hittite) and nowadays the term Luwian hieroglyphs is used in English publications.

Correspondent: J.M.Criel, Antwerpen
Source: Wikipedia.

I do not know the answer, any takers?

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M. Scarborough 04-Jan-2009 06:04
Hi Guys,

I just sort of stumbled into your wonderful gallery here. I'm a couple years late to this discussion and I'm not even sure if you'll see this comment, but these Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions are quite readable, although some of the readings are difficult to understand. The language is quite similar to the Cuneiform Luwian documents found among the Hittite archives at Boghazköy, however with some dialectal differences.

Currently the standard edition of these inscriptions is David Hawkins' Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions (two volumes to date, with the third still in progress as far as I've last heard) published by Walter de Gruyter in Berlin, and these volumes contain photographic copies, hand copies, translations, and commentaries of these inscriptions. There are some excerpts of it available on Google Books if you don't have access to an academic library with a good Hittitology section. As you can imagine, there is only a small number of people in the world that work on Hieroglyphic Luwian.

Anyway, I hope I helped answer the question about the readability of these inscriptions and helped by pointing out a scholarly edition and translation of them if you weren't aware already (whereupon my comment is already unnecessary).

M. Scarborough
Dick Osseman20-Nov-2004 22:10
Hi Nick,

In answer to your question I looked up some things in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which I have on DVD. I don’t know all these things myself - although I try to remember what I find. I am certainly not an expert. On Hittite hieroglyphic writing the text is: system of pictographic writing used in the Syrian Hittite states for writing an eastern dialect of the Luwian language (q.v.) chiefly in the period from the 10th to the 8th century BC, after the fall of the Hittite empire. (Earlier Luwian texts written in cuneiform are thought by scholars to be in a central Luwian dialect.) Inscriptions written in Hittite hieroglyphs usually begin in the upper-right-hand corner. Although most of the signs are ideographic, a number of them are phonetic syllabic signs. Hieroglyphic Hittite (or, more precisely, Hieroglyphic Luwian) was substantially deciphered between 1930 and 1935. There appears to be no direct connection between Hittite hieroglyphs and those of Egypt.

On Luwian: also called Luvian, or Luish, extinct Indo-European language primarily of the southern part of ancient Anatolia. It was closely related to Hittite, Palaic, and Lydian and was a forerunner of the Lycian language. Modern knowledge of Luwian comes primarily from passages introduced by the adverb luwili (“in Luwian”) in cuneiform tablets discovered in the ruins of the Hittite archives at Boðazköy (in modern Turkey); these passages were spoken in the rituals of some deities. The pioneering work on Cuneiform Luwian was done by Emil Forrer in 1922.

In addition to Luwian passages in the cuneiform tablets, a number of inscriptions occur in a hieroglyphic system of writing that originated with the early Hittite stamp seals of the 17th and 18th centuries BC. Hieroglyphic Luwian (often called Hieroglyphic Hittite) texts have been found dating from as late as the last quarter of the 8th century BC. Mostof the work of deciphering the language was completed in the 1930s, although more was learned about the meaning of the writing after the discovery in 1947 of the Karatepe bilingual inscriptions, written in both Hieroglyphic Luwian and Phoenician. Hieroglyphic Luwian is thought to represent an eastern dialect of Luwian, while Cuneiform Luwian represents a central dialect. The Lycian language (q.v.) of about 600–200 BC, written in an alphabetic script, is believed to be descended from a West Luwian dialect.

And on (Egyptian) hieroglyphs and how to decipher them: Except for names and a few titles, the oldest inscriptions cannot be read. In many cases individual hieroglyphs were used that are familiar from later periods, but the meaning of the inscription as a whole is obscure. It is apparent that this writing did not represent the sounds as completely as was the case later.

In the period of the 3rd dynasty (c. 2650–c. 2575 BC), many of the principles of hieroglyphic writing were regularized. From that time on, until the script was supplanted by an early version of Coptic (about the 3rd and 4th centuries AD), the system remained virtually unchanged. Even the number of signs used remained constant at about 700 for more than 2,000 years. With the rise of Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD came the decline and ultimate demise not only of the ancient Egyptian religion but of its hieroglyphics as well. The use, by the Egyptian Christians, of an adapted form of the Greek alphabet, caused a correspondingly widespread disuse of the native Egyptian script. The last known use of hieroglyphics is on an inscription dated AD 394.

Hieroglyphic writing followed four basic principles. First, a hieroglyph could be used in an almost purely pictorial way. The sign of a man with his hand to his mouth might stand for the word “eat.” Similarly, the word “sun” would be represented by a large circle with a smaller circle in its centre. Second, a hieroglyph might represent or imply another word suggested by the picture. The sign for” sun” could as easily serve as the sign for “day” or as the name of the sun god Re. The sign for “eat” could also represent the more conceptual word “silent” by suggesting the covering of the mouth. Third, the signs also served as representatives of words that shared consonants in the same order. Thus the Egyptian words for “man” and “be bright,” both spelled with the same consonants, hg, could be rendered by the same hieroglyph. Fourth, the hieroglyphs stood for individual or combinations of consonants.

It is arguable whether the ancient Greeks or Romans understood hieroglyphics. The Greeks almost certainly did not, since, from their viewpoint, hieroglyphics were not phonetic signs but symbols of a more abstruse and allegorical nature. The humanist revival of the European Middle Ages, although it produced a set of Italian-designed hieroglyphics, gave no further insight into the original Egyptian ones.

The first attempt to decipher hieroglyphics, based on the assumption that they were indeed phonetic symbols, was made by the German scholar Athanasius Kircher in the mid-1600s. Despite his initial correct hypothesis, he correctly identified only one symbol.

The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 was to provide the key to the final unlocking of the mystery. The stone was inscribed with three different scripts: hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek. Based on the stone's own declaration, in the Greek portion, that the text was identical in all three cases, several significant advances were made in translation. A.I. Silvestre de Sacy, a French scholar, and J.D. Akerblad, a Swedish diplomat, succeeded in identifying a number of proper names in the demotic text. Akerblad also correctly assigned phonetic values to a few of the signs. An Englishman, Thomas Young, correctly identified five of the hieroglyphics. The full deciphering of the stone was accomplished by another Frenchman, Jean-Françoise Champollion. He brought to the stone a natural facility for languages (having, by age 16, become proficient in six ancient Oriental languages as well as Greek and Latin). By comparison of one sign with another, he was able to determine the phonetic values of the hieroglyphics. Later studies simply confirmed and refined Champollion's work.

Kindest regards,

Dick Osseman
Guest 19-Nov-2004 23:03
Dick, have they been able to decipher these hieroglyphs, or is it largely conjecture as to what they mean? Which language are they called? Thanks, Nick