Researchers from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM), a joint center of the CSIC and the Junta of Extremadura, are studying a series of signs inscribed on the slate tablet from the Tartessian site of Casas del Turuñuelo (Guareña, Badajoz) which discovery was announced last week, and according to initial interpretations, it appears to be an alphabet of a southern Paleo-Hispanic script.

Scientists from the CSIC, an organization under the Ministry of Science, Innovation, and Universities (MICIU), responsible for the work at the site, are collaborating with a researcher who is an expert in this type of script after identifying what seems to be a sequence of 21 signs traced on the tablet’s frame, where figures of warriors were also found, as presented by the researchers at a press conference last Thursday. Experts suggest it could be the third alphabet of a southern Paleo-Hispanic script.

Joan Ferrer i Jané, a researcher associated with the LITTERA group at the University of Barcelona, learned about the discovery of a slate plaque with the silhouettes of three warriors at the Badajoz site through the media. Beyond the figures, when I observed the plaque, I saw that on one side there seemed to be a Paleo-Hispanic sign, a sign that cannot be mistaken for any other. Other traces compatible with known sequence signs were also noticeable, he explains. Ferrer contacted the team at the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida, responsible for these archaeological excavations, and requested partial macro photographs of the area to confirm his suspicions. After studying the images, everything points to an alphabet of southern script with the initial sequence ABeKaTuIKeLBaNS?ŚTaUE, which is almost the same as documented in the Espanca alphabet, except for the eleventh sign, which has a special form, indicates Ferrer i Jané.

The alphabet is a very conservative inscription. In fact, the initial ABCD sequence, derived from Phoenician, is still maintained in modern alphabets. The one found in Guareña starts with the sequence ABeKaTu, which would be its equivalent, and consists of 21 signs written from left to right along the outer edge of the plaque. At least 6 signs have been lost in the broken area of the piece, but if it were completely symmetrical and the signs occupied three of the four sides of the plaque, it could reach 32 signs, so the lost signs could be eleven or more if a possible sign, ‘Tu,’ isolated on the fourth side, were part of the alphabet, comments Ferrer i Jané, adding that it is a shame that the final part of the alphabet has been lost as that is usually where the most pronounced differences are found.

Carved slate plate from the 6th-5th century BC found in the Tartessian site Casas del Turuñuelo.
Carved slate plate from the 6th-5th century BC found in the Tartessian site Casas del Turuñuelo. Credit: E. Rodríguez / M. Luque / CSIC

Esther Rodríguez González, a CSIC researcher and one of the leaders of the archaeological excavations at Casas del Turuñuelo, highlights that from the moment the slate tablet was found, she was aware that the volume of information it contained was even greater than that of the warriors’ faces. In addition to the silhouettes of some human figures, the scientists had already observed several circles and lines suggesting that the plaque could be analyzed on different levels.

Currently, Esther Rodríguez and the other IAM researchers, along with Joan Ferrer, are studying the extent of the identified signs and their importance as examples of southern Paleo-Hispanic writing.

Three Alphabets

Paleo-Hispanic scripts are divided into two families: the northeastern family and the southern family. The boundary between them is roughly south of Valencia. They all derive from Phoenician writing, which underwent a first adaptation into what is called an original Paleo-Hispanic signary, followed by two different adaptations, one in the north and one in the south. The latter gave rise to the family of southern scripts, to which this alphabet belongs.

So far, only two other southern script alphabets have been confirmed. According to initial research, the Turuñuelo alphabet repeats at least the first 10 signs of the Espanca site alphabet in Castro Verde (Portugal). This alphabet has 27 signs and was the only complete one we knew until now. Another was found in the excavation of Villasviejas del Tamuja (Cáceres), but it is very fragmented, with only some central signs. Therefore, the one from Guareña would be the third and provide a lot of information, points out Ferrer.

Collaboration among the researchers will help determine if the Casas del Turuñuelo alphabet can be classified with any of the known scripts or if it should be considered an independent southern script. In any case, it confirms that there are many more inscriptions hidden at this site that we hope will come to light in future campaigns, concludes the specialist in Paleo-Hispanic writing.

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