Saturday, November 22, 2014

Egyptologists reveal language breakthrough

Scientists had kept the discovery under wraps for months

Dispatches from the Future
May 17, 2016

BOULDER, Colo.  (Gloomberg News) – Egyptologists Monday announced a major breakthrough in attempts to decode markings on an ancient wall in southern Egypt.  The findings failed to support theories that the site in question might have once served as an astronomical observatory.

“This isn’t what we’d hoped for,” admitted team leader Dr. James I. Haktawhad.  “But the findings are of historic importance, just the same.”

A team of University of Colorado archaeologists and archaeoastronomers discovered the markings in 1998, after uncovering a buried wall at Nabta Playa, located in the Nubian Desert about 500 miles south of Cairo.  The site, believed to be even older than the Pyramids by about two thousand years, consists of carefully arranged arrays of large stones, some of which point out of the sand at striking angles.  The site predates England’s Stonehenge complex, but is theorized to have served a similar astronomical purpose.

“We’ve been working on these markings for years, under the theory that they have their roots in the Nilo-Saharan language phylum.  That guess turned out to be correct.  And as a result, we can now state with certainty that we’ve translated the oldest known piece of writing on the planet.  That’s the good news.”

But the bad news is that the translation was not even close to what the scientists had expected. 

“We deciphered all or part of four phrases,” Haktawhad said.  “We’re confident the first one says, ‘For a good time, see Amunix.”  Haktawhad explained that Amunix is believed to have been a girl’s given name that was common at the time among ancient Nabta people. 

Haktawahd declined to speculate on what the phrase might have meant.  But the next two translations were no less disappointing.

“Number two, we believe, says, ‘Reality is for people who can’t handle opium.’  Number three translates as, ‘We aim to keep this place clean.  Your aim will help.’”

Haktawahd did not offer to read the fourth phrase, but reporters pressed him on it.  “This one is only a partial translation,” he said reluctantly.  “The final part of the sentence is missing.  But what we have so far is, ‘No matter how you shake, or how you dance, the last drop falls—’  And that’s it.  The last word or words are missing.”

When reporters suggested that the identity of the missing word seemed obvious, Haktawahd cautioned against leaping to conclusions.  “You may be tempted to fill in the blank with an English word that rhymes with ‘dance,’” he said.  “But as humorous as you might find the sentence to be when completed in that fashion, remember that in the original ancient tongue, there would have been no such rhyme.  Plus, we’re not precisely sure what kind of garments the ancient Nabtans wore.  But it’s extremely doubtful that any of them had trousers hanging in the closet.”

Haktawahd resisted a reporter’s suggestion that what his team had discovered was the wall of a 7,000 year old latrine.  “Our dig didn’t turn up enough evidence to reach that conclusion,” he said.  “But even if that does turn out to be true, it doesn’t disprove the theory that the overall site might have been an ancient observatory.  Given the way some of the stones align, that theory still fits the facts.”

Haktawahd admitted his team had been sitting on the findings for months, and released them only after the Ain’t It Weird website leaked a partial translation last week.  “I wouldn’t call the results embarrassing,” he said in defending the delay, “just incomplete.  And they still are. We have more work to do.”

One highly placed member of Haktawahd’s team, who did not wish to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, told Gloomberg News that this isn’t the only controversial breakthrough scientists are keeping under wraps.  She said a team at Cairo University is sitting on a partial translation of a 4,500 year old Egyptian papyrus.  According to the source, the severely deteriorated document appeared to have been folded originally into the shape of an envelope or pouch.  “They’ve lifted two phrases off of it so far,” she said.  “The first partial phrase translates as, ‘In the event of,’ and the second one says, ‘Hold bag over mouth.’  The rest is missing, illegible, or hasn’t yet been deciphered.  But those phrases are the two oldest pieces of writing ever translated from papyrus.”

A spokeswoman at Cairo University told Gloomberg news that several translation projects are underway at any given time, but offered no further comment.


And, if you like this style of writing, please check out my novel Messages, where I apply the same treatment to the TV news industry.

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