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What exactly do we know about the Hand of Irulegi? | Culture

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The so-called Hand of Irulegi is a bronze representation of a right limb dated to the 1st century BC. C. On November 14, 2022, with the presence of numerous media outlets, this discovery located during excavations at an archaeological site in the Aranguen Valley (Navarra) was made public. The unique object is engraved in Paleo-Hispanic signary (a semisyllabary, not an alphabet), a first word that specialists soon identified as sorioneku. Given its enormous relationship with current Basque, it was translated as “good fortune.”

The president of the Foral Community of Navarra, María Chivite, then declared that it was a “historical milestone.” The discovery suggested that 2,100 years ago in Navarra, archaic Basque was already spoken. But the issue is by no means so clear. There are many doubts and, perhaps, sorioneku It could even be the name of a divinity. What exactly is known?

The Hand of Irulegi is an “exceptional” document, of that there is no doubt, as prominent epigraphers and archaeologists affirm in unison, such as Mattin Aiestaran, from the Aranzadi Science Society; Joaquín Gorrochategui, from the University of the Basque Country, and Javier Velaza, professor of Latin Philology at the University of Barcelona.

Since the end of the Bronze Age (15th and 11th BC), the European population began to settle in elevated places and, therefore, better to be defended from attacks. The Irulegi site is one of them. Its inhabitants enjoyed extensive visual control of the surrounding valleys and the routes leading to the Ebro, the Cantabrian Sea or Gaul. The director of the excavations, Mattin Aiestaran, confirmed that the town disappeared in the first third of the 1st century BC. C., when it was destroyed within the so-called Sertorian Wars (82-72 BC), an internal Roman armed conflict. The conflict between the governor Quintus Sertorius and Gnaeus Pompey the Great devastated much of the Iberian Peninsula, especially the Ebro Valley. Choose mal one side assumed total destruction.

The town where the hand was found disappeared in the first third of the 1st century BC. C. when it was destroyed within the so-called Sertorian Wars”

The house where the hand was found – known as Building 6000 – had stone plinths, adobe elevation and wooden posts to support the wooden or vegetal roof. The metal limb was found in the hallway of the house, among remains of rubefied adobe and charred wood. The materials that have appeared nearby almost all belong to the first quarter of the 1st century BC. C., such as coins from the mint of oTikes (Navarra), imported Campanian or black varnish ceramics, Etruscan productions, burins and various fauna bone elements. In addition to the hand, two brief ceramic inscriptions and a stylus of bone to write on wax tablets.

The hand is a sheet of bronze (53.19% tin, 40.87% copper and 2.16% lead) cut out. On the back it has the shape of nails. In the center, it has a hole to nail it on a support. It measures 14.3 centimeters in height and weighs 35.9 grams.

But who recorded it and how? Specialists agree that first three lines of guidelines were drawn in a rough and imprecise manner, so that the notary would not get twisted, something that was not achieved. Then, the signs were engraved with the sgraffito technique (scratching the superficial layers with a sharp instrument) and subsequently marked with the stippling technique following the first sgraffito strokes. This raises the question of whether it was one or two people who intervened. “This double procedure is extraordinarily exceptional also in Latin epigraphy. In fact, we only know of the example of a silver patera with an inscribed dedication, from Bourges, in France,” states Velaza.

“It is likely that the inscription is the work of two people.”

The signary used belongs “without a doubt” to the family of Paleo-Hispanic semisyllabaries (combination of syllabary and alphabet). Experts highlight that the text includes a very special feature: a T-shaped sign that was only known on coins from Basque mints, which is why they do not hesitate to call this written set as belonging to a particular “Basque signary.” Or what is the same: the ancient Basques used their own writing and not the Iberian one as was suspected. “The fact that it is a possibly private inscription and that it uses a particular graphic system adds to the idea of ​​an introduction of writing in the Basque world,” say the experts in the recent study. The Basque inscription of Irulegi. Gorrochategui maintains, therefore, that it is “legitimate” to use the term “Basque” to refer to the inscription, in the sense of the language of the lineage or family of Basque, a direct or collateral ancestor of the historically known Basque.

Transcription of the signs of the Hand of Irulegi. The first word is ‘sorioneku’, good luck.Aranzadi Science Society

In ancient societies, writing was adopted through contact with other cultures that already mastered it. In the case of the Basques, they adopted the Iberian model, but adapting it to their language. From the Celtiberians, they probably copied the use of bronze as a support for writing, in addition to stippling. They stopped using this type of signs, like the rest of the Iberian peoples, in the 1st BC. C., with the extension of the Latin alphabet.

It is not possible to know why the inscription was made on a hand-shaped object, since “said symbolism can cover a wide spectrum: supplication for protection, apotropaic character, expression of friendship or votive offering.” It may even be related to war and not to good luck, since a severed hand represents victory over enemies, as understood by the Iberians and the Lusitanians, who cut off the limbs of their adversaries and hung them from their arms. belts or on the doors of their houses, as the classical historians Diodorus of Sicily and Strabo wrote.

What does the first word mean sorioneke o sorioneku, depending on whether you read the sgraffito or the stippling? What is certain is that this word is extremely similar to the Basque expression fortunate (lucky, happy, good fortune), which is formed by the words DAWN (fortune) and (h)on (bueno).

General view of Mount Irulegi, in Navarre.Aranzadi Science Society

Now, the direct relationship between sorioneku y fortunate It is difficult to prove, since there is no reason to think that the phonetic change from ku to ko would have occurred in Basque. All the early Latinisms, adopted by Basque with a final u, have kept the vowel intact in Basque. But nothing can be ruled out given the proximity of both words.

Another possibility is that sorioneku be it an Iberian or Aquitaine (Vasconic language from the other side of the Pyrenees) name composed of the particles sor o sori further on. Of the termination eku, experts do not find parallels in the Iberian or Aquitaine onomastics. In any case, the epigraphers admit that they have not identified any person’s name on the hand (by comparison with coins or other Iberian texts), so sorioneku would be likely to be.

The experts have not found any person’s name, so ‘sorioneku’ would be likely to be one.”

Javier Velaza explains it like this: “We have never said that sorioneku was exactly the equivalent of the Basque word fortunate (lucky), but the form sori-on can be equivalent to Basque zori is (good luck)”. Furthermore, since the sgraffito text does not read sorioneku, sino sorionekethe suffix eke could be related to a divinity, as occurs in Basque theonyms Larra-he o Art-he. Nor do we rule out that the form chicken, with which the second line begins, is the name of a person, perhaps the dedicator. But all this with great caution.”

The professor concludes: “This inscription represents, in any case, a fundamental contribution to the study of the phenomenon of writing among the Basques, its adoption and relationship with other Paleo-Hispanic writings, causing all the inscriptions known until now to be reviewed again. in the region, however fragmentary they may be. Many of the questions raised by the text, such as the value of some signs, can only be answered with more documents, the appearance of which we now know is not unlikely.

And another question remains unanswered: if the Hand of Irulegi represents the right limb, did anyone in the settlement have the left?

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