Archive for Epigraphy

Winged lions through time and space

We're talking about the griffin / griffon / gryphon (Ancient Greek: γρύψ, romanizedgrýps; Classical Latin: grȳps or grȳpus; Late and Medieval Latin: gryphes, grypho etc.; Old French: griffon), "a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, and the head and wings of an eagle with its talons on the front legs".  (source)

Wolfgang Behr called my attention to an interesting paper by Olga Gorodetskaya (Guō Jìngyún 郭静云) and Lixin Guo 郭立新, who teach at National Chung-cheng University in Chiayi, Taiwan and at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, which hints at early West-East (Mesopotamia-East Asia) contact, an ongoing concern of ours here at Language Log:

Liǎng hé liúyù ānzǔ shényīng zài dìguó shíqí de yǎnbiàn jì yīngshī yìshòu xíngxiàng de xíngchéng


"The evolution of the Anzu condor in Mesopotamia during the imperial period and the formation of the image of the griffin-winged beast

The paper is available from Academia here.  Although the text is in Chinese (11 pages of small print in three columns), it is replete with scores of illustrations (mostly drawings of seals and seal impressions), and has a lengthy bibliography consisting of dozens of publications, mostly in European languages and again mostly about seals and their impressions.

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The Syriac Script at Turfan

First Soundings

by Martina Galatello

This is the first book-length palaeographic study of about a thousand fragments in Syriac and Sogdian languages discovered between 1902 and 1914 in the Turfan area on the ancient Northern Silk Roads. This manuscript material, probably dating between the late 8th and 13th /14th centuries, is of utmost relevance for the history of an area that represents a crossroads region of various communities, languages and religions, not least the East Syriac Christian community. Palaeographic factors such as form, modulus, ductus, contrast, spaces between letters and ligatures have been examined. Particularly significant is a peculiar ligature of the letters sade and nun. One important observation that emerges from this research is the almost total absence of monumental script in favour of mostly cursive forms, most of them East Syriac cursive forms. These represent a valuable source for the study of the history of the East Syriac script due to the paucity of earlier and contemporary East Syriac manuscript evidence from the Middle East, at least before the twelfth century. Moreover, this research sheds light on scribal habits that are highly relevant for a better comprehension of the Sogdian and Syriac-speaking Christian communities, for the history of writing between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and for a greater understanding of the social context in which these and other communities in the same area read, wrote, and shared handwritten texts.

This study is part of the FWF stand-alone project "Scribal Habits. A case study from Christian Medieval Central Asia" (PI Chiara Barbati) at the Institute of Iranian Studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. 

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Codices of Tetepilco

From Tlacuilolli*, the blog about Mesoamerican writing systems, by Alonso Zamora, on March 21, 2024:

*At the top left of the home page of this blog, there is a tiny seated figure (click to embiggen) with a sharp instrument held vertically in his right hand carving a glyph on a square block held in his left hand.  Emitting from his mouth is a blue, cloud-like puff.  Does that signify recognition the basis of what he is writing is speech?

"New Aztec Codices Discovered: The Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco"

They are beautiful:

Figure 1. Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco: a) Map of the Founding of San Andrés Tetepilco;
b) Inventory of the Church of San Andrés Tetepilco; c) Tira of San Andrés Tetepilco

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Hurrian hymn from Ugarit, Canaan in northern Syria, 1400 BC

"The Oldest (Known) Song of All Time"

Includes spectrograms of different reconstructions.

Although this YouTube was made three years ago, I am calling it to the attention of Language Log readers now that I know about it because it draws together many themes we have discussed in previous posts.

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Unknown language #15

Yuan (?) dynasty (1271-1368) jade seal in the Bristol Museum:

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World's largest inscribed stele: politics and polemics in Northeast Asia

About ten years ago, I stood next to this gigantic granite stele which is situated in the present-day city of Ji'an (coordinates of city center:  41°07′31″N 126°11′38″E) on the bank of the Yalu River in Jilin Province of Northeast China, directly across from North Korea:

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Unusual Sarada inscription

The following are photographs of a supposedly Śāradā / Sarada / Sharada inscription, sent to me by an anonymous correspondent:

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Inscription decipherment with digital image enhancement

John Bellezza, an archeologist and cultural historian whose work focuses on the pre-Buddhist heritage of Tibet and the Western Himalaya, and who has lived in high Asia for three decades, sent me the following two photographs of inscriptions that he took at Lake Gnam-mtsho, Tibet (TAR):

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An 8th-century Chinese epitaph written by a Japanese courtier

Here's news of a remarkable discovery:

"Ancient Chinese epitaph penned by Japanese found in China", THE ASAHI SHIMBUN (December 26, 2019 at 19:00 JST).

The article includes a photograph of a rubbing of the last line of the epitaph with the following kanji:


I can read that easily as Sino-Japanese "Nihonkoku chōshin Bi sho", which would mean "written by the Japanese courtier [Ki]bi".  The article says that the last line of the epitaph reads “Nihonkoku Ason Bi Sho", so it would appear that I am reading "朝臣" incorrectly as "chōshin" instead of as "ason".

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Sanskrit inscriptional evidence for Muslims in 12th-century Bengal

Herewith, I would like to call your attention to a new article by Ryosuke Furui (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo) titled "Sujanagar Stone Inscription of the Time of Bhojavarman, Year 7" in Pratna Samiksha, A Journal of Archaeology (Centre for Archaeological Studies & Training, Eastern India, Kolkata), New Series, Volume 10 (2019), 115-122.

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Pronoun reference is hard

But you'd expect someone in the advertising business to be more aware. Reader RR spotted this unfortunately ambiguous sign in a bus shelter in Milwaukee:

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Really weird sinographs, part 3

We've been looking at strange Chinese characters:

"Really weird sinographs" (5/10/18)

"Really weird sinographs, part 2" (5/11/18)

For a sinograph to be weird, it doesn't need to have 30, 40, 50, or more strokes.  In fact, characters with such large numbers of strokes might be quite normal and regular in terms of their construction.  What makes a character bizarre is when its parts are thrown together in unexpected ways.  On the other hand, characters with only a very small number of strokes might be quite odd.  Two of my favorites are the pair 孑孓, which are pronounced jiéjué in Modern Standard Mandarin and together mean "w(r)iggler; mosquito larva".

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Undeciphered inscriptions

In the 60s of the last century, six gold coins were unearthed at Jinshi, Hunan, China.  They are said by the local museum to be Indian coins struck by the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526).  The obverse apparently carries the title and name of the ruler while the reverse is thought to be written in a form of Arabic script.  So far no one has been able to read the inscriptions on the reverse.  The museum is offering a reward of 10,000 yuan (US$1,531.36) to anyone who can read the inscriptions.

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