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The “Linen Book of Zagreb”: The Longest Etruscan Text (wikipedia.org)
89 points by curtis on May 19, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments

My favorite science story about the Etruscan language is using statistics of dice to clarify the words for numbers.

Dice were popular in ancient Mediterranean cultures. The older number arrangement put usually 1 opposite 2; 3 opposite 4; 5 opposite 6. At some point it shifted to the more modern 1-6; 2-5; 3-4 arrangement.

Usually dice used dots or "pips" as today, but an example was found numbered with Etruscan words. Arguing from statistics of how dice were numbered, they convincingly identified the pairs of numbers. This resolves an ambiguity from other literary sources about the Etruscan words for 4 and 6.

[1] http://www.academia.edu/download/44616033/GAMBLING_WITH_ETRU...

Link is broken.

Sorry, it seems that link only works if the referrer is google scholar. The publisher (paywall) link is https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-4754.....

Gambling with etruscan dice: A tale of numbers and letters G Artioli, V Nociti, I Angelini Archaeometry 53 (5), 1031-1043, 2011 The graphical and linguistic interpretation of the first six Etruscan numerals has long been confronted with the ambiguous assignment of the words huth and sa to either 4 or 6. Here, we show how the systematic combinatorial analysis of the numerals appearing on ancient southern Etrurian dice dated from the eighth to the third centuries bc, together with the careful comparison of the results with the only two existing dice carrying the alphabetical translations of the numerals conserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, finally allows unambiguous mathematical resolution of the linguistic riddle, allowing the firm attribution of the numeral 6 to the graphical value huth and 4 to sa. Combinatorial analysis of the numerals distribution on the six faces of the die shows that only two of the 15 possible numerical combinations were actually in use in southern Etruria, and that during the fifth century bc there was a marked shift from the typical (1–2, 3–4, 5–6) combination used in the early seventh‐ to fifth‐century bc dice to the (1–6, 2–5, 3–4) combination used at later times and still largely adopted today. The largest body of archaeometric data on dice specimens from Etruria is presented, based on macroscopic examination, X‐ray diffraction, DRIFT spectroscopy and density measurements.

Recall that the Ptolemaic Kingdom was created out of the break-up of the Alexander the Great's empire. The Wikipedia article gives 320BC to 30BC. Its leaders were Macedonian Greeks. The Greeks had trading cities along the Italian Peninsula as far back as the 600 BC era, in part to trade with the Etruscans. It's not that difficult to conceive of this cloth(250BC,) being included in some trade shipment that ended up in Alexandria and then carried up the Nile to Thebes.

If only we have a Rosetta Stone of Etruscan and Minoan. Pre-Indo-European central Mediterranean will perhaps remain obscure for us forever...

Still, the fact that an Egyptian got buried in a recycled religious treatise of another people across the sea is quite interesting. Especially post-250BC is quite deep in Ptolemaic rule in Egypt and Roman conquest of Etruria.

There are the Pyrgi tablets, which contain a bilingual text in Etruscan and Phoenician (which is a close relative of Hebrew and Arabic, and so easily readable). The Emperor Claudius wrote an Etruscan-Latin dictionary, but that has been lost.

A propos of the Rosetta Stone, Ancient Egyptian also benefitted from having a direct descendent language (Coptic), spoken until a few hundred years ago and still used in Coptic churches. Etruscan has no modern descendants.

We do have a partial knowledge of Etruscan though, so it isn't quite a closed book the way Linear A (Minoan) is. See http://www.etruskisch.de/pgs/vc.htm

(1) Even according to Wikipedia: "The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, which was syncopated to Rasna or Raśna(...)"


(2) Again, even according to Wikipedia: "Rascians (Latin: Rasciani, Natio Rasciana; Serbian: Рашани / Rašani) was a common exonym for Serbs during the late medieval and the early modern period. It was used most frequently in the Kingdom of Hungary, and also in the Habsburg Monarchy. The term was derived from the Latinized name for the central Serbian region of Raška (Latin: Rascia; Serbian Cyrillic: Рашка). In medieval and early modern Western sources, exonym Rascia was often used as a designation for Serbian lands in general, and consequently the term Rasciani became one of the most common designations for Serbs.(...)"


(3) During WWII, Svetislav Bilbija was a secretary to an episkop of the Serbian Orthodox Church (equivalent to a bishop in RCC) in Italy where he has cracked the code of Etruscan because he had noticed the similarity of Etruscan letters and modern serbian cyrillic.

Ofcouse, connecting a culture that is precursor to the Roman culture (to which the modern West sees itself as a successor) with some (now) small peoples from the Balkans, peoples that have been put on a shame pole for the last 30 years, the Serbs - that is a big no, no. Which is why you'll find people who smear the work of Bilbija. But, some have a different opinion. For example, people at the Rand Corporation (yes, that US military contractor), or at least those on their mailing list:

“In a brillant piece of work rivalling that of Michael Ventris, Bilbija has deciphered the Etruscan Mummy Book.”


They refer to this book (which has a direct connection to The Mummy of Zagreb):


As an actual linguist, I can attest that the "Serbian and Etruscan are related!" theory that the poster above describes, is the purest pseudoscience, along the lines of "Aliens built the pyramids!" or "Aryan supermen come from Atlantis!"

The Serbian language is, as no reasonable person disputes, part of the Slavic language family, which in turn is descended from the same parent language as the other Indo-European languages, and therefore has nothing to do with Etruscan.

The history of the Cyrillic alphabet is pretty well understood – it was invented in the late 9th century, probably in Preslav, as a compromise that would resemble the Greek alphabet more closely than Glagolitic, the first alphabet that had been created for writing Old Church Slavonic. Consequently, Cyrillic and Etruscan script have nothing to do with each other.

He noticed the similarity between the Etruscan script and Serbian Cyrillic? As in, the Cyrillic developed in the 9th century AD? What a long bow to draw...

Also, just because Rascian sounds like Rasna doesn't mean anything - that's like saying that Jesus was clearly a sun god, because he was claimed to be the son of god, I mean come on, son/sun, it's right there man!

Look mate, as a fellow Slav from Slovenia I can assure you all our common ancestors stumbled here way too late to have anything to do with Etruscans.

And then there are also excellent arguments made in other comments.

You are right, but just to nitpick, linguistic ancestors don't always overlap with genetic ancestors. It could well be that your linguistic ones stumbled there late, whereas your genetic ones lived there for thousands and thousands of years longer. A handful of people can convince many to change language, genetic change is much slower. This is one reason why people in the region are genetically relatively similar, whether they speak slavic, germanic, finno-ugric, or latin languages.

For all these reasons, if etruscans once lived where you live now, it would actually be rather surprising if you had no connection whatsoever to them.

> if etruscans once lived where you live now

There is no evidence that Etruscans ever lived where the OP does now. All evidence we have about Etruscans points to a people living in the Mediterranean region, not further north in the Balkans. Note that although the article here is about a linen book in Zagreb, the Zagreb Museum was only the final resting place of an artifact created elsewhere; it does not mean that Etruscans had anything to do with the Balkans.

I see, you are right, but I was answering to a more general point made by OP, that if those who speak your language arrived late, you could still have a connection with those who lived there before.

Culture and genetics are not necessarily related. Unless they still happen to speak Etruscan, sharing a little DNA with ancient Etruscans doesn't make them "Etruscan".

Toponyms often survive after a new language fully replaces the language of a people.

BTW Serbia is not really "north" in the Balkans. But still, it's pretty far away: on the opposite side of the Adriatic see and of the entire Italian peninsula (etruria is on the tyrrhenian coast)

the Veneti (ancestors to modern Slavs) lived around Veneto while the Etruscans lived in Tuscany. Not that there was not a lot more mixing and migrating over the years, but still.

> the Veneti (ancestors to modern Slavs) lived around Veneto

This is inaccurate. The ancestors of the Slavs spring, according to the consensus view, from around where Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus meet. So, very far from Venice, let alone central Italy. We have attestations of the language that was actually spoken around the Venetic region[0], it is not Slavic. Why the early Slavs were often labeled with an ethnonym resembling Veneti is a complex affair[1], but it does not mean that the Slavs had any meaningful contact with central Italy.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venetic_language

[1] Michael Weiss, “Veneti or Venetes? Observations on a widespread Indo-European tribal name”, in: Farnah: Indo-Iranian and Indo-European Studies in Honor of Sasha Lubotsky. Ann Arbor: Beech Stave Press, 2018.

The digression linked above:


is really fun to read. It's about Voynich Manuscript, written by somebody in 1997.

Observing that as a work of fiction, of course.

Etruscan art is much livelier and more graceful than Roman art. Well worth a quick search, or much better, a museum visit.

I think AIs will be good at deciphering things like this. They can wear a text like this as a pair of glasses and wander a virtual Earth, read other texts, time travel, and wait millions of man-years for a single affordance.

The same work an amateur anthropologist does, but with more patience and better scrapbooking skills, basically.

Although by the time AIs exist that can do this, amateur anthropologists will have much better digital tools as well.

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