Films against Mussolini’s, French, colonialism

This video is the trailer of the over 2 hour long film Lion of the Desert, about the Libyans fighting Mussolini’s fascist colonialist troops, commanded by Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, after the First World War.

The trailer of the film The Battle of Algiers, about Algerians fighting French colonialists, is here, below.

Hat tip: Lenin’s Tomb blog.

Etruscan, Meroitic … still illegible

This is a video about ancient Etruscan civilisation.

From New Scientist:

Decoding antiquity: Eight scripts that still can’t be read

* 27 May 2009 by Andrew Robinson

WRITING is one of the greatest inventions in human history. Perhaps the greatest, since it made history possible. Without writing, there could be no accumulation of knowledge, no historical record, no science – and of course no books, newspapers or internet.

The first true writing we know of is Sumerian cuneiform – consisting mainly of wedge-shaped impressions on clay tablets – which was used more than 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Soon afterwards writing appeared in Egypt, and much later in Europe, China and Central America. Civilisations have invented hundreds of different writing systems. Some, such as the one you are reading now, have remained in use, but most have fallen into disuse.

These dead scripts tantalise us. We can see that they are writing, but what do they say? …

1 Etruscan
Greek and not Greek

(known script, unknown language)

For those interested in language and writing, the Etruscans are a fascinating and frustrating bunch. Decipherment of the Etruscan language is like trying to learn English from reading nothing but gravestones. The Etruscan script was written in a form of the ancient Greek alphabet, but their language was unlike any other. So although Etruscan sentences can easily be “read”, nobody has much idea what they mean, apart from the names of people and places, and a smattering of vocabulary and standard phrases. …

2 Meroitic hieroglyphs

voices of the black pharaohs

(known script, unknown language)

In the first millennium BC, the kingdom of Kush flourished around the two great bends of the river Nile between Abu Simbel and Khartoum, in what is now Sudan. The Kushite (or Meroitic, after the capital Meroe) civilisation was one of the most important early states of sub-Saharan Africa.

In 712 BC, Kushite kings conquered Egypt and were accepted as its 25th dynasty. The “black pharaohs” ruled for nearly 70 years until war with the Assyrians forced the Kushites back to their homeland in 656 BC.

The Meroitic hieroglyphs (see image) date from after this defeat: the Kushite pharaohs used Egyptian hieroglyphs, but from the 3rd century BC these increasingly appeared alongside a new, indigenous script. As in Egypt (for example, on the Rosetta Stone), there are two forms of this script: hieroglyphic, which was used on monuments and had essentially pictographic signs, and everyday cursive, or joined-up, writing.

There are 23 symbols in each form of Meroitic. In that respect it resembles a modern alphabet – unlike Egyptian hieroglyphics, which use hundreds of symbols. Around 1911, Francis Llewellyn Griffith, an Egyptologist at the University of Oxford, deciphered the phonetic values of both Meroitic scripts from inscriptions that record a text in Meroitic and Egyptian scripts.

Meroitic words can therefore be “read”, like Etruscan words. Frustratingly, however, they cannot be understood, because the Meroitic language is unknown. Proper names can be deciphered, and a few dozen other words, such as tenke (west) and ato (water), can be guessed from their contexts, but that is all.

Griffith always believed that Meroitic would eventually be deciphered. But despite decades of comparisons between Meroitic words and the ancient and modern African languages of the region, no convincing resemblance has yet been detected.

3 The New World

Olmec, Zapotec and Isthmian

(Olmec: unknown script, unknown language
Zapotec: unknown script, possibly known language
Isthmian: unknown script, possibly known language) …

4 Linear A
a Minoan mystery

(partially known script, unknown language)

In 1900, British archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered not one but two unknown scripts, both scratched on clay tablets, while digging at the “Palace of Minos” at Knossos in Crete – the centre of the Bronze-Age Minoan civilisation.

One of these, Linear B, was famously deciphered in 1952, making it Europe’s earliest readable writing (see “The great decipherments“). The other, Linear A, remains undeciphered.

Linear B dates from around 1450 BC. It is an archaic form of written Greek used by Greek-speakers who conquered parts of Crete around that time. Linear A is older, from the 18th century BC. It is the script of the Minoan civilisation, and the only solid link we have to the lost Minoan language.

Unfortunately for decipherers, we have much less Linear A than Linear B – around 1500 texts, mostly from Crete but also from other Aegean islands, mainland Greece, Turkey and Israel. The majority of the inscriptions are short or damaged. …

5 Rongo-rongo

the chant of Easter Island

(unknown script, probably known language)

Easter Island is a place of intrigue and mystery, and its indigenous script rongo-rongo is no exception.

Rongo-rongo (see image) means “chants” in Rapanui, the language of Easter Island. Although the language of rongo-rongo is probably similar to Rapanui, the script is complex and baffling. There are only 25 inscriptions, some quite long, and all written on driftwood.

Its age is puzzling. Local legend has it that the writing was brought to the island by boat when Easter Island was settled from Polynesia; the date is unknown, but could have been as early as AD 300. …

6 Indus script
sign of the unicorn

(unknown script, possibly known language)

The remains of the Indus valley civilisation cover an area of Pakistan and north-west India about a quarter the size of Europe. At its peak, between 2500 and 1900 BC, its major cities were comparable with those of contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The exquisitely carved script of this civilisation is known from about 5000 inscriptions, many of them on stones found scattered in the houses and streets of its ruined cities. A frequent motif on the seals is a one-horned quadruped like a unicorn (a creature, legend has it, from India) (see image). The texts are tantalisingly brief. …

7 Proto-Elamite

oldest undeciphered writing

(partially known script, unknown language)

Proto-Elamite is the world’s oldest undeciphered script – assuming that it really is a fully developed writing system, which is by no means certain. It was used for perhaps 150 years from around 3050 BC in Elam, the biblical name for an area that corresponds roughly to today’s oilfields of western Iran. It is almost as old as the oldest writing of all, the earliest cuneiform from Mesopotamia. Little is known about the people who wrote the script. …

8 Phaistos disc

oldest printing, or hoax?

(unknown script, unknown language)

The notoriously solitary Phaistos disc from Crete appears to be the world’s oldest “printed” document. The disc, about 15 centimetres in diameter, occupies pride of place at the Heraklion Museum in Crete. Some say it should not be regarded as an undeciphered script because it is in fact a hoax – the Piltdown Man of ancient writing.

Computers Unlock More Secrets Of The Mysterious Indus Valley Script: here.

Statistics could help decode ancient scripts: here.