The Decipherment of Meroitic
I have deciphered Meroitic based on the most logical path to the decipherment of any dead language. Maurice Pope (1975), made it clear that before a dead language can be deciphered you must have the right theoretical structure to base your inquiry upon it (p. 191). There were three preliminary conditions that must be met before any decipherment: (1) confidence that a script can be deciphered; (2) location of proper names must be determined; (3) the grammatical rules of the target language must be known.
Conditions #1 and #2 were met by Griffith when he deciphered the Meroitic script in 1910, and his discovery of the proper names of the Meroitic gods and individuals in the Meroitic text. Griffith also discovered the directions in which the Meroitic writing was written. The recognition for the solubility of Meroitic was reinforced by the publication of it because it provided up-to-date material on Meroitic and the idea of using the comparative method to decipher Meroitic.
Condition #3 was met in 1978 when Hintze published his work. This allowed me to test other languages similar to Meroitic to find the cognate language.
As I mentioned in the first posting, I searched for a cognate language in the areas where Ural-Altaic was spoken. But I never said it was related to this group. I did find that Meroitic was related to the Tokharian/Kushana language, which is classed in the Indo-European family.
I chose Kushana for two reasons. Firstly, Philostratus in [?], claimed that the Gymnosophists of Kush, who settled along the Nile, descended from the Brahmins of India, having been forced to migrate after the murder of their King. This passage pointed to the Kushana, who left China in 176 B.C., after the murder of their king. Because both of these groups called themselves Kushana, it suggested that they may be related, given the Classical tradition for a migration of "Indians" to Kush. Moreover, C.B. Rawlinson, in "Notes on the early History of Babylonia," 15, pp. 221-222, discussed the Kushites of Asia and Africa.
Using the evidence of classical traditions pointing to the Kushana as possible settlers of Meroë gave me the confidence to compare Kushana to Meroitic. This comparison proved fruitful.
In addition to the classical mention of the Indians settling Meroë, we also have a horde of Kushana coins that were found on the floor of a cave at the present monastery-shine at Debra Demo in modern Ethiopia in 1940. All of this supported a knowledge of the Kushana among the Meroites.
Again, I welcome the challenge to prove my decipherement. Send me a mailing address, and I will provide you with a fuller version of my paper and vocabulary so that you may test the decipherment.
Meroitic is not related to languages spoken in this area. Griffith and Haycock tried to read Meroitic using Nubian and failed. K.H. Priese tried to read the Meroitic text using Eastern Sudani; he also failed.
The key to understanding the use of Kushana/Tokharian to write Meroitic depended on the multi-lingual/ethnic character of the Kushana language. Although this language is considered Indo-European, I believe that it was used as a trade language in Central Asia to give the people of the region a common medium of exchange.
There the Meroitic empire was made up of many groups: the Kusa/Kushites, Nobae, Blemmyans, Medes, and Reherahas according to Hakem and Millet(1). I believe that the Meroites recognized the possibility of using this trade language in Meroitic Kush to unite the diverse people living in the region because it was not of Egyptian origin.
There is disturbing linguistic evidence that hinders the proper placement of Kushana/Tokharian in the I-E family. This results from the fact that it is more closely related to the western branch of I-E, than Indo-Iranian its closest neighbor. The Tokharian isoglosses in I-E are ranked as follows: (1) Germanic, (2) Greek, (3) Indic, (4) Baltic, and (5) Iranian(2). The Tokharian lexicon has also been influenced by Tibetan, Chinese, and Uighur. This is suggestive that Tokharian was a trade language and that Greek and Slavic words came into the "lingua franca" after the Greek conquest of Bactria. The borrowing pattern in Tokharian is consistent with the spread of the Greek language by a small politically dominant minority of Greek settlers into a far larger and previously long-established non–I-E speaking majority.
Below are a few decipherments of Meroitic offering tables. I know that these texts will be unacceptable to some researchers because of the presence of a series of common formulas found within them and new interpretations of specific Meroitic words. I disagree with this view because of the fact that the translation of these formulas is not the same as those given by Griffith or Hintze. They are different translations because these fine scholars did not know the authentic language of the Meroites, so when they gave many selected Meroitic words, they were just guessing as to their actual meaning.
Some of the offering tables I will discuss in this posting are about Blekewiteke, the "pedeme," or high priestess, of Karanog. These inscriptions come from Karanog (see F.L. Griffith, Philadelphia, 1911) and Aniba (see Mohammed Bakr, "Meroitische Inschriften aus der Umgebung von Aniba," [journal?] 14 (1966), pp. 336-346). All of these inscriptions are written in Late Meroitic.
The Meroitic inscriptions are read from right to left. In reading these inscriptions I have discovered that the so-called word divider sign (:) should be read as "ne." The term /ne/ in Meroitic was used to form nouns and also should be read as ‘good’.
The Aniba Offering Table
Woshi-ne Shore i-ne. Yepn^ye qo wi-ne.
Isis the good. Osiris the eternal. Yepan^aye to live forever
Ble[ke]witeke ne ted khe lo wi. Aq
Ble[ke]witeke good the donation spirit body offering honor. Replenish
el o khr ne . teri ke lo wi
gift open dignity good. custom revitalize offering honor
[ w o m ni s-ne] kr o
[guide open measure shining new vivification] dignity opens
ro lo wi-ne. bel ol o kene
withdrawal offering Object of Respect. praise grand open(ing) revitalization
Npte lo wi[ne] pqr l-ne yet
Napata offering Object of Respect crown prince living is capable
mde lo wi-ne sha mlo l-ne
opening with force offering Object of Respect patron innerheart living
de kte lo wi-ne peshto l-ne yet
donation begins dispatch Object of Respect. Peshto living is capable
mde lo wi-ne mlo wi
opening with force offering Object of Respect innerheart honor
ne ml[o mr] to wi-ne atom
good innerheart [lucky] ignites Object of Respect s/he to be (re)born
h_ene p shi h_ tene At -m
to realize prayer satisfying grand rebirth. down the path she
h_ene psh khr k tene
to realize guard/protect(ion) dignity give permission rebirth
kha mlo l-ne h_o lk tene ns
Great innerheart living soul to behold rebirth. mistress
do ke. l-ne d ol ene i
to lead act living donation grand generosity her
do ted i kte ne Woshi ne
to lead the donation go begin Good Isis good.
" (Oh) Isis the good (and) Osiris the eternal. Yepan^aye (is) to live forever. The Good Blekewiteke (gives) the donation (of) the spirit body offering honor. Replenish (Yepan^aye’s) gift (of the spirit body, or Kha) to open (up) good and dignity. Revitalize (as is) the custom the offering of honor [to guide and open (up for him) a measure (of the) shining new vivification]. Dignity opens (up the) withdrawal (of the) offering (of this) Object of Respect (i.e., Yepan^aye). Praise the grand open(ing) (of the) revitalization of (the city of) Napata (by) the offering (of this ) Object of Respect. The living crown prince is capable of opening with force the (power of this) Object of Respect. The patron’s innerheart exist(/living). The donation begins the dispatch (of) the Object of Respect (on his journey to paradise). The Peshto exists (and) is capable of opening with force (the power of the) offering (of the) Object of Respect. The innerheart offering (is) honor and good. The [lucky] innerheart ignites honor (and) good. She (Yepan^aye) is to be (re)born to realize (a) prayer for (a) satisfying and grand rebirth . She go(es) down the path to realize protect(ion) and dignity. Give permission (for) the rebirth. The great living innerheart (and) the soul to behold the rebirth. The Mistress (Isis/Blekewiteke??) [is] to lead (this) act. The vital(/living) grand donation (and) her generosity [is] to lead the donation. Go (offering) to begin good (with) Isis the good."
In altar #90 from Karanog we find the following text.
[W]oshi ne Shore yine . Aqmks qo wi-ne.
Isis the good, Osiris the eternal. Aqamakasa to live forever.
Blekewiteke ne ted kha lo wi-ne
Blekewiteke good donates Kha offering Object of Respect
qe lo mr.... teri ke lo wi-ne
make offering lucky...custom revitalize offering Object of Respect
Pe s kha ene yet mde
vouchsafe patron Kha donation is capable opening with force
lo wi-ne. a tep de
offering Object of Respect. he announces in a lofty voice donation
q-ne s mlo wi-ne. Ato
to produce ascent innerheart Object of Respect. down the path
ne mh_ ene p shi -m tene
good great teacher/almsgiving solicit atonement much rebirth.
at ne mh_ ene p shi
down the path good great teacher/almsgiving prays satisfying
dignity origination/ begin(ning).
"Isis the good, (and) Osiris the eternal. Aqamakasa to live forever. Good Blekewiteke donates the Kha offering (of this) Object of Respect. Make the offering lucky....revitalize (as is the) custom (this) offering (of the) Object of Respect. S/he announce(s) in a lofty voice (that) the donations (are) to produce the ascent of the innerheart of (this) Object of Respect (to a higher plane). Down the good path the great Teacher solicits much atonement and rebirth. Down the good path the Great teacher prays (also) (for a) satisfying originat(ion) (of) dignity".
Karanog altar #33
Woshi Shore yi-ne tbiye qo wi-ne
(1) Isis Osiris the eternal . Tabiye to live forever
(2) Isis Osiris the eternal. Tabiye renew Object of Respect.
ato ne sh h_ el p sho
down the path good patron grand gift prays life
h tene al neh_ h_ ene p
great rebirth. noble passed away great Teacher prays
sh kha r -a tene . b ml ol
patron Kha indeed will be reborn Ba innerheart grand
qo e ate s
restore give down the path patron.
" Isis and Osiris the eternal. Tabiye to live forever. Down the good path the patron’'s grand gift prays (for a new) life (and) a great rebirth. The noble (has) passed away. The great teacher prays (that) the patron’s Kha will indeed be reborn. Give restorat(ion) of the Ba (and the) grand innerheart down the path (of righteousness for) the patron."
Karanog altar #46
Woshi Shore yi-ne. Yidetbelile qo wi-ne
Isis (and) Osiris the eternal. Yidetabelile renew Object of Respect.
b e lo lo kene . amni to
Ba give offering dispatch revitalization . Amani ignites
wi ne kha mlo ene h_ol kete
honor good Kha innerheart almsgiving soul to rise (again)
Isis and Osiris the eternal. Renew Yidetabelile (the) Object of Respect. Give the Ba offering dispatch to revitalization. Amani ignites honor and good (for) the Kha and the innerheart almsgiving. The soul to rise (again).
Mohammed Bakr also published the Shinesri stela of Aniba.
Woshi ne Shore yi-ne Shinesri m
Isis the good, Osiris the eternal. Shinesara go(es) to measure
r ek e to wi
indeed libation give ignite/arousal honor
"(Oh) Isis the good, Osiris the eternal, Shinesara go(es) to measure indeed the libation and give arousal to honor".
I hope that the decipherment of these offering tables can provide you with more insight into my decipherment. I understand that these translations are tentative and that in the future other researchers may elaborate on these translations, just as I have expanded on the decipherment of Griffith.
C.A. Winters. (1984). "A note on Tokharian and Meroitic", Meroitic Newsletter, 23, 18-21.
__________. (1989). "Cheikh Anta Diop et le déchiffrement de l’écriture Méroïtique,"Revue
Martiniguaise de Sciences Humaines et de Litterature, No. 8, 149-152.
_________.(1998a). Meroitic Funerary text: Temple architecture and mortuary practices,
InScription: Journal of Ancient Egypt,1 (1), 29-33.
_________.(1998a). Meroitic Funerary text: Stelae and funerary tables, InScription: Journal of Ancient Egypt,1 (2), 41-55.
___________ (1998c). The inscriptions of Tanyidamani. Nubica et Ethiopica IV \ V, 355-388.
1. N.B. Millet, 1974. "Writing and Literacy in the ancient Sudan". In (p. 50) (ed.) by A.M. Abdulla; Hakem, A.M.A. 1984. "Napatan-Meroitic continuity," [journal name?] 19, [year?] pp. 875-883.
2. A.J.van Windekens, 1976.
I would like to thank Mr. Carl Masthay for his suggestions in changing the original text.
Revised: August 2001
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