The «Issyk Script»

Mukhtarova Gulmira

The State Historical and Cultural Reserve-Museum «ISSYK» Kazakhstan
The «Issyk Script»
The earliest written records are known to the modern world due to the work of archaeologists. As a result of archaeological excavations, clay tablets from West Asia, papyri from Egypt, manuscripts on ox hides (parchment) relating to the turn of the new era, turned to be in the hands of scientists. It is because of those great archaeological findings that the history of ancient civilizations was recreated.


The availability of written records makes a lot of the past clearer to the historian. However, they do raise quite a few tough questions. Many ancient monuments were written not just in the «dead» languages, but in the languages totally unknown to the modern world. After the discovery of an ancient script monument by an archaeologist, there comes a turn for the «reader-decoder”. Decoding of unknown writing systems has long been an important direction for linguists. One such non-decoded inscription is the «Issyk script». The reason for the script to be named as such is because of the place of its discovery. In 1970, near the town of Issyk, in the burial mound of the young Saki leader, the so-called » Golden Man», along with other items, was discovered a silver cup with the inscription consisting of 26 characters, outwardly resembling the Orkhon-Yenisey script (according to another hypothesis — Kharosthi script). The Cup dates back to V century BC. The inscription is carved with a sharp object on the outside of the silver cup. Mainly with respect to this inscription, scientists for the first time have used the provisional name «Issyk script».
Kazakh scientist and thinker Olzhas Suleimenov /1/ was the first to introduce the name to science. Also to him belongs the priority of the first decoding of the inscription on the basis of the ancient Turkic runic alphabet. His proposed reading of the inscription was: «Son of Khan in twenty-three (died), name and fame of people ran out.»
“Issyk script” is currently represented in numerous inscriptions: on fragments of pottery and stone from southern Uzbekistan, southern Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan, which date back to circa I — VI centuries AD.
Some scientists attempt to read the inscriptions on the principles of Turkic runic script, and thus prove the existence of the Turkic-speaking components in the ancient history of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Other scientists, mainly Iranists, do not recognize their point of view. The most important proof for opponents of Turkicness of the Issyk scripture is the allegation that the Turkish-runic script has appeared in the VII — VIII centuries.
Russian scientist G.G.Kotovа/2/ in his article «Silver bowl of Issyk barrow» has tried to prove that the silver cup from the Issyk barrow is a monument of the Scythian (Saki) language, which is a part of the Indo-European family of languages​. Also, the author analyzes and criticizes the article of I.S.Kuznetsov, who believes that the inscription is written in Russian, and proposes the idea that three thousand years ago Semirechien Sakas (Scythian people) spoke Russian language, and the work of V.A.Chudinova, who believes that the text consisted characters of “runica” and “protokirillitsy”. Consequently, Kotov gives his own deciphering which states «God is grieving and misses the dead Aksahane.»
At various times, attempts were made to read the inscriptions on the principles of Turkic-runic script, with hopes to prove the existence of the Turkic-speaking components in the ancient history of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Other scientists, mainly Iranists, do not recognize their point of view. For example, I.M. Deacons, V.A. Livshits, S.G. Klyashtorny, recognize the external similarity of some signs of “Issyk script” with characters of Turkic-runic alphabet, but they disbelieve that the origin of the script is of Turkic-runic language. They think that this letter should be linked with the Iranian tribes of Central Asia, and most Iranian scholars support their point of view. The most important proof for opponents of the idea that “Issyk Script” was written in Turkic-runic language is the allegation that the Turkic-runic script has started in the VII — VIII centuries.
At his time K.Akishev/3/, in his article «The Mystery of the Issyk letter», cited the following versions of decoding: G. Musabaeva: «Honestly hold high the banner of a father. Be a worthy ruler. Your horses, your soldiers will bring you fame. Stay healthy»; A. Mahmudova:» Dishes are honorable, peeled barley will multiply your edibles, grains (food) will flow as stream «; A.Amanzholova: «Elder Brother, it is home! (Hey stranger), get on your knees! (let there be) food for a generation «/4/; A. Kerimkulov:» Farewell, tigrahauda, eat this oil, now hunger»; T. Suleimenova:» The ruler Ashan, you took the people. There are three thousand one hundred thirty-one of them. Warriors of the two heroes of the thirty-two clans on six ash stay in hundred banners»; R. Tarasenko,» Friend! Is it clear, that on that day we drank too much.” In the next two versions the bases of decoding are not indicated, I suppose, that they are made based on ​​a dialect of Eastern Iranian language: I.Kuznetsova (Krasnodar) “The gods favor war master Peshuru, who protecting our kind, is calm»; A. Gandaburova (Kirovograd region) «Albanian zones of sudden invasions: Urartu, Elam, Media, Aria, the Saxons».
There are also options for decoding by A. Abilasan and O. Bekzhanubiri. They are made in the ancient language, and their accurate translation into modern Kazakh, and even more so into Russian languages extremely difficult. So we cannot give here the texts of the options.
Out of all available decryptions, K.Akishev gives preference to the famous Hungarian linguist Professor Janos Harmatta /5/, who read the inscription on the basis of the modified Persian-Aramaic alphabet, in linguistic science called Kharoshthi: «The cup should contain grape wine, cooked foods were added, / let it/ increase for a mortal, then prepared fresh oil is added «.
After the publication of K. Akishev’s article, scholars forgot about the «Issyk script» for several decades. However in recent years, scientists at times refer back to this issue. For example, scientists from Uzbekistan N.Rahmonov and B.Matboboev in their article «Issyk script», concluded that the inscription is an archaic variant of runic letters and has a clear phonetic character,
and made the following decryption «Azuq, ochuq at atsar, ash azaq, Utashta qan asu» — «If the food and home are far, a friend will stay at the bottom, Utashta Khan will be the master.»
A historian from Armenia Edward Khurshudian /6/ made ​​an attempt to read some of the words in the inscription in the Iranian language and gave their interpretation in his article «The Inscription on the Cup from Issyk Kurgan”. In particular, he attempted a clarification of the origin of the word «cup» to prove the Iranian origins of the Issyk’s cup and the inscription.
Hence, the problem of decoding the inscriptions remains open. We hope that in the future, scientists will come to an agreement about the interpretation of the inscription. The most important thing — is the very existence of the scripture, which has allowed reshaping the traditional view of the absence of alphabetic script among early Asian nomads and gives a good reason for further research.
The State Historical and Cultural Reserve-Museum «Issyk», which was opened in 2010 in the «Valley of the Kings» where the «Golden Man» – the Saki leader was found, has a copy of the above-mentioned “silver cup” with the inscription. The original historical founding is kept in the Museum of Gold and Precious Metals (in Astana). Personnel of the Museum-Reserve consider it their duty to draw attention from the public and scientists to the unique monument of writing, which is «half-forgotten» in recent years. To do that, they use different methods — research, education, scholarships, and publishing. This includes conducting lectures, seminars, exhibitions on a subject, master classes and more. In terms of cultural and educational programs it is the «reason» for the museum activities associated with the significance of the invention of writing in the history of mankind, people; with the value of written records in the knowledge of the history, etc.
Presentation of written monument in the museum exhibition and its interpretation by museum means — is one significant problem that relates to written records, and their preservation and actualization in today’s world of new technologies. Our experience shows — even unknown, non-decoced written (or maybe exactly they to a larger extent) attract the interest of visitors. Such monuments provide a kind of field for independent work in the exhibition space for the museum visitor. And that is always attractive – a chance to play a game as a real researcher, and try to lift the curtain of mystery. At the same time it is a kind (and perhaps possible?) way to unravel the code of and read the inscription. For example, when visitors from Israel found out that there is a version of ancient-armenian classification of the “Issyk script”, tried to read it and found their own letters. Such discoveries ultimately reinforce the achievement of museum’s mission — a formation of a culture and historical knowledge, assist in self-identification in space and time of the citizens and visitors of Kazakhstan through research, storage and presentation of archaeological historical — cultural heritage.
Thus, we hope to make our feasible contribution to unraveling one of the great monuments of writing. We hope that our contribution in the field of popularization of written monuments as material evidence of the past is headed in the right and reasonable direction. In an exposition of the museum -reserve there is a copy of the relief of Achaemenidian palace at Persepolis (V century BC) with images of Saki. As known, the earliest information on the nomads of Central Asia and Kazakhstan are in the Persian cuneiform inscriptions. The Persians called it with the common name of Saki. As we know from the history, as a result of campaigns of Darius, in the first half of the IV century and until the end of the V century, a part of the Saki became the part of the Achaemenidian association. Under the rule of the Achaemenid, Saki, besides paying tribute, had to take part in the campaigns of the Persian kings, exposing both cavalry and infantry. Numerous motives, episodes and stories of folk literature of the ancient people of Kazakhstan have been preserved in the «Avesta «, in the later literature of the Eastern peoples, such as the «Shah — Nameh», and finally, to this day portrayed in the folklore of the people of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. In describing the preparation of a journey to the East Cyrus Xenophon mentions the Saki as allies of Cyrus./7/
This is a single case among museums of Kazakhstan that concerns the topic of «written monuments» proving the deep historical ties between the friendly countries of Kazakhstan and Iran.
On 26th July 2013, the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan held an exhibition «Days of the Holy Quran», with participation of the Cultural Mission of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Republic of Kazakhstan on the occasion of the holy month of «Ramadan «. The aim of the exhibition was to popularize Quranic knowledge and the art of calligraphy. The exhibition featured about 70 works of Iranian artists, reflecting the Islamic culture and arts, in particular the works of calligraphers with their compositions of Islamic patterns and inscriptions from the Holy Quran.
In recent years there is a growing idea among researchers, who believe that «animal like style» culture of Saki was formed under the influence of the art of the Achaemenidian Iran and Bactria. We hope that these and other studies of historical relations between the two countries will initiate new cultural connections, new joint projects in the fields of science, art and culture of Kazakhstan and Iran, which in turn will be reflected in expositions of museums.

Work Sited

1.Олжас Сулейменов. Иссыкское письмо.//Комосольская правда. 1970. 31 октября.
( Olzhas Suleimenov. Issyk Letter. / / Komosolskaya pravda. 31/10/1970)
2. Г.Г. Котова, Серебряная чаша из кургана Иссык // «Академия Тринитаризма», М., Эл № 77-6567, публ.17663, 21.09.2012
(G.G. Kotova, silver bowl of Issyk barrow / / «Academy Trinitarizm», M., Al № 77-6567, publ.17663, 21.09.2012).
3. Акишев К. А. Иссыкское письмо и руническая письменность. — «Древнетюркская цивилизация: памятники письменности». (Материалы международной научно-теоретической конференции, посвященной 10-летию независимости Республики Казахстан, г. Астана, 18—19 мая 2001 г.). Алматы, 200İ, с. 389—395.
(Akishev K.A. Issyk letter and runic writing. — «Ancient Civilization: written records.» (Proceedings of the International scientific-theoretical conference on the 10th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana, 18-19 May 2001). Almaty, 200İ, p. 389-395.)
4. Аманжолов А.С. Руноподобная надпись из сакского захоронения близ Алма-Аты. «Вестник АН КазССР», 1971, No 12 (320), с. 64-66
( Amanzholov A.S. Runic-like inscription of Saka burial near Alma-Ata. «Journal of the Academy of Sciences of the Kazakh SSR», 1971, No 12 (320), p. 64-66)
5.Harmatta, Janos. History of Civilization of Central Asia. Volume 2, Motilal
Banarsidass (1999), ISBN 8120814088, p. 421. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Issyk_kurgan#The_Issyk_inscription)
6. Э.Хуршудян. Надпись на чаще из Иссыкского кургана. / Иран Наме. 2011. №4(20). С.95
(E.Hurshudyan. The inscription on most of Issyk barrow. / Iran Nam. , 2011. Number 4 (20). P.95)
7. Ксенофонт. Киропедия. Изд. Подготовили В.Г.Борухович и Э.Д.Фролов. Москва, 1976.Т.VII.C.25.
(Xenophon. Cyropaedia. Ed. Prepared V.G.Boruhovich and E.D.Frolov. Moscow, 1976.T.VII.C.25.)

http://www.lostlanguages.com/saka.htm
http://public.kubsu.ru/~usr02898/sl6.htm
Issyk Scythian Inscription

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