Talk:Ancient inscriptions in Somalia

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Somali ancient script[edit]

On the Somali ancient script and sites where and artifacts on which it has been found (from an official publication on Somali writing systems by the Ministry of Information and National Guidance of Somalia [1]):

An important point which is often lost sight of is that the ancient Somalis had evolved their own script systems which existed for a considerable period in their history. Convincing historical evidence in this respect is the numerous inscriptions and rockpaintings on cave-walls, on granite rocks, old coins etc., that are found to this day in various parts of the country. Some important sites where ancient inscriptions on cave-walls exist are reported as follows:

1. Godka Xararka in Las Anod District. 2. Qubiyaaley in Las Anod District. 3. Hilayo in Las Khoray District. 4. Karin Heeggane in Las Khoray District. 5. Dhalanle in Las Khoray District.

The most noteworthy of these inscriptions are undoub- edly those found on the mysterious «Taalo Tiiriyaad». These are huge stone mounds which are dotted about in northeastern Somalia and are a veritable archaeological riddle, since it is hard to tell when and for what purpose they were constructed. Noteworthy Taalo sites are in places such as:

1. Baar Madhere in Beledweyne District. 2. Xabaalo Ambiyad in Alula District. 3. Harti Yimid in Las Anod District.

Yet, these strange edifices must have had a definite purpose. Local opinion holds that they used to serve as altars or as sorts of religious monuments in the era when nature-worship was practised in the Land; still others consider that the Taalos mark ancient graveyards in which were buried important personages — chieftains, rulers, etc. together with their personal effects. In any case, these mute sentinels could, no doubt, tell much about the country's cultural and historical past and give us a glimpse into the life-story of by-gone ages. Although it is difficult to determine what caused the ancient Somalian system of writing to disappear altogether and how long it flourished, etc., there is no doubt that the encroachment of foreign cultures had greatly contributed to its final decline and disappearance. An interesting point, however, is that this script system was apparently based on vowel sound, not a Word-Picture writing as in ancient Egypt. As generations succeeded one another and people acquired better technical and scientific knowledge there were constant reforms and improvements called forth by the new social conditions of the age. This process might have been repeated over and over again in subsequent periods in the history of the land, until the very old forms of Somalian script finally died out and were completely forgotten by later generations.

Middayexpress (talk) 14:09, 27 October 2013 (UTC)

All we have are general encyclopedias from over a hundred years ago, and unsubstantiated claims by the propaganda ministry? Where's the evidence that it's actually writing, or that the language was actually Somali? How old are the inscriptions? The coins, at least, should be datable.
I've asked for help from the writing-system project. It would be pretty pathetic if we can say nothing intelligent about this. — kwami (talk) 16:18, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
The above is actually from Somalia's erstwhile Ministry of Information and National Guidance. The script is actual writing, and is believed to be an older orthography for Somali. In a 1974 interview with Afriscope magazine, former President of Somalia Siad Barre explained that his administration's adoption of the Latin script over other writing systems, including the ancient Somali script, was inspired by practical considerations:

We find the Roman alphabet more convenient. It is also international. Most of [the] intellectuals and literate citizens are used to it, and our imported equipment [is] described in [the] Roman alphabet. Technically, we find its use more viable [than] any other script. For instance, we have an ancient Somali script which, if we were to get emotional, we would have adopted, but we did not, because we believe in reality. As a free people, we met without the so-called foreign experts, asked ourselves which script would best serve our modern needs, and decided on [the] Roman alphabet. As you know, the use of this new alphabet is now a national fact.[1]

A number of the structures on which examples of the inscriptions have been found have also been dated. According to the East African Handbook, they are estimated to be around 2,500 years old, so they date from just before the Common Era [2]:

Between Las Koray and Elayo is Karinhegane where there are rock paintings of animals, and also some fascinating paintings of animals that are either extinct or are mythical. There are inscriptions beneath each painting, none of which has been deciphered, and it has been suggested these are 2,500 years old. About 5 km away, further into the mountains is another site, Hilayo, with similar paintings and inscriptions.

I've noted the above. Good idea on the writing-system project, btw. Middayexpress (talk) 17:32, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
What exactly is "bullshit" about the above [3], pray tell? Middayexpress (talk) 17:39, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
Siad Barre is not an authority on ancient scripts, so what he said is irrelevant. If the script were 2,500 years old, it would be famous: that's a thousand years before Geez. Only Egyptian is older in Africa. It certainly couldn't be an alphabet, like you claim. And it's implausible that inscriptions from 1,500 BCE would be the same alphabet as coins from -- when, exactly?
A ministry of information and guidance is in charge of propaganda. They are completely unacceptable as a source. A review of missionaries from 1900 and an encyclopedia entry from 1878 are also unacceptable, especially since they do not support the claims made in this article. So, given our lack of sources, we don't even know if there is an ancient script from the region, but let's suppose there is. How old are it? Was there more than one? Have they been deciphered? Which languages are they in? If they're from Axum or Punt they're most likely not in Somali, which isn't that old. They could be Sabean, or who knows what – there's been a lot of trade in the region. I'm not picking on Somalia: I've also deleted a lot of bullshit written about the Old European script by people claiming that Europeans invented writing, and have repeatedly moved the article from that POV name, and have also deleted nonsense about the Chinese inventing writing 10,000 years ago. We need an actual source making verifiable claims, or this article should simply be deleted. And before we call it a Somali script, we need RS's not only that it exists, but that it's been deciphered and that the language is Somali. — kwami (talk) 18:16, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
J.M. Hildebrandt's testimony is the first account in English on the inscriptions, which he indicates are in actual characters. The Ministry indicates the same thing in the quoted material above. Note in particular its assertion that "this script system was apparently based on vowel sound, not a Word-Picture writing as in ancient Egypt". Per all of the people who have actually seen and described the script, its inscriptions aren't in Sabaean or any other known writing system. It hasn't been deciphered yet, but it is believed to be an ancient Somali script. This is mainly because the stone structures (taalo) and other cultural artifacts that the script has been found on or in association with have been shown to be of Somali extraction. A number of the tumuli that the Ministry alludes to have been excavated and skeletons were found in them. According to the Somali Studies scholar I.M. Lewis, the latter closely resembled Somali remains across a battery of physical measurements [4]:

The Series A mounds are seen all over the British Protectorate; they occur also in French Somaliland and in Harar Province of Ethiopia, and are especially common in the Mijertein Province of Northern Somalia. They are also found in central Somalia and more sparsely distributed in Southern Somalia, and they become extremely common again in the Northern Province of Kenya[...] These results taken with what has been said above of former Somali burial customs suggest that some, if not many, of the Series A cairns in Northern Somaliland are comparatively recent and contain Somali remains.

That said, the 2,500 date for the inscriptions would appear to have been supplied many years earlier by a British colonial officer, not the Somali authorities. How the official arrived at that date is unclear, though [5]:

Karinhegane, is another familiar cave. It is situated between Las-Koray and Elayo. The site is very well known to the inhabitants of the area. The rock-paintings on this cave are important because most of the game animals found in Somalia today are conspicuously drawn on its walls. On the other hand, some of the animals illustrated on these rock-paintings are today extinct and no longer exist in present day Somalia. An unknown inscription below every animal figure painted on the rock in this cave, was perhaps intended to explain something about the figures. It is however worth mentioning that long before independence a British Administrative Official who visited the site told the people in the area, that, the inscriptions below the drawings of the animals belonged to an ancient civilisation dating back to 2500 years ago.

Middayexpress (talk) 19:21, 27 October 2013 (UTC)

In other words, completely unreliable. We need something from an actual RS. — kwami (talk) 19:26, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
What exactly is unreliable? That the script is indeed a script? The suggested dating of the inscriptions? Or that the script is likely associated with the Somali people? Middayexpress (talk) 19:32, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
All of the above. We don't have a single reliable statement about anything, except for reports that people have found inscriptions at various sites in Somalia. That could mean just about anything. Certainly a claim that Somali is the oldest living written language in the world, or that the alphabet was invented in Somalia, would require something better than that. — kwami (talk) 20:26, 27 October 2013 (UTC)


The dating I can understand. However, what makes the script almost certainly associated with the Somali people is the fact that it is exclusively found on Somali burial structures and cultural artifacts. This is not speculation since those tumuli have been excavated and their actual contents analysed, including skeletal remains. Also note the following [6]:

Ancient Land of Punt: Archaeological studies of ancient architectures excavated in Somalia in the form of ruined cities, pyramids, mausoleums, stonewalls, and unglazed shards of pottery, along with the ruined wall construction at Wargaade, Somalia, are some of the strong evidence of an early sophisticated culture that at one time thrived on the Somali peninsula. The studies have also revealed that the ancient Puntites developed a system of writing that is yet to be decoded by scientists.

Middayexpress (talk) 20:49, 27 October 2013 (UTC)

To support a connection between the old graves and the current inhabitants, you cite a source which emphasises differences between the old material culture and the current lifestyle. When will this stop? bobrayner (talk) 20:53, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
The only way to know that the writing is Somali is to decipher it. And the decipherment must be peer reviewed, or you could claim that Easter Island rongorongo is in Somali. — kwami (talk) 21:03, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
The link above explains further on the following page that "these studies tend to support the assumption that somewhere in modern Somalia or the contiguous lands bordering it was Punt[..] most of the descriptions have placed the location of the Punt kingdom somewhere south of Egypt, near the Red Sea, which modern Somalia and Djibouti would closely fit" [7]. Middayexpress (talk) 20:59, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
You're claiming they're Puntish? Then they can't be Somali. Come on, this is ridiculous. I'll give you a week or so to come up with an encyclopedic source for the claims, and them I'm either cutting out everything else or nominating the article for deletion as unfounded speculation. — kwami (talk) 21:03, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
The book above associates the inscriptions with Punt, not me. The script was linked with some sort of Somali civilization, though, because it's found on specific burial structures in Somalia, with Somali skeletal remains in them. Middayexpress (talk) 21:12, 27 October 2013 (UTC)
There could be something very interesting here. But as it is, we have no idea what it might be. That's not acceptable for an encyclopedia article. — kwami (talk) 21:28, 27 October 2013 (UTC)


More on the ancient Somali script, from Accredited Language Services [8]:

Over the centuries, a number of various writing systems have been used to express the Somali language in writing. It is believed that an ancient Somali script existed, but it is long lost and little is known of it.

Middayexpress (talk) 18:21, 28 October 2013 (UTC)

Which is not a reliable source on archæolinguistics and, worse, it does not say that these inscriptions are a Somali language. It doesn't mention these inscriptions at all (though it does mention inscriptions somewhere that use an Arabic script, or something like it). bobrayner (talk) 18:54, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
The "ancient Somali tomb inscriptions written using an Arabic alphabet" that ASL alludes to are things like the inscription on the Arba'a Rukun Mosque in old Mogadishu by that masjid's late founder, Khusrau ibn Muhammed (it's dated to 667 (1268/9 CE)). At any rate, ASL doesn't mention the older inscriptions in the non-Arabic script, but it does point out that an ancient Somali script is believed to have existed. Many of the sources on the list of scripts aren't on archæolinguistics either. Middayexpress (talk) 19:23, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
Some more colonial-period testimony on the ancient inscriptions in question, from the British officer Malcolm McNeill (1902) [9]:

On the 8th we started for Beretableh, to reach which we went through a pass, the road of which was originally constructed by the Phoenicians in some bygone age. The rocks on either side had carved on them many curious inscriptions which of course we were unable to decipher.

Middayexpress (talk) 19:23, 28 October 2013 (UTC)

An army officer (not an archæologist) wrote in his memoirs that a road was Phoenician, so we must conclude that inscriptions near the road must be contemporary and must be Somali, even though the army officer explicitly says he couldn't read them...? bobrayner (talk) 19:33, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
He's talking about the same inscriptions as the Hildebrandt, the Ministry, ASL, etc.. Tableh is a town in the northern Sanaag region, near where many of the characters are found. The difference is that McNeill specifically found the inscriptions on granite rocks. According to the Ministry, this is one of the structures on which the script is found. Others include cave paintings, stone mounds and old coins. Middayexpress (talk) 19:44, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
Find something by a reputable archeologist, epigrapher, or linguist from the past quarter century, and then we'll have something to talk about. — kwami (talk) 20:06, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
Great, then the Ministry source shouldn't be an issue since the material itself was actually prepared by scholars with the Somali National Academy of Culture. The Information Ministry was just one of a number of national ministries which housed material for the Academy. Middayexpress (talk) 20:13, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
I could repeat myself, but that wouldn't make any difference, would it? — kwami (talk) 21:50, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
You just wrote that I should find something by a reputable archeologist, epigrapher, or linguist. This would certainly include the scholars at the Somali National Academy of Culture, which was traditionally at the forefront of Somali Studies. As I.M. Lewis explains [10]:

"[...]I participated in the inaugural International Congress of Somali Studies held in Mogadishu in July 1980. From the point of view of social and cultural anthropology, the most interesting developments here are to be found in the work of Somali scholars -- mainly linguists, historians, and political scientists -- some of which is now beginning to be published in English. The majority of these scholars, either teachers at the National Unversity, researchers at the Somali National Academy of Culture, or those holding university posts outside Somalia have, naturally, been trained -- at least in their postgraduate work -- overseas[...] The Academy falls within the Ministry of Higher Education and includes leading Somali linguists, poets, and playwrights on its staff. In linguistic research, Dr Yasin Isman Kenadid has played a major role, producing a dictionary of the Somali language in 1976. Another distinguished linguist, Shire Jaama', was formerly head of the Academy."

Middayexpress (talk) 17:10, 29 October 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── More on the ancient Somali script, from the Somali Academy of Sciences and Arts/Somali National Academy of Culture [11]:

Cismaan Keenadiid invented a new system of script for the Somali language, which, having lost its ancient script, was then spoken orally.

Middayexpress (talk) 17:10, 29 October 2013 (UTC)

Other sources[edit]

I am sorry, Middayexpress, I could not find any other sources. I exhausted Google at least 6 times with different search terms and nothing usable, outside of the source you already cite, shows up. The only other sources that pop up are Wikipedia, forums, and advocacy sites. I could not find a reference to the ancient script even on the Somali UN site or the UNESCO site. As far as I have seen, the oldest ACKNOWLEDGED script used to write Somali is Arabic. What has your research turned up beside the source you cite? A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 23:18, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

It's mainly the government and colonial-period publications cited above. I also wanted to bring to your attention the existence of other writing systems in the area besides the ancient Somali script. There's an undeciphered Cushitic script in parts of southern Ethiopia, as noted by Laurance Reeve Doyle of the Ames Research Center; it was found on petroglyphs there [12]:

Petroglyphs on the pillars at Namoratunga may also hold the possibility of being ancient and, if Cushitic, may represent the alignment stars or moon[...] Cushitic script has never been deciphered and any hints as to the meaning of its symbols could be significant clues with very exciting prospects indeed.

Middayexpress (talk) 22:59, 6 December 2013 (UTC)

If it's undeciphered, how do we know it's Cushitic? Very unprofessional. — kwami (talk) 00:53, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
It's associated with Cushitic cultural artifacts, such as ancient religious pillars. Middayexpress (talk) 15:08, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
Yes; any text associated with a physical object must be from the same cultural and linguistic background. That's how we know that Vikings built Hagia Sofia; the pyramids were built by the Chinese; and Mercians spoke Arabic. bobrayner (talk) 15:34, 9 December 2013 (UTC)
Actually, kwami, I think we should cut Middayexpress a little slack on the ancient Somali script/ inscriptions. All we have is the sources he stated. I think we can use the material just make sure the necessary caveats are present in the article so people can make up their own minds about whether it is or is not worthy of trust. Can that, at least, be agreed upon? On Namoratunga, you know like I know, that scientists always tease topics. It is a way of garnering attention for their work. It is very highly conceivable that these are in fact Oromo-related (Lowland East Cushitic speakers). The artifacts are in the heart of the area from which the Oromo expanded, the very southern areas of Ethiopia and perhaps the very northern areas of Kenya.
Also, bobrayner, I think your argument has a problem. We know that the Chinese were not present in Ancient Egypt at the time the Pyramids were built. We also know that Egypt was overwhelmingly dominated by Afroasiatic speakers both anciently and presently. So any Chinese writing would have to be the result of "recent" graffiti. Egypt in ancient times (virtually no contact), classical times, and modern times has (had) only very limited direct contact with China. As for the Vikings, come on, really? We know where they originate and it is not classical to medieval Anatolia. So clearly that was graffiti. There are scientific methods to determine whether or not an inscription is "recent" or ancient.
Furthermore, Middayexpress, you can append the Oromo article with that information if other editors are willing to allow it. I would say if you append the Oromo article, you must as always place the necessary caveats in with it. You should work with other editors to form a consensus before editing outright, that way the inclusion is much less likely to be reverted. Only edit outright when no one can be found that can help and, added to that, please make sure you thoroughly source your amendment(s). It seems this Namoratunga has independent peer-reviewed sources and an article on Wikipedia already. A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 00:33, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
I don't think we should republish obsolete claims unless the claims themselves are somehow significant. If the inscriptions aren't considered interesting enough to comment on any more, then who knows, perhaps people have reviewed them and determined that they're recent graffiti. If they are an ancient script, then they would be very interesting, and there should be some RS on them somewhere. — kwami (talk) 00:41, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
To suggest that the descriptions of the ancient script provided by both the Somali government and colonial-period European officers are obsolete is to suggest that they have been superceded by other research. However, there is no evidence to support this. Middayexpress (talk) 15:17, 10 December 2013 (UTC)


A.Tamar Chabadi: Thank you for your helpful comments. That is exactly how I see the situation: cite the script findings by the government/colonial officials with caveats, and let readers make what they will of them. I also agree that it is very likely that the Cushitic script at Namoratunga is indeed Oromo-related. The British government official Sir Charles Fernand Rey, a former Colonial Governor for Bechuanaland, noted in his In the Country of the Blue Nile (1927) the existence of hieroglyphics and pre-hieroglyphics writing in the Sidamo country, another Cushitic-inhabited area in southern Ethiopia. They were found on many large, six meter-high stone menhirs with symbols of phallic worship and the rising sun on them. Some of these inscriptions were undeciphered, but apparently not all of them [13]:

Farther west along the Rift Valley, near Lake Zwai in the Soddo and Gurage country, some thirty carved stones and small menhirs were met with, whilst in Sidamo Father Azais found over 1,200 very large phallic menhirs, running up to over six metres in height. On many of the stones were carved emblems of the phallic worship and of the rising sun, and hieroglyphic and pre- hieroglyphic writing, some of which is quite unknown, and has not yet been deciphered. All this is very interesting, the more so as it had generally been supposed — on what grounds I do not know — that nothing of the kind was to be found in central or southern Abyssinia, or indeed anywhere save in the north at Axum. From his finds Father Azais has deduced a migration of people through Somaliland along the course of the Great Rift Valley, past the chain of Lakes, and on into the Congo. I hesitate to follow him in this hypothesis, and still less in his further assumption that the similarity of the dolmens discovered by him with those in Northern Africa and France argues a further extension of this migration, which he places before the period of the well-known migrations from Arabia into East Africa.

Middayexpress (talk) 15:17, 10 December 2013 (UTC)

Absolutely not. The claim that they are hieroglyphic (and thus presumably Egyptian, not Cushitic) would be a remarkable find, potentially confirming the identification of Egyptian Punt; such a claim, if credible, would have received intense interest. The fact that it has not received any interest suggests it is not credible. The claim that they are pre-hieroglyphic, and thus presumably the origin of Egyptian writing, would be extraordinary. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It would be irresponsible of us to repeat such claims without confirmation or at least evaluation. — kwami (talk) 18:02, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
Middayexpress, I must agree with kwami on this one. Extraordinary claims require equal evidence. If this is true, then it is absolutely astounding. I, like, kwami, ask the question why have others not been to this area and reported about it. Conflict could be a culprit, but there is no conflictual, political instability in Ethiopia as far as I know. There is political instability in surrounding countries though (Northern Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda). If further independent evidence can be mustered then that would be great. Kwami, also, you never said whether or not you would agree with the Ancient inscriptions in Somalia article/ section remaining as long as the caveats were clear. A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 03:38, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
I'm fine with saying there are old inscriptions in Somalia, but I'd oppose saying anything about their age or identity unless we can confirm it. Doing so would be like repeating a claim that there is life on Venus, with the caveat that the claim was made by an astrologer before the age of space exploration. If it's not a RS, we have no business repeating it. — kwami (talk) 04:02, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
I agree with kwami. (There's a first time for everything!). bobrayner (talk) 13:10, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
Kwami: We can omit the age estimation for the ancient Somali script. However, the reasoning behind why the scholars at the Somali National Academy of Culture believe the inscriptions are an old writing system for Somali should be indicated, as should the chronology of the finds. Middayexpress (talk) 21:48, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
Okay, kwami and Middayexpress I can agree with that. However, make sure to mention that this is per the data of the Somali government and that more research is needed to confirm the claim. A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 19:06, 16 December 2013 (UTC)


A.Tamar Chabadi: The Sidamo inscriptions likely predate the Bantu and Nilotic migrations into Southeast Africa. Parts of the latter region were at the time known to have been inhabited by Afro-Asiatic speakers (specifically Cushitic), like the Horn region to the north. Most of these early Afro-Asiatic groups were later absorbed and/or displaced. I agree that the hieroglyphics are a remarkable discovery. However, please note that this isn't the only report on such inscriptions in the broader area. An archaeological team led by S. Brodribb Pughe observed similar inscriptions specifically on tombs belonging to the El Molo, a relic Cushitic-speaking group inhabiting the Northern Frontier District in Kenya. From Pughe's A Preliminary Report Concerning Problems on the Origins and Ages of Certain of the Man-made Structures in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and Certain Regions of the Eastern Horn of Africa (1962) [14]:

The tombs would appear to vary in age from group to group. Dr. Lewis sent some pieces of wood from a tomb in northern Somaliland for carbon 14 testing and stated that they were 100 - 250 years old. However George Revoil is alleged to have found glass and ornaments in a tomb near Hais dating to possible Ptolomaic times, and an earthenware vessel was found in the Mandera tomb which was similar to those of the Etruscans. The majority of the hieroglyphics on the El Molo tombs are found near springs or wells of water and do not, to the naked eye, look to be very old.

Middayexpress (talk) 21:48, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

He presumably is using the word "hieroglyphics" to mean "picture-looking things that I can't read", not actual hieroglyphs. — kwami (talk) 22:58, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
No, Pughe means what he wrote i.e. hieroglyphics. Also recall that Governor Charles Fernand Rey indicated that only some of the hieroglyphics and pre-hieroglyphics writing found in the Sidamo country was quite unknown. In other words, other characters were a known quantity. Middayexpress (talk) 23:16, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
He says they don't look very old, and C14 dating says 100–250 years. In other words, they're not hieroglyphs. — kwami (talk) 23:24, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
Actually, the carbon 14 dating is for separate tombs in northern Somalia. The testing there was conducted by the scholar I.M. Lewis, not by Pughe. Pughe says that the majority of the El Molo tomb hieroglyphics in the Northern Frontier District to the south do not look old, not all of them. And that's, by his own admission, to the naked eye. This could simply mean that the inscriptions there are well-preserved. Middayexpress (talk) 23:38, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
So, are you comfortable claiming that Egypt or Meroë colonized El Molo? Because that's essentially what you're saying. — kwami (talk) 23:52, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
Middayexpress, please stop cherrypicking. bobrayner (talk) 23:59, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
Kwami: I didn't say that nor does Pughe (Egyptian or Meroitic colonization is also not the only possible explanation for the find, by the way). In any event, I shall wait and see what A.Tamar Chabadi has to say. Middayexpress (talk) 00:06, 13 December 2013 (UTC)
Hi, Middayexpress, bobrayner, and kwami! I am not quite sure what to make of all that. I very seriously doubt Kush or Egypt ventured that far south inland-wise. They never went much further south than the conjunction of the Blue Nile and White Nile (roughly adjacent to the very northern part of Kordofan). They also apparently had some contact with with some North Ethio-Semitic speakers (evidenced by the adoption of a word here and there in both directions). Personally, I would not discount the influence of Semitic Da'amat and later Axum. I agree with Kwami that this needs more sources than just that one. I think it is good information, just needs more good source material. I am inclined to take a wait and see approach on this one. I must admit, Middayexpress, I am very curious about this now. Do you think you can muster one more good source on the El Molo and Sidama situation? I think the Somali situation is settled. I think Kwami has agreed that the ancient Somali inscriptions article can go forward under certain conditions which is very fair. A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 19:06, 16 December 2013 (UTC)


A.Tamar Chabadi and Kwamikagami: Here is a draft of the Somali ancient script material, including the discussed caveats. Please point out which if any of the hatnoted sentences below are problematic, and how to go about fixing that phrase(s):

Hatnoted wikitext
The following discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.

The ancient Somali script is a writing system found on cave paintings, granite rocks, stone mounds and old coins in various parts of Somalia. According to the Somali government, it represents an earlier orthography used to transcribe the Somali language. Archaeological research has tentatively dated the inscriptions to around 2,500 ybp.


Ancient tombs, pyramidal structures, ruined cities and stone walls found in Somalia, such as the Wargaade Wall, are evidence of an old sophisticated civilization that once thrived in the Somali peninsula.[2] The findings of archaeological excavations and research in the area suggest that this civilization had an ancient writing system.[3]

In an 1878 report to the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, scientist J.M. Hildebrandt noted upon visiting the area that "we know from ancient authors that these districts, at present so desert, were formerly populous and civilised[...] I also discovered ancient ruins and rock-inscriptions both in pictures and characters[...] These have hitherto not been deciphered."[4]

According to Somalia's Ministry of Information and National Guidance, this script represents the earliest written attestation of Somali.[3] In a 1974 interview with Afriscope magazine, former President of Somalia Siad Barre explained that his administration's adoption of the Latin script over other writing systems, including the ancient Somali script, was inspired by practical considerations:

We find the Roman alphabet more convenient. It is also international. Most of [the] intellectuals and literate citizens are used to it, and our imported equipment [is] described in [the] Roman alphabet. Technically, we find its use more viable [than] any other script. For instance, we have an ancient Somali script which, if we were to get emotional, we would have adopted, but we did not, because we believe in reality. As a free people, we met without the so-called foreign experts, asked ourselves which script would best serve our modern needs, and decided on [the] Roman alphabet. As you know, the use of this new alphabet is now a national fact.[1]


Archaeological sites where the ancient Somali script have been found on cave paintings include Godka Xararka in Las Anod District, Qubiyaaley in Las Anod District, Hilayo in Las Khoray District, Karin Heeggane in Las Khoray District, and Dhalanle in Las Khoray District.[5] In the area between the old northern towns of Elaayo and Las Khorey, there are rock paintings of extinct or mythical animals, under which are inscriptions that have been estimated to be around 2,500 years old.[6]

According to the Ministry of Information and National Guidance of Somalia, such inscriptions featuring the ancient Somali script are particularly noteworthy on the various old Taalo Tiiriyaad structures. These are enormous stone mounds found especially in northeastern Somalia. Among the main sites where these Taalo are located are: Xabaalo Ambiyad in Alula District, Baar Madhere in Beledweyne District, and Harti Yimid in Las Anod District.[5]

Besides tumuli, cave paintings and granite rocks, the Somali ancient script has also been found on old coins in various parts of Somalia.[5]

The whole thing is problematic. First, we have no evidence that it's a single script. Second, you're using sources that are over a hundred years old as evidence of current opinion. We need current sources for claims of current opinion or knowledge, and we need sources that support claims like the existence of *a* script rather than a number of inscriptions. — kwami (talk) 19:16, 21 December 2013 (UTC)


User:A.Tamar Chabadi: I believe the El Molo inscriptions may be the same as the engravings observed nearby at Namoratunga. Although the latter site was known for a while, it was first formally described in 1978 by B.M. Lynch and Lawrence H. Robbins in their paper "Namoratunga: The First Archaeoastronomical Evidence in Sub-Saharan Africa". They suggested that the 19 stone pillars there were used for the alignments needed to derive the Borana calendar.

A detailed study published in the Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures (1997) later mathematically confirmed this association [15]:

We might ask, from the interpretation of the ancient Borana calendrical system, if the nineteen stone pillars at the Namoratunga site could have been used to mark the 300 BC horizon-rising positions of the seven Borana calendar stars[...] To decide if these alignments are random or likely the result of intentional alignment with these seven specific star positions on the sky, the following test was designed. Seven random star positions were generated and compared with the mapped pillar positions at Namoratunga, giving the number of alignments found with these random star positions on the eastern horizon. This process, generating seven random star positions and comparing them with Namoratunga to determine how many alignments were thus made, was repeated 10,000 times, with the result that the number of times that 25 or more random stellar alignments were found for the Namoratunga pillars was 41. This result would indicate that there seems to be a less than 0.5% probability that the Namoratunga site pillars could have randomly made as many as 25 or more alignments with the 300 BC horizon rising positions of the seven original Borana calendrical stars.

The authors also mused about a possible association of the Namoratunga inscriptions with symbols found on objects in Kushitic pyramids, and what this could mean:

Finally, identification of the petroglyphs with other familial symbols in east Africa (symbols found on the artifacts from the Kushitic pyramids in the Sudan, for example) might prove to be a uniquely African historic tracer supplementing linguistic data on migration patterns and cultural history.

According to the Encyclopedia of Time: Science, Philosophy, Theology, & Culture, Volume 1 (2009), the Namoratunga megaliths do apparently feature such inscriptions of Kushite affiliation [16]:

Calendrical devices of a megalithic nature are found in many areas where early civilizations took root[...] In Kenya a series of stone pillars called Namoratunga and bearing Sudanese Kushite engravings line up with conjunctions of the moon with various stars around 300 B.C.E. There are many other examples of archeoastronomy to be found, but not all are megalithic in nature.

Middayexpress (talk) 14:37, 21 December 2013 (UTC)

So they're "Sudanese" Kushite. Does that mean they're not Somali? Encyclopedias are problematic as sources, as they often repeat things without due diligence. (They're tertiary sources; we prefer secondary.) What are their sources? Can we verify that they're reliable? The study you noted was not published in the encyclopedia, it was only reported in the encyclopedia. It's very interesting, though only peripherally relevant to this article. It would be more appropriate in an article on megaliths or archeoastronomy.
They also refer to "symbols" on the pyramids, and compare them to petroglyphs, which suggests that those symbols are not part of a writing system. That is, that there are inscriptions, but no script. — kwami (talk) 19:16, 21 December 2013 (UTC)
The above alludes to the Namoratunga script, not the inscriptions in Somalia (though they may ultimately be related/stem from a similar ancient culture). Middayexpress (talk) 13:49, 29 December 2013 (UTC)

Other Sources (cont.)[edit]

For some strange reason WP won't let me scroll down below Middayexpress' last post to below Kwami's last post.

Hello, Middayexpress and kwami!

I did some more searching and I have found two things one of which may validate Middayexpress' claim about the ancient Somali inscriptions.

In, Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations, The History of Somalia by Raphael Chijioke Njoku published 2013, in Chapter 2 ~ Precolonial States and Societies, p. 23 - 32 (p. 26 is the furthest back Google Books will let me read...p. 32 the furthest foward) [17] [18] he states, "Scientists date the site and the drawings holding one of the earliest known rock cultures in Africa to somewhere between 15,000 and 8,000 BCE—indicating the presence of the late Paleolithic Age and early Neolithic culture in the region. This finding is consistent with the oldest evidence of burial customs in the entire Horn of Africa region. The age of these tombs has been put at around the fourth millennium BCE. Additionally, the stone tools unearthed at the Jalelo site in northern Somalia remain the most important proof of the widespread rise of the Paleolithic cultures in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

As the archaeologist Peter Robertshaw explains, the Doian culture and the Hargeisan culture flourished at these two Stone Age sites with their relevant industries.6 Underneath each of the rock paintings were found ancient inscriptions that archaeologists have not been able to decipher."

He further states, "A question that has lingered for a long time is what has made the story of Punt a classic mythical tale?13 A probable reason might be connected with its lack of a writing culture or rather the failure of modern scholars to interpret the ancient people's signs and scripts."

I will see what Kwami says about this new information before I comment on the hatnoted text of the potential article you posted Middayexpress. A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 01:07, 28 December 2013 (UTC)

Yes, this seems to be good info, though it's not clear that we have a date for the inscriptions. For example, he seems to be making a connection with Punt, but that doesn't fit the dates you quoted. We also shouldn't imply that they are writing. — kwami (talk) 01:49, 28 December 2013 (UTC)


A.Tamar Chabadi: Great info! The rock art sites that the first link alludes to include Laas Gaal and Dhambalin in northern Somalia. The latter area is especially interesting as it has early pictorial evidence of what appears to be horse domestication, with cave paintings in the Ethiopian-Arabian style. The earliest evidence of this rock art style has been found in Saudi Arabia and dated to around the mid-5th millenium B.C.. It is also found elsewhere in the Horn region, as well as in the Sahara, Nubia and southern Upper Egypt [19]:

Finally, a strong interregional interaction, if not a proper movement of people from Arabia to Ethiopia, in the 3rd-2nd millennia B.C. is supported the occurrence of rock pictures in a typical style in both regions. This style is characterized by painted or engraved bovines with the body in profile and the head and horns in plan. It is recorded as “Jubba Style” in northern Saudi Arabia, “Dahthamani Style” in central Arabia, and Karora Style” or “Ethiopian-Arabian Style” in the Horn of Africa. The earliest evidence of this style has been traced in northern Saudi Arabia and dated to the mid-5th millennium B.C. By the mid—3rd millennium B.C., most likely, it spread to the southern Hidjaz (Saudi Arabia), northern Hararge (eastern Ethiopia), northern Somalia, and Eritrea. By the 1st millennium B.C., this style spread from Eritrea to Nubia, southern Upper Egypt and the Sahara.

Middayexpress (talk) 13:49, 29 December 2013 (UTC)

Hi, Middayexpress, yes, this is a very age-old interregional exchange that goes back to the Middle Paleolithic. Cf. the Nubian Complex [20]. Also, kwami, we do not know how long the place the Egyptians called, "Punt/ Pwenet", has been around. All we know about it is what the Egyptians said. We don't even know how long the Egyptians have known about "Punt/ Pwenet"'s existence or exactly when they learned of "Punt/ Pwenet"'s existence or who made first contact, "Punt" or Egypt. We don't even know what the "Puntites" called themselves. Apparently, "Punt/ Pwenet" had contact with Egypt as early as the 4th Dynasty, 4600 to 4500 years ago. This was in early to mid 3rd millenium BCE, the tombs were created in the 4th millenium BCE. We can assume "Punt/ Pwenet" existed that far back, of course, we have no idea, the speculation IS safe based on the few evidences. A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 15:46, 31 December 2013 (UTC)
Has this article been left for deletion, Middayexpress, kwami??? A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 14:04, 1 February 2014 (UTC)
The best sourcing we have is a piece from the propaganda ministry, and a couple of traveller's tales from over a century ago. I think deletion is the best solution. bobrayner (talk) 15:10, 1 February 2014 (UTC)
Actually, the work was prepared by scholars with the Somali National Academy of Culture. The Information Ministry was just one of a number of national ministries which housed material for the Academy. A.Tamar Chabadi herself also found other material on the script. Middayexpress (talk) 15:26, 1 February 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Hi User:A.Tamar Chabadi. Sorry for the delay in response; it's been a busy few weeks. Your efforts, research and professional insight are certainly appreciated. I think perhaps it's best to rename the article to "Ancient inscriptions in the Horn of Africa", and use that as the basis for the page's scope. Reading through your notes above and my own findings, it occurred to me that some of these ancient inscriptions may not be entirely disconnected from each other. The Sidamo writing, for example, may be the same as the inscriptions on the El Molo tombs. Somali archaeologists also apparently recently identified ancient Sabaean writing in northern Somalia [21]. These known inscriptions are separate from the undeciphered ancient Somali script, the latter of which may instead be related to the Sidamo and/or the El Molo inscriptions. Along with the ancient inscriptions in Ethiopia and Eritrea, this perhaps could all be dealt with on the same page. What do you think? Middayexpress (talk) 15:26, 1 February 2014 (UTC)

I think that might be a more productive direction. — kwami (talk) 17:48, 1 February 2014 (UTC)
I think that would be a better thing also. A.Tamar Chabadi (talk) 20:27, 3 February 2014 (UTC)
    • ^ a b Afriscope. 4 (1-6): 48. 1974.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
    • ^ The Missionary review of the world, Volume 23, (Funk & Wagnalls: 1900), p. 132.
    • ^ a b Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Somalia, The writing of the Somali language, (Ministry of Information and National Guidance: 1974), p.5
    • ^ Royal Geographical Society (Great Britain), Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Volume 22, "Mr. J. M. Hildebrandt on his Travels in East Africa", (Edward Stanford: 1878), p. 447.
    • ^ a b c Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Somalia, The writing of the Somali language, (Ministry of Information and National Guidance: 1974), pp.1-3
    • ^ Hodd, Michael (1994). East African Handbook. Trade & Travel Publications. p. 640. ISBN 0844289833.