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The "Hand of Irulegi", a unique historical document


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Javier Andreu

Full Professor of Ancient History and director of Diploma in Archeology

With an unusual institutional support, was presented yesterday in the Valley of Aranguren a finding that, for many, will change the history of Navarre, but on which, however, it is worth the caution quality of the scientific research . The 'hand of Irulegi', as it is already known, becomes a trending topic 2,100 years after an inhabitant of the castro located in that town in the Pamplona Basin hung it, it seems, on the door of one of the modest houses of his village, perhaps to welcome or to protect whoever saw or read it.

The registration, on a beautiful bronze plate in the shape of a hand, with equally singular lines guide and with its characters engraved in circles, sample only four lines, complete, that gather a total of five words of which, the first one, sorioneku seems, indeed, a term in proto-Basque. If we exclude the clearly Basque names that we knew for a registration even some years before the one documented here - the Bronze of Ascoli, today in the Capitoline Museums of Rome in which, among other Euscarian names, we have the first attestation of the most used Eneko - it would be the first text in language Basque. A text that comes to add to a meager repertoire of materials basically constituted by inscriptions already from the Roman Imperial period concentrated, mainly, in a clear territorial strip between Andelo (Mendigorría) and the Zaragozan territory of the Cinco Villas and in which there appeared names of people and, also, of divinities, connected with the ancient Basque.

Although it is not excluded that some of the words present in the new bronze of Irulegi are, also, names of divinities, the truth is that the finding is really singular, because the language in which the text is written, according to the expert linguists that have studied it in these months, J. Velaza and J. Gorrochategui, refers unequivocally to the ancient Basque and sample something that, some years ago, those same linguists had already intuited when analyzing the monetary labels of the mints that operated between the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. in the so called "Basque territory". In this area it seems that they adopted a sign similar to the Iberian one, but, in addition, with some variants that gave place to signs typical of the Basque language .

The finding is, without a doubt, exceptional, and will put the Archaeology of Navarre in the center of the scientific discussion , once again in a land, like this one, that was a melting pot of cultures in the Antiquity. However, it is urgent to be cautious: reconstructing the life of past societies through texts -which is what Ancient History and, in this case, Epigraphy, the science of inscriptions, are dedicated to- is the closest thing to integrating a puzzle of many pieces, but in which, always, it seems that the fundamental ones are missing. The finding allows us to confirm something that we already knew, that there were individuals in the site of present-day Navarre who spoke Basque, but, as it is an apparently private document -and not a public one- this should not lead us to think that Basque was the majority language , nor that of the elite, of the populations of the so-called "solar vascón" which, in fact, in any case, did not extend - judging by the toponymy and theonymy - beyond the eastern Navarrese mountains and in which Iberian and Celtiberian were also spoken. If Basque had been the language of the elite, it would have been employee, for example, in an official text such as that of the monetary legends, written in Celtiberian.

This 'hand', therefore, underlines, with Basque accents, the diverse character of Navarre in Antiquity and, above all, demonstrates the possibilities that the forts of the central and eastern area of Navarre -such as Irulegi or Santa Criz de Eslava- have for the knowledge of our past. Investing in them and in their study by the hand of the institutions that, like the Aranzadi Science Society, are making this work possible would be the best way to demonstrate that yesterday's news, and the pomp of its presentation, are not just an interested reading of a simple historical document.