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The "Hand of Irulegui" and the Vascones


Published in

Diario de Navarra

Javier Andreu Pintado

Full Professor of Ancient History at the University of Navarra and director of Diploma in Archaeology.

This week it has been easier to explain Ancient Hispania to my students of the Diploma in Archaeology of the School of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Navarra. Those of us who are dedicated to Antiquity spend hours trying to make our students see the importance of each new archaeological datum, but, above all -as it is typical of the historical method in Ancient History- the power of the written documents of the classical world. These, especially if they are inscriptions engraved by the protagonists of our past, constitute direct evidence of what concerned our ancestors, of the world in which they lived, of their names, of their habits.

All this is present in the beautiful bronze hand that, earlier this week, presented with unusual pomp the president of the Government of Navarra accompanied by probably the best connoisseurs of Paleo-Hispanic languages that we have in Spain, Javier Velaza and Joaquin Gorrochategui. The hand has been found in the oppidum of Irulegi, a site located in an area -the valley of Aranguren- that we already knew that, in the 80s and 70s of the first century BC, had suffered the rigors of the bellum Sertorianum, the war that Rome held, with Pompey at the head, to punish the outlawed governor of Citerior, Sertorius. And, the document is a sensational still photo of a custom that we did not know about and that now perhaps will serve to interpret so many objects in the archaeological record that, without text, are obscure to us.

It seems that this hand, as evidenced by its upper hole, must have been hung on the door of a house in the castro and, judging by the first line of the four that make up its text -in total just under fifty characters- it opened with the expression paleovasca sorioneku -a sort of good omen- that should welcome visitors to that space and constitute an apotropaic fetish for them and for its inhabitants. And the text in question was engraved with an Iberian sign, the Iberian, adapted to accommodate some exclusive sounds of the language eúscara something that was already suspected according to some legends of the mints that, between the second and first centuries BC operated in the area.

However, it is a practically unique private document that we cannot convert -although some people may claim so in social networks- into a guarantee of the monolithic character, linguistically speaking, of Navarre in Antiquity. We already knew that Basque was spoken in this territory because horsemen with Basque names from cities, even further south and east than the one in Irulegi, served Rome in the so-called "war of the allies" around 89 B.C.

But, logically, a non-onomastic formula, such as the sorioneku attested in this 'hand of Irulegi' has a much greater appeal than a simple name that, perhaps, was not even sample of the ethnic or linguistic affiliation of the person who carried it, aspects that are very elusive in ancient documentation. It is urgent to be cautious, therefore, when using this document beyond what the piece suggests, especially when, in addition, the adoption of the Iberian sign and in some of the features of the graphic and writing system used, subject , also reveal those inevitable contacts between Iberians and Iberians, those inevitable contacts between Iberians and Basques, as well known as those that, as we knew from the monetary labels mentioned above -written in Iberian sign but in Celtiberian language - there were also between Basques and Celtiberians, since our land was a cultural melting pot in Antiquity.

And that is what, neither more nor less, this document shows, with which, surely, some will try to rewrite the History of Navarre. However, only a more intense research, sustained over time and that also contemplates other Basque forts such as the one that, for example, was in Santa Cruz de Eslava -in the area that, let us not forget, concentrates the largest volume of evidence of Basque theonyms and anthroponyms attested to date in Navarre- will contribute to make it possible.