In June 2021, a research team from the Spain-based Aranzadi Science Society uncovered a metal hand-shaped symbol with a hole by the palm while excavating a site in Northern Spain known as Irulegi. The bronze relic was initially thought to be a simple charm hung on a door until this year, when restoration of the piece revealed engraved text. The Hand of Irulegi, as it is now called, is now believed to be the earliest known example of Proto-Basque, a language also known as euskera, that was spoken by a late Iron Age tribe called the Vascones.
“This piece upends how we’d thought about the Vascones and writing until now,” Joaquín Gorrochategui, a professor of Indo-European linguistics at the University of the Basque country, told The Guardian. “We were almost convinced that the ancient Vascones were illiterate and didn’t use writing except when it came to minting coins.”
So far the researchers only understand the meaning of one of the words engraved on the Hand of Irulegi: sorioneku, a proto-form of the Basque word zorioneko, means “good-luck” or “good-omen”.
Up until the recent excavations, the Irulegi site was preserved virtually undisturbed since the Roman times. The village was burned to the ground during the Sertorian War, a Roman civil war fought on the Iberian peninsula fron 80 to 72 BCE. Villagers buried items in the ground before they fled, creating a trove of items for the archaeologists to find, including the Hand of Irulegi.