Proto -Türkic Rune-like Inscription on Silver Cup

In the spring of 1970 in a suburb of the city Issyk, fifty kilometers from Almata, archeologists of the Kazakhstan Academy of Sciences excavated one of the so-called royal kurgans of the Saka time (leading archeologist Candidate of Historical Sciences K.A.Akishev, initiator B.N.Nurmuhanbetov). Under kurgan in timbered grave was found a burial of a noble warrior in a coffin made of boards. The warrior’s helmet, caftan, sharovar pants and boots were decorated with golden plates and badges with images of snow leopard, horse, mountain goat and archar, depicted in Scythian animal style. The buried was armed with a sword with golden handle.

In the same timbergrave were various utensils (up to thirty objects): rectangular wooden dishes, thin-walled clay vessels, ornamented bowls of silver and bronze, silver spoon (spoon handle in shape of a bird head with a long beak), and at last, a silver cup with mysterious runic-like inscription (see amended sketch).

by Dr. Selahi Diker
Proto-Türkic runic-like inscription
Silver cup of 5th-4th c. BC kurgan r. Ili
Amended sketch by the author
Rendering by enthusiastic Iranist S. Ryabchikov

(Sergei V. Ryabchikov: imaginative interpretation uses a popular classical Slavono-Indo-Arian-Minoan Linear A (B) -Türkic etc language, with a major dose of undeclared Türkic borrowings like loshad’‘horse’, burya ‘storm’, Sivka-burka ‘fairytale horse’)

All inventory of the burial was sent for processing to the department of archeology in the C.C.Valihanov Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography (Kazakhstan). At last, in the autumn of the 1970 we received a first opportunity to study directly the objects from the Issyk kurgan, including the silver cup with inscription. In many attributes this burial belongs to the 5th-4th cc. BC, as roughly estimated the extremely cautious K.A.Akishev1 (carbon dating of Issyk kurgan) .

The inscription is etched with a sharp object on the external side of the silver cup and consist of 26 runic-like letters located in two horizontal lines. A top line runs across the center, a bottom line is on the convex surface of the cup. Both lines begin from a shaded rectangle. The top line has 9 letters, the bottom has 17 letters (including a letter located separately at the end of the line, after a damaged part). These letters display similarity with letters of Mediterranean early alphabetic scripts2, and with Ancient Türkic runes. To what degree this mysterious similarity is supported by similarity of phonetic sounds of the compared letters? We shall try to answer this question based on our reading of the  inscription that follows.

Paleography of the inscription:
1) The letter  γ corresponds to the Orkhon-Yenisean letters  γ, compare   q in Lician alphabet of the 5th-4th cc. BC from Asia Minor and   h in Venetian alphabet (a version of Etruscan alphabet);

2) The letter  a (ä) is used twice, it is widely represented in the Türkic runic of Talas and upper Yenisei with the same sound, compare Orkhon letter   a, ä;

3) The letter  s corresponds to Talas and Yenisei runic letter   s of a soft syllable, and also to the Orkhon   s ~ ŝ of a soft or (rarer) of a firm syllable;

4) Letters  η (?) and  n  display a relationship with the Phoenician letter  n and with Yenisei runic letter  n of a soft syllable (Monument No 46), and even more so with the letter  n in ancient Greek, Carian (Asia Minor) and some Italic alphabets (Lepontian, Messapian, Pitsenian, Oskian) of the 1st millennium BC;

5) The letter  q corresponds to the Orkhon-Yenisean  q, compare Mediterranean alphabetic letters of the 2nd-1st millenniums BC, the N.Semitic  h (kh), Cyprus-Phoenician  h, kh, Aramean  h;

6) The letter        u(ü), о, ö is used five times, compare N.Semitic    w in the inscriptions of the 2nd-1st millenniums BC, the ancient Greek   u, the eastern Greek   u, ü, the western Greek    u, Lydian (1st millennium BC), and the Türkic runic letter  öü;

7) Letters  č belong to the  sphere of Türkic runes, corresponding to the Yenisei  č, and probably to runic letters  č on the Talas plank, considering the reading suggested by S.E.Malov3;

8 ) The letter  b  of a soft syllable corresponds to the Aramean  b (5th-4th cc. BC), which in turn goes back to N.Semitic, Phoenician  b (2nd-1st millenniums BC), compare  b of a soft syllable in the Yenisei inscriptions;

9) Letters  z are identical to  runic letter  z of the Talas and Yenisei inscriptions, and to runic letter  z of the Orkhon inscriptions of the 8 century;

10) The letter  к is closest to the letter  к of the 5th-4th cc. BC Aramean alphabet, and corresponds to the Türkic runic letter  к, compare  к in the Phoenician-Aramean alphabet of the 9-8 centuries BC;

11) The letter  b of a firm syllable corresponds to the Türkic runic  b of a firm syllable, and also to the ancient Greek  b (Naxos, 7 century BC) and  b  (Korkir, 8 century BC);

12) The letter  q(uq) is used twice, it corresponds to the Yenisei  q (in front or after o, u), to the letter  kh in Retian alphabet (a version of early Etruscan alphabet), Messapian  h and, probably, is related to the letter  ка in the Cyprian syllabic script;

13) Letter  ï, i is used twice, it corresponds to the Türkic runic   ï, i, and also to the notable Yenisei   ï, i,  compare the letter  i in the Picenian alphabet of the ancient Italy;

14) The letter  r (?) was not met earlier in the Türkic runic inscriptions, its form reminds the Retian (northern Etruscan) letters   z from Sondrio (prossibly, based on phonetic accordance r – z);

15) Letter  ä is definitely approaching the Orkhon  а, ä.

A remarkable paleographic distinctiveness of the r. Ili cup inscription, like the inscription on a silver dish from the r. Yaik, is the absence of word separators.

As a whole, the paleographic analysis of the runic-like inscription agree completely with its archeological dating of the middle of the 1st millennium BC.

The runic-like inscription on the silver cup of the Saka time, as can now be verified, is in Türkic and is read from right to left as follows:


Transliteration and translation

(1) аγа sаηa očuq = Aγa, saηa očuq!
“Senior brother, (this) hearth is for you!”
(2) bäz čök boqun ičr(?)ä uzuq …i = Bez, cök! Boqun ičrä [r?] azuq! …i
“Stranger, kneel! Progenies [shall have] food!”

Lexicon of the inscription:

аγа “senior brother, senior relative from a male line”,
compare Uigur legal documents of 13th century from Turfan oasis aqa “senior brother, uncle” 4,
Kazakh, Kirgiz aga “senior brother, uncle”,
Uzbek oga “senior brother”,
Uigur aga-ini “brothers; senior and younger brothers”,
Yakutsk (Saka/Sakha), aga “1) elder; 2) father”,
Turkish, Azeri aga “master, boss”;

 saηa “to you”, a dative case form from pronoun sen “you” (singular),
compare saηa “to you” in the inscription of “Tonyukuk Monument” 5;

očuq hearth (Slavic “ochag”,
compare ancient Uigur očuq “hearth, stove”, in “Divan lugat at-türk” by Mahmud Kashgari očuq-očaq “hearth, stove” (ATD, p. 362);
bez “stranger, alien, extraneous” this word is written in Mahmud Kashgari spelled , and is inaccurately read baz6, instead of bez, which quite naturally corresponds to the Mongolian bər (beri) “sister-in-law, daughter-in-law” (this example displays the “rhotacism” law and semantical development of a word). Compare also Kirgiz bez kiŝi “1) insensible, thick-skinned person; 2) introvert”;

čök is a imperative mood of singular 2-nd person form for the verb čök “1) to descend, kneel; 2) to descend, fall; 3) to submerge (in water)”, represented in the Cairo and Herat manuscripts of “Kutadgu Bilig”, in in the Mahmud Kashgari dictionary, and in the ancient Uigur written monument “Altun yaruk ” (ATD, p. 154), and also in modern Türkic languages;

boqun (buqun) “generation, progeny”,
compare paired nouns bodun buqun (boqun?) “population, inhabitants” in ancient Uigur texts (ATD, p. 108, 125) (also Budini tribe mentioned by Ptolemy in the N.Pontic),
boγun “joint, articulation” in Mahmud Kashgari (ATD, p. 109),
Kazakh buyn (buwun) “1) joint; 2) generation” (jas buyn “young generation”),
Karakalpak buüyn “1) joint; 2) knee (element of something); 3) link (of chain); 4) generation ” (γ > w)
Kirgiz buun-muun “1) joint, articulation; 2) indirect. generation; 3) indirect. posterity “;

ičrä [r?] “inside, inward” (ATD, p. 202), compare in “Kül-Tegin Monument”; ičrä aŝsïz taŝra tonsïz jabïz jablaq bodunta üzä olurtïm “I had enthroned over miserable lowly people that did not have food inside, and clothes outside” 7;

azuq “food, provisions, alimentation, forage” (ATD, p. 73),
compare Turkish azik “foodstuffs, edibles, the foodstuffs, provisions, food”,
Kazakh, Karakalpak azyq, ” provolstvie, provisions, alimentation; food”,
Altai azyk “stock, supplies (provisions)”.

The contents of this inscription testify to the ancient funeral ritual grounded in the belief in afterlife. The diseased needed a constant care of his relatives and dearest. The traces of the ritual are found and in the Ancient Türkic stone figurines representing the deceased with a bowl in the right hand, and also in the vestiges of similar representations among the Türkic-speaking peoples, including at Kazakhs8.

As the offered reading allows to judge, the inscription on the silver cup belong to fairly early version of the Türkic runes, associated closely with the alphabetical writings in the Mediterranean in the middle of the 1st millennium BC. This inscription is made in the Ancient Türkic language, which apparently spoke the early nomads of Jeti-Su area.

The examined inscription gives reasons to reconsider the traditional concept about an absence of alphabetical writing among the early Asian nomads, and gives a serious impetus for further scientific research.


The decoding of the proto-Türkic runic-like inscription on the silver cup, presented for the first time in 19719, remains unshaken, because of the absence among ideological opponents and dilettantes any serious arguments and scientific publications refuting the published decryption 10.

In addition, in the 1986, an examination of a bronze mirror from Issyk kurgan11 raised a suspicion that the mirror (in a top part of a thickened brim along the edge of the disk) are runic letters  jübči(i.e. yübči) “protector (?)”, barely readable now, probably because of excessive chemical cleaning.

Almaty, “Mektep”, 2003


About this entry