The first written trace of euskera is found in Navarre

President Chivite, in the Palacio de Góngora, where the discovery was presented.
President Chivite, in the Palacio de Góngora, where the discovery was presented.

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A bronze hand from the 1st century BC with the oldest known inscription in the Basque language to date has been found on Mount Irulegi. President Chivite presented the discovery, which she described as a "historic landmark of the first order", both from an archaeological and linguistic point of view.


"Sorioneku" (of good fortune), this is the first of the five words that have been deciphered on what is already known as the "hand of Irulegi". It is a bronze representation of this limb, designed to be hung on the entrance door of a house, as a ritual object to protect the home.

Its age, the first third of the 1st century BC, makes it an exceptional find, as it is the oldest and most extensive document written in the Basque language known to date. Together with other finds, it confirms the use of writing by the ancient inhabitants of this area. They used a specific variant of the Iberian sign known as the "signario vascónico".

The hand was found as part of the excavations being carried out in the Irulegi settlement (Aranguren Valley), which was inhabited between the mid Bronze Age (15th-11th century BC) and the end of the Iron Age (1st century BC). The project is promoted by the Valle de Aranguren Town Council and is subsidised by the Government of Navarre. The campaign is being carried out by the Aranzadi Science Society.


Found in June 2021

The "hand of Irulegi" was found on 18 June 2021, next to the entrance of one of the dwellings excavated at the site. However, the inscription was not discovered until 18 January 2022, when work began on cleaning and restoring the piece.

Since then it has been investigated by a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, geologists, restorers, chemists, epigraphers and linguists. Its immediate destination will be a metal conservation chamber at the Historical Heritage Service, where the research work will continue. In the future, it is hoped that it will be exhibited in the Museum of Navarre, which has the ideal conservation and security measures for its display.

The piece in question is a sheet of bronze, the patina of which contains 53.19% tin, 40.87% copper and 2.16% lead, which is common in ancient alloys. The object is cut to represent the shape of a somewhat schematic, but life-size right hand. The blade is smooth on the palm side, but on the back side it has the shape of fingernails, although the nails of the ring, middle and index fingers have not been preserved due to their fragility. Its current measurements are 143.1 mm high, 1.09 mm thick and 127.9 mm wide. It weighs 35.9 g.


"Sorioneku" (of good fortune), this is the first of the five words that have been deciphered, in what is already known as the "hand of Irulegi".

Over 2,000 years ago

The inscription consists of five words (40 signs) distributed over four lines. The alphabet used to write the text belongs to the family of Iberian semi-syllabaries. However, it has certain characteristics that lead us to classify it as a subsystem specific to the Basque territory, including the use of the sign T, which is not present in other subsystems.

The translation of the inscription into the Latin alphabet is as follows:

sorioneku · {n}


oTiŕtan · eseakaŕi

eŕaukon ·

The resemblance between the first word - sorioneku - and the Basque word zorioneko (of good fortune, of good omen) is striking. The rest of the inscription has not been deciphered so far.

Consequently, the "hand of Irulegi" introduces significant novelties in the archaeological and linguistic world. On the one hand, it confirms the existence of a specific graphic system, derived from a variant of the Iberian sign, called the "signario vascónico". Furthermore, it certifies the use of the Basque language in the geographical area in which it was discovered at the beginning of the 1st century BC, i.e. more than 2,000 years ago.


A settlement before Pamplona

Located at an altitude of 893 metres, Irulegi is one of the most notable examples of fortified settlements in the area. Its privileged geographical location, with 360-degree views over the Pamplona basin and over the passes that link the south of Navarre with the Pyrenean valleys, gave it an important defensive value.

The original enclave located at the base of the castle, measuring 2.2 hectares, grew over the centuries until it reached some 14 hectares in the 1st century BC, including areas for agriculture and livestock farming. The enclosure was surrounded by walls. Although it is difficult to estimate the number of inhabitants, it is estimated that between 100 and 200 people may have lived there.

The fact that the settlers chose high ground to live in was marked by a context of population growth and a worsening climate (rainier and somewhat colder), which meant that resources were scarce and had to be competed for. The response was the emergence of stable, easily defendable, walled proto-cities, inhabited by farmers and herders who were also warriors.



Irulegi, together with two or three other enclaves, could be one of the settlements that were part of the settlement of the Pamplona Basin before the arrival of Rome and the foundation of Pompelo, now Pamplona (74 or 75 B.C.).

After the site was deserted for several centuries, the construction of a royal castle (belonging to the King) on the summit of Irulegi in the mid-13th century is documented. Specifically, in 1259, when Martín García de Eusa was appointed its governor. The building was built on previous defensive settlements, probably on a tower or fortification that already existed during the Muslim campaign of 924.

Its strategic position gave it a very important role in the defence of the kingdom and especially of the capital Pamplona. It was destroyed in 1494 by order of the kings of Navarre to prevent it from being used by the supporters of the kingdom of Castile.

Today, the base of the castle is still preserved.

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