Ancient Native Language Discovered in Peru

September 02, 2010
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Notes on the back of a 400-year-old letter have revealed a previously unknown language once spoken by indigenous peoples of northern Peru, an archaeologist says.

Penned by an unknown Spanish author and lost for four centuries, the battered piece of paper was pulled from the ruins of an ancient Spanish colonial church in 2008.

But a team of scientists and linguists has only recently revealed the importance of the words written on the flip side of the letter.

The early 17th-century author had translated Spanish numbers — uno, dos, tres — and Arabic numerals into a mysterious language never seen by modern scholars.

"Lost" Language One of Two Already Known?

The newfound native language may have borrowed from Quechua, a language still spoken by indigenous peoples of Peru, Quilter said.

But it was clearly a unique tongue, and likely one of two known only by the mention of their names in contemporary texts: Quingnam and Pescadora—"language of the fishers."

Some scholars suggest the two are in fact the same tongue that had been misidentified as distinct languages by early Spanish scribes.

Read the full story from National Geographic.