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Most researchers use the term Tartessian to refer to the language as attested on the stelae written in the Southwestern script, but some researchers would prefer to reserve the term Tartessian for the language of the core Tartessian zone, attested for these researchers with some archaeological graffiti - like the Huelva graffito - and maybe with some stelae: for example, Villamanrique de la Condesa (J.52.1). These researchers consider that the language of the inscriptions found outside the core Tartessian zone would be either a different language or maybe a Tartessian dialect, and so they would prefer to identify the language of the stelae with a different title, namely "southwestern" or "south-Lusitanian". There is general agreement that the core area of Tartessos is around Huelva, extending to the valley of the Guadalquivir, while the area under Tartessian influence is much wider (see maps). Three of the 95 stelae, plus some graffiti, belong to the core area: Alcalá del Río (Untermann J.53.1), Villamanrique de la Condesa (J.52.1) and Puente Genil (J.51.1). Four have also been found in the Middle Guadiana (in Extremadura), and the rest have been found in the south of Portugal (Algarve and Lower Alentejo), where the Greek and Roman sources locate the pre-Roman Cempsi and Sefes, Cynetes, and Celtici peoples.
The most confident dating is for the Tartessian inscription (J.57.1) in the necropolis at Medellín, Badajoz, Spain to 650/625 BC. Further confirmatory dates for the Medellín necropolis include painted ceramics of the 7th-6th centuries BC.
In addition, a graffito on a Phoenician sherd dated to the early to mid 7th century BC and found at the Phoenician settlement of Doña Blanca near Cadiz has been identified as Tartessian by the shape of the signs. It is only two signs long, reading ]tetu[ or perhaps ]tute[. It does not show the syllable-vowel redundancy more characteristic of the southwestern script, but it is possible that this developed as indigenous scribes adapted the script from archaic Phoenician and other such exceptions occur (Correa and Zamora 2008).
The script used in the mint of Salacia (Alcácer do Sal, Portugal) from around 200 BC may be related to the Tartessian script, though it has no syllable-vowel redundancy; violations of this are known, but it is not clear if the language of this mint corresponds with the language of the stelae (de Hoz 2010).
The Turdetani of the Roman period are generally considered the heirs of the Tartessian culture. Strabo mentions that: "The Turdetanians are ranked as the wisest of the Iberians; and they make use of an alphabet, and possess records of their ancient history, poems, and laws written in verse that are six thousand years old, as they assert." It is not known when Tartessian ceased to be spoken, but Strabo (writing c. 7 BC) records that "The Turdetanians ... and particularly those that live about the Baetis, have completely changed over to the Roman mode of life; with most of the populace not even remembering their own language any more."
The Tartessian script is very similar to the southeastern Iberian script, both in the shapes of the signs and in their values. The main difference is that southeastern Iberian script does not redundantly mark the vocalic values of syllabic characters. This was discovered by Ulrich Schmoll and allows the classification of most of the characters into vowels, consonants and syllabic characters. As of the 1990s, the decipherment of the script was largely complete, thus the sound values of most of the characters are known. Like most other paleohispanic scripts, Tartessian did not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced consonants--[t] from [d], [p] from [b], or [k] from [?].
Tartessian is written in scriptio continua, making the identification of individual words difficult.
Tartessian is generally left unclassified, due to lack of data, or proposed to be a language isolate due to an absence of connections to the Indo-European languages. Some Tartessian names have been interpreted as Indo-European or more specifically as Celtic. However, the language as a whole remains inexplicable from the Celtic or Indo-European point of view; the structure of Tartessian syllables appears to be incompatible with Celtic or even Indo-European phonetics, and more compatible with Iberian or Basque; any Celtic elements are thought to be borrowings by some scholars.
Since 2009, John T. Koch has argued that Tartessian is a Celtic language and that the texts can be translated. Koch's thesis has been popularised by the BBC TV series The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice and the associated book by Alice Roberts.
However, his proposals have been regarded with scepticism by academic linguists and the script, which is "hardly suitable for the denotation of an Indo-European language[,] leaves ample room for interpretation." In 2015, Terrence Kaufman published a book which suggested that Tartessian was a Celtic language, but written using a script devised
initially for a Vasconic "Hipponic" language (numerous SW placenames in -i(p)po(n)), although there are no extant inscriptions in such a language using the Tartessian script.
(The following are examples of Tartessian inscriptions. Untermann's numbering system, or location name in newer transcriptions, is cited in brackets, e.g. (J.19.1) or (Mesas do Castelinho). The transliterations are by Rodríguez Ramos .)
This is the longest Tartessian text known at present, with 82 signs, 80 of which have an identifiable phonetic value. The text is complete, assuming that the damaged portion contains a common, if not well-understood, Tartessian phrase-form b?are na?k?e[n--] (Guerra 2009). This formula contains two groups of Tartessian stems that appear to inflect as verbs, i.e. na?k?e, na?k?en, na?k?eii, na?k?enii, na?k?ent?i, na?k?enai and b?are, b?aren, b?areii, b?arent?i from comparison with other inscriptions (Guerra 2009).
^Catalogue numbers for inscriptions refer to Jürgen Untermann, ed. (1997): Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum. IV Die tartessischen, keltiberischen und lusitanischen Inschriften; unter Mitwirkungen von Dagmar Wodtko. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert.
^Villar 2000, p. 423; Rodríguez Ramos 2009, p. 8; de Hoz 2010, p. 473.
^Strabo, Geography, book 3, chapter 2, section 15.
^Untermann, Jürgen (1995). "Zum Stand der Deutung der "tartessischen" Inschriften". Hispano- Gallo-Brittonica: essays in honour of Professor D. Ellis Evans on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. pp. 244-59.
^Untermann, J., ed. (1997). Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum; herausgegeben von Jürgen Untermann; unter Mitwirkungen von Dagmar Wodtko. Band IV, Die tartessischen, keltiberischen und lusitanischen Inschriften. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
^Koch, John T (2009). Tartessian. Celtic in the South-West at the Dawn of History. Celtic Studies Publications, Aberystwyth. ISBN978-1-891271-17-5.
^Koch, John T (2011). Tartessian 2: The Inscription of Mesas do Castelinho ro and the Verbal Complex. Preliminaries to Historical Phonology. Celtic Studies Publications, Aberystwyth. pp. 1-198. ISBN978-1-907029-07-3.
Correa, José Antonio (1989): «Posibles antropónimos en las inscripciones en escritura del S.O. (o Tartesia)», Veleia; 6, pp. 243-252.
Correa, José Antonio (1992): «La epigrafía tartesia», Andalusien zwischen Vorgeshichte und Mittelalter, eds. D. Hertel & J. Untermann, pp. 75-114.
Correa, José Antonio (1995): «Reflexiones sobre la epigrafía paleohispánica del suroeste de la Península Ibérica», Tartessos 25 años después, pp. 609-618.
Correa, José Antonio (2009): «Identidad, cultura y territorio en la Andalucía prerromana a través de la lengua y la epigrafía», Identidades, culturas y territorios en la Andalucía prerromana, eds. F. Wulff Alonso & M. Álvarez Martí-Aguilar, Málaga, pp. 273-295.
Gorrochategui, Joaquín (2013): "Hispania Indoeuropea y no Indoeuropea", in Iberia e Sardegna: Legami linguistici, archeologici e genetici dal Mesolitico all'Età del Bronzo - Proceedings of the International Congress «Gorosti U5b3» (Cagliari-Alghero, June 12-16, 2012), pp. 47-64.
Mikhailova, T. A. (2010) Review: "J.T. Koch. Tartessian: Celtic in the South-West at the Dawn of history (Celtic Studies Publication XIII). Aberystwyth: Centre for advanced Welsh and Celtic studies, 2009" ? 2010 No3; 140-155.
Rodríguez Ramos, Jesús (2009): «La lengua sudlusitana», Studia Indogermanica Lodziensia VI, pp. 83-98.
Untermann, Jürgen, ed. (1997): Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum. IV Die tartessischen, keltiberischen und lusitanischen Inschriften; unter Mitwirkungen von Dagmar Wodtko. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert.
Valério, Miguel (2008 ): "Origin and Development of the Paleohispanic scripts: The Orthography and Phonology of the Southwestern Alphabet". Revista Portuguesa de Arqueologia 11-2, pp. 107-138.