Spanish archaeologists recently announced the discovery of an ancient stone with perplexing symbols carved onto it.

The symbols, experts believe, are actually an ancient alphabet. If their interpretation of the tablet is correct, the slab is the third-ever “southern Paleo-Hispanic alphabet of which there is evidence,” according to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

In a press release translated from Spanish to English, CSIC explained that the stone was discovered at the Casas del Turuñuelo, which are Tartessian ruins in the southwestern Spanish province of Badajoz. The slate is around 8 inches long and dates back as early as 600 B.C.

Tartessos was an ancient civilization that occupied the southern Iberian Peninsula over 3,000 years ago. The civilization is considered “lost” because of how few remnants of it survive, and the discovery of the slate is part of a project called “Building Tartessus”.

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“[The study’s] main objective is to characterize the Tartessian material culture through the architectural analysis of the large adobe buildings excavated in recent decades and introduce the concept of architecture as an integrated element in the territory,” the CSIC’s website explains.

On the stone tablet, experts identified “what appears to be a sequence of 21 signs drawn within the framework of the tablet on which figures were also found of warriors.”

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Joan Ferrer i Jané, a researcher from the University of Barcelona, recognized the artifact as Tartessian.

“Beyond the figures, when I looked at the plate, I saw that on one of the sides there seemed to be a Paleo-Hispanic sign, a sign that cannot be confused with any other,” he explained. “Other strokes compatible with signs of a known sequence [were also seen].”

“This alphabet has 27 signs and is the only complete one we know to date,” he added. “Another was found in the excavation of Villasviejas del Tamuja (Cáceres) but it is very fragmented, it only has some central signs… [this one] would be the third and would provide a lot of information.”

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According to CSIC, there are 21 signs, or letters, drawn on the tablet. It is considered incomplete, and experts believe it once held as many as 32 symbols.

“At least 6 signs would have been lost in the split area of the piece, but if it were completely symmetrical and the signs completely occupied three of the four sides of the plate it could reach 32 signs, so the lost signs could become eleven or perhaps more if a possible sign, ‘Tu’, isolated in the lateral quarter, were part of the alphabet,” Ferrer explained.

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“After studying the images, everything indicates that it is a southern writing alphabet with the initial sequence ABeKaTuIKeLBaNS?ŚTaUE,” he added.

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