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Reading in transliteration: ?χuiiie
Reading in original script: line_d2_1 sΨ dU dI dI dI dE d
Variant reading: ?58e
line_d2_1 s50 (character)2 d5 (character) d1 (character) d1 (character) d1 (character) dE d

Object: SH·1 Pansdorf (cist)
Position: rim
Direction of writing: ambiguous
Script: perh. Etruscan script
Letter height: 0.8–1.2 cm0.315 in <br />0.472 in <br />
Number of letters: 6
Number of words: 1
Number of lines: 1
Workmanship: chased
Condition: complete

Archaeological culture: Hallstatt D [from object]
Date of inscription: 6th century [from object]

Type: unknown
Language: perhaps Etruscan
Meaning: unknown

Alternative sigla: none

Sources: Mees 2020: 175–182


First published in Stjernquist 1965. First interpreted as Cisalpine Celtic by Mees 2020.

Images in Stjernquist 1965: Taf. XV,4 (photo = Stjernquist 1967: Taf. XLII,2b), Mees 2020: 176, fig. 1 (photo).

The marks are embossed, with a depth of ca. 1 mm, from above on the rim of the cist near one of the handle attachments (displayed above as seen from the inside). They were rarely referred to in the older literature and were only given attention upon being re-discovered after the cist was retrieved from the burned cathedral museum. They were first described in detail by Stjernquist 1965: 119, who booked the presence of an inscription as one of the similarities of the cist with the Ticino group (see SH·1 Pansdorf), assuming that such marks were typical for the Alpine area and specifically the Ticino (p. 123 f.). Stjernquist consulted G. B. Pellegrini, whose question-mark-studded assessment based on a photograph was that the sequence Ψ dU dI dI dI d could be a number '58' and the epsilon at the end the abbreviation of a unit of measurement (p. 124, Stjernquist 1967: 135). Pellegrini ignored what he thought to be two oblique strokes before Ψ d, judging them to be unlikely to be alphabetical or numerical signs (without reasoning); the leftmost one is in fact a break in the rim (Stjernquist 1967: 135, n. 6), but the one immediately next to Ψ d is intentional. Stjernquist assumed the number to be a measure of capacity referring to the volume of the cist.

An analysis of the character sequence as a language-encoding inscription is put forward by Mees 2020, who argues that "a lexical reading for a relatively long text is much better paralleled for a bronzeware vessel of this date" (p. 176): in the absence of languge-encoding inscriptions on cists from Cisalpine Celtic context, Mees compares the inscriptions on bronze Schnabelkannen GR·3 and TI·18. Based on Stjernquist's association of the object with the Ticino, Mees interprets the sequence as a Celtic name koii̯os adapted to Etruscan kuii̯e (see TIR for the adaptation of IE names in Tyrsenian languages). Pointing to the Etruscoid earliest documents in the Lepontic area, Mees suggests that the alphabet is a sort of proto-Etrusco-Lepontic, in which the employment of upsilon for /o/ is an Etruscan feature and the use of chi for /g/ was not yet fixed. For the spelling of triple iota for ii̯, he compares the Venetic inscription Es 31 which contains a form ]biiiako.s. bii̯akos, in which the offset first iota represents the vowel and the following two iotas the glide. Mees assumes that Kuii̯e is the name of the vessel's manufacturer (p. 180) and dates object and inscription to the 6th century based on the form of chi (p. 177).

While Mees' analysis of the sequence is not impossible, there are a number of issues. The first and gravest one is the unmotivated exclusion of the oblique stroke before Ψ s, which according to Mees "does not make connection with the next part of the text", but is in fact just as close to Ψ s as the following stroke. Both Pellegrini and Mees offer no explanation for its presence and exclude it from their readings purely because it cannot be read as a character and disturbs the otherwise feasible interpretations. A further problem is the explanation of the three consecutive strokes, which would generally be considered a clear indication of non-lexical content and probably prompted Pellegrini's numeral interpretation, as an over-zealous representation of vowel plus glide. The Venetic comparandum is valid, but weak because it is an unicum – in a text whose lexicality is beyond doubt, a linguistic explanation can be made plausible, but in a context where we do not expect a language-encoding inscription anyway, such an unusual spelling is not quite convincing.

Embossed marks on the rims of ribbed pails which can be compared to those on the Pansdorf cist are:

  • from Etruscan context Stjernquist 1967 no. 38 (Monteveglio, Ψ sT s), no. 40 (Toiano, T s),
  • from Golaseccan context Stjernquist 1967 no. 101:1 (Castelletto Ticino, 50 (character) s),
  • from Raetic context Stjernquist 1967 no. 18:1 (Sanzeno, I sT s = TIR SZ-82), no. 17 (Eppan/Appiano, T s, lines and an asterisk), no. 16 (Moritzing/San Maurizio, twice a chevron surrounded by small strokes = TIR BZ-7).

Further comparanda from Raetic context are:

  • a situla from Moritzing/San Maurizio (TIR BZ-8) with two marks U sI sU sI s and I s I s line d 21 s I s line d 21 s I s on the rim,
  • a fragmented situla from Moritzing/San Maurizio (TIR EX-67) with unidentifiable characters on the rim,
  • a situla from Sanzeno (TIR SZ-36) with I sΨ sT sI s on the rim,
  • a situla from Sanzeno (TIR EX-37) with marks (shapes not specified) on the rim,
  • a fragment of the rim of a bronze vessel from Cles (TIR EX-55) with line_d2_1 sI s I sI sI sI s T sI sI sI s,
  • a fragmentary bronze vessel from Mechel/Meclo (TIR NO-8) with P sI s on the rim.

See TIR for similar marks on bucket handles (including the one mentioned by Mees p. 175) – the large number of examples from the Raetic area (Fritzens-Sanzeno culture) may be due to the good state of research on para-script in this area. The Raetic inscription corpus is also the only one to provide language-encoding inscriptions on the rims of situlae from North Italic context: HU-7 (Situla in Providence, ca. 525, find place uncertain) and CE-1 (Situla Giovanelli, Cembra, 4th c.). Both the latter documents are lengthy (27 and 59 letters respectively) and unambiguously legible and interpretable; while it is true that the sequence on the Pansdorf cist is long compared to the 1–2 character marks on the cists listed by Stjernquist, and epsilon is not one of the standard characters to turn up in the average para-script sequence of crosses, chevrons and strokes, Pansdorf bears greater resemblance to those marks than to any language-encoding inscriptions.

Whether Pellegrini's tentative interpretation of the sequence as a measurement is correct must be left open until our understanding of North Italic numeral writing improves. Considering the standard forms of Etruscan ciphers, the characters when interpreted as number signs are maybe better read as seen from the outside of the cist E6 s1 (character) s1 (character) s1 (character) s5 (character)2 s50 (character) sline_d2_1 s, even though in this case epsilon is inverted. In any case, the sequence on the Pansdorf pail does lend itself to an interpretation as a tally-like number, which is more than can be said for similar sequences from Raetic context, for which no system of number writing has so far been made plausible as the characters tend to appear in sequences that are not suggestive of a tally-like system like the Etruscan one. On the other hand, there are numerous examples of possible and plausible number writing in the Cisalpine Celtic context (see Numbers).

Corinna Salomon