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The Old Turkic script is the alphabet used by the Göktürk and other early Turkic Khanates from at least the 8th century to record the Old Turkic language. It was later used by the Uyghur Empire. Additionally, a Yenisei variant is known from 9th-century Kyrgyz inscriptions, and it has likely cousins in the Talas Valley of Turkestan and the Old Hungarian script of the 10th century. The alphabet was usually written from right to left.

The script is named after the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia, where early 8th century inscriptions were discovered in an 1889 expedition by Nikolay Yadrintsev. These Orkhon inscriptions were published by Vasily Radlov and deciphered by the Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893. These inscriptions are the earliest known texts in any Altaic language.

Examples of the Orhon-Yenisei alphabet are depicted on the reverse of the Azerbaijani 5 manat banknote issued since 2006.

Mainstream opinion derives the Orkhon script from variants of the Aramaic alphabet, in particular via the Pahlavi and Sogdian alphabets, as suggested by V.Thomsen, or possibly via Karosthi. Alternative possibilities include derivation from tamgas, suggested by W. Thomsen in 1893, from the Chinese script. Turkish inscriptions dated earlier than the Orkhon inscriptions used about 150 symbols, which may suggest tamgas at first imitating the Chinese script and then gradually refined into an alphabet.

The Danish hypothesis connects the script to the reports of Chinese account, from a 2nd century BC Chinese Yan renegade and dignitary named Zhonghang Yue who "taught the Shanyu (rulers of the Xiongnu) to write official letters to the Chinese court on a wooden tablet 31 cm long, and to use a seal and large-sized folder".
The same sources tell that when the Xiongnu noted down something or transmitted a message, they made cuts on a piece of wood (ko-mu), and they also mention a "Hu script". At Noin-Ula and other Hun burial sites in Mongolia and region north of Lake Baikal, the artifacts displayed over twenty carved characters. Most of these characters are either identical or very similar to the letters of the Turkic Orkhon script
The inscription corpus consists of two monuments which were erected in the Orkhon Valley between 732 and 735 in honour of the two Kokturk prince Kul Tigin and his brother the emperor Bilge Kağan, as well as inscriptions on slabs scattered in the wider area.

The Orkhon monuments are the oldest known examples of Turkic writings; they are inscribed on obelisks and have been dated to 720 (for the obelisk relating to Tonyukuk), to 732 (for that relating to Kültigin), and to 735 (for that relating to Bilge Kağan). They are carved in a script used also for inscriptions found in Mongolia, Siberia, and Eastern Turkistan and called by Thomsen "Turkish runes". They relate in epic language the legendary origins of the Turks, the golden age of their history, their subjugation by the Chinese, and their liberation by Bilge. The polished style of the writings suggests considerable earlier development of the Turkish language.

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Additional Photos by Murat Duzyol (muratd) Silver Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 34 W: 13 N: 163] (5073)
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