In earlier stages of research, the terms Mitanni language and Subarian were used as designations for Hurrian. In Hittite cuneiform texts, hurlili “language of the Hurrian” is used. In the last centuries of the 3rd millennium BC, Hurrians were already present in the Mardin region, which, from a geographical point of view, belongs to the North Mesopotamian plain. In Mesopotamian texts (from the time of the Akkad dynasty) some Hurrian personal names and glosses have been found. The customary assumption is that this non-Semitic and also non-Indo-European ethnic group had come from the Armenian mountains. During the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the Hurrians apparently spread over larger parts of southeast Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia.
Still later, during the intermediary “Dark Age,” they are supposed to have infiltrated into Cilicia and the adjacent Taurus and Antitaurus regions (Kizzuwatna in 2nd millennium texts). Before the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, an Indo-Aryan ruling caste wielded some type of authority over parts of Hurrian territory. Some names and words in ancient Near Eastern texts bear witness to their presence. Among these words are a group of technical terms related to the training of horses that found its way into Hittite treatises on that subject; they are most important from a historical point of view. After Sumerian, Akkadian, Hattic, Palaic, and Luwian, Hurrian and these Indo-Aryan glosses constitute the sixth and seventh additional languages of the Hittite archives.
Hurrian texts have been found in Urkish (Mardin region, c. 2300 BC), Mari (on the middle Euphrates, 18th century BC), Amarna (Egypt, c. 1400 BC), Bogazköy-Hattusa (Empire period), and Ugarit (on the coastline of northern Syria, 14th century). Amarna yielded the most important Hurrian document, a political letter sent to Pharaoh Amenhotep III. From Mari came a small number of religious texts; from Bogazköy-Hattusa, literary and religious texts; and from Ugarit, vocabularies belonging to the more “scholarly literature” described above and Hurrian religious texts in Ugaritic alphabetic script. Hurrian personal names, found in texts from many sites (Bogazköy-Hattusa, Alalakh, Ugarit, and especially Nuzu), constitute a second linguistic source of major importance.