Skip to comments.Ancient civilization: Cracking the Indus script
Posted on 10/21/2015 3:47:27 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
Whatever their differences, all Indus researchers agree that there is no consensus on the meaning of the script. There are three main problems. First, no firm information is available about its underlying language. Was this an ancestor of Sanskrit or Dravidian, or of some other Indian language family, such as Munda, or was it a language that has disappeared? Linear B was deciphered because the tablets turned out to be in an archaic form of Greek; Mayan glyphs because Mayan languages are still spoken. Second, no names of Indus rulers or personages are known from myths or historical records: no equivalents of Rameses or Ptolemy, who were known to hieroglyphic decipherers from records of ancient Egypt available in Greek.
Third, there is, as yet, no Indus bilingual inscription comparable to the Rosetta Stone (written in Egyptian and Greek). It is conceivable that such a treasure may exist in Mesopotamia, given its trade links with the Indus civilization. The Mayan decipherment started in 1876 using a sixteenth-century Spanish manuscript that recorded a discussion in colonial Yucatan between a Spanish priest and a Yucatec Mayan-speaking elder about ancient Mayan writing...
A minority of researchers query whether the Indus script was capable of expressing a spoken language, mainly because of the brevity of inscriptions. The carvings average five characters per text, and the longest has only 26. In 2004, historian Steve Farmer, computational linguist Richard Sproat (now a research scientist at Google) and Sanskrit researcher Michael Witzel at Harvard University caused a stir with a joint paper7 comparing the Indus script with a system of non-phonetic symbols akin to those of medieval European heraldry or the Neolithic Vinaa culture from central and southeastern Europe.
(Excerpt) Read more at nature.com ...
Parpula's two volumes of photographs covering the collections of India and Pakistan, which appeared in 1987 and 1991... and his 1994 sign list, containing 386 signs (as against Mahadevan's 419 signs), are generally recognized as fine achievements, not least by Mahadevan... This is a significant figure. It is too high for a syllabary like Linear B... and too low for a highly logographic script like Chinese. the nearest comparison... are probably the Hittite hieroglyphs with about 500 signs and Sumerian cuneiform with perhaps 600+ signs... Most scholars therefore agree that the Indus script is likely to be a logosyllabic script like its west Asian contemporaries. [pp 281-284]
These Dravidian speakers are presumably remnants of a once-widespread Dravidian culture submerged by encroaching Indo-Aryans in the 2nd millennium BC... The Indo-Aryan hymns, the Vedas... recount tales of conquest of the forts of the dark-skinned Dasa or Dasyu... the Vedas repeatedly mention the horse in their descriptions of warfare and sacrifice, and this animal was clearly a vital part of Indo-Aryan society... But there is not horse imagery at all in the Indus Valley civilization and virtually no horse remains have been found by archaeologists. Hence the Indus civilizations is unlikely to have been Indo-Aryan. [pp 290-291]
Robinson mentions "a substantial inscription found at Dholavira near the coast of Kutch in 1990, which appears to have been a kind of sign board for the city." [p 295]
The Enigma Of The World's Undeciphered Scripts
by Andrew Robinson
Uncracked Ancient CodesSanskrit and early Dravidian, the ancient languages of India, seem to be the keys to deciphering the highly challenging script of the Indus Valley civilization of the third millennium b.c. in what is now Pakistan and northwest India. As with other languages, a photographic corpus of drawings, a sign list and a concordance must be compiled before decipherment will be possible. Work has proceeded along these lines for inscriptions on some 3,700 objects from the Indus Valley, most of them seal stones with very brief inscriptions (the longest has only 26 characters)... Robinson's descriptions of such analysis, and his accounts of both successful and unsuccessful decoding attempts, are clear, provocative and stimulating.
(Lost Languages reviewed)
by William C. West
Steve Farmer,Witzel are biggest fraud I have seen and spoken . Farmer is actual English translator, no regular job. Witzel, can’t even speak Sanskrit but is he Harvard Professor.
One minor thing to add to this: I collect old documents. (Some people spend their money on beer and whiskey. I collect old documents among other thingsand probably spend less.) Sometimes we assume that documents are found in textbook fashion, very neat and orderly. The reality is that many are, for lack of a better word, scribbled. It is true that older civilizations, especially in times and places in which writing media were more difficult to come by, or in which literacy was more uncommon, were less likely to scribble. But they often did, especially in less important documents. Think of it this way: If you were taking quick notes about something, could a complete stranger, who didn’t know what subject were writing about, read what you had written? Perhaps. Perhaps not. He would have a better chance than someone who lived in a different time and was more fluent in a different language. But, in learning a foreign language, we typically learn the classic form of the letters, not the scribble.
If you have enough “classic” texts of a language, it isn’t that big of a deal. But it is just one extra factor that we don’t usually think about when we are talking about breaking the code of an unknown language.
Classic form vs scribbles? How about cursive? I learned to write Chinese characters from one of the masters of Chinese cursive. His character handwriting was totally indecipherable to me.
Cracking the code of Indus Script. Use of hieroglyph-multiplexes to signify Meluhha metal catalogues
Also, these Harappan texts are in a durable material — it’s not unlikely that their archives were written on materials that haven’t survived. There’s a school of thought that the language of the Harappans was agglutinative, which many of the Asian languages are (along with Turkish, which originated in Central Asia), and often enough Dravidian is put forth as a likely candidate. The oldest known Dravidian texts are medieval in date and found on palm leaves, sometimes bound into books. Tamil in a written form (and archaic) is found on ostraca, including as far afield as the Egyptian shore of the Red Sea — during Roman times, a Tamil workforce was imported to make authentic pottery from India for the Roman market.
Thanks J, the Sumerian cuneiform system (which was probably used and understood by the Harappans, or their successors, but AFAIK hasn’t been found in the digs there) grew out of the need for recordkeeping, especially as regards production of food, property lines, and water rights. An author I used to know online (this goes back to the days of The Globe) recounted work by an historian and accountant who found that the Sumerians switched accounting methods not long after their earliest surviving records.
Sounds like the start of an HP Lovecract book.
“I slaved all night trying to decifer the glyphs. The foul symbols seemed to squirm under my tired eyes like maggots feasting on flesh. ‘Cthulhu’ seemed to be the only word I recognized.
It’s really too bad there isn’t really a Miskatonic U. I have, or had, a mug from it at one time. ;’)
Many years ago when I went to MIT, Miskatonic U shirts were such a big thing I thought it was a real college.
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