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Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation: Asko Parpola

July 7, 2010

Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/79062/sanskrit-has-contributed-indus-civilisation.html

Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Ancient civilisations and long un-deciphered mysterious scripts have always been hauntingly engaging challenges to the human consciousness.
Fired by John Chadwick’s classic in archaeology, ‘The Decipherment of Linear-B’, that chronicles how the secrets of the late Minoan and Mycenaean civilisation in ancient Greece were unveiled, renowned Indologist Prof Asko Parpola set out on an equally challenging task over 45 years back to crack the script of the Indus Valley Civilisation. For someone who has done a lifetime of monumental research on ‘Deciphering the Indus Script’ even using modern computerised tools, Parpola, whose path-breaking study on ‘A Dravidian Solution to the Indus Script Problem’ had bagged the ‘Kalaignar M Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Research Award’ at the ‘World Classical Tamil Conference (WCTC)’ in Coimbatore, is remarkably self-effacing and realistic. A diligent scholar from Finland in both ‘Vedic’ and ‘Dravidian’ studies,spoke to M R Venkatesh of ‘Deccan Herald’.

Excerpts:

What prompted you to undertake this amazing intellectual journey?

Well, my interest in the Indus Script was aroused during my student years. I also studied the classical languages of Europe, Greek and Latin, when I became a student of Helsinki University in 1959. At that time there was much discussion whether the ‘Linear-B Script’ had been deciphered or not. Actually it had been deciphered in 1952. A book on it by John Chadwick came out in 1960. I read it and it was quite fascinating. I was quite convinced that this (decipherment) is correct though there were still some Greek scholars who were sceptical. And then, my childhood friend Seppo Koskenniemi who was working for IBM in Finland asked if I would like to try computers for any problem in my field. He volunteered to do the programming; so at that time I thought we might do something useful to promote the study of the Indus Script. Because compiling statistics (on the frequency with which signs are repeated, etc.) has been very useful in all decipherment
attempts. My brother Simo who studied ‘Assyriology’ also joined the team.

How did you use computer technology in this study of Indus Script as India’s renowned epigraphist, Iravadham Mahadevan says you are the first person to have done it?

Asko Parpola: Well, it is not me. Seppo Koskenniemi and his brother Kimmo Koskenniemi, who is now Professor of Computer Linguistics at the University of Helsinki, assisted me. They have been there from the beginning.

On your seminal work on the Indus Script, what effected your change of approach to include sociology, anthropology and linguistics, instead of just an epigraphist approach that failed to make headway earlier?

Well, actually, I have not changed my approach. It has been there all the time.
I think every aspect has to be taken into consideration. We have to take advantage of every possible source (of knowledge) at our disposal.

Your solution to the Indus Script riddle – that the underlying s a syncretism rather than a collusive view of Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian family of languages. Your comments please?

Yes, I think these two language families have been in contact with each other ever since the Indo-Aryan speakers entered South Asia. It is impossible to leave Indo-Aryan sources out of account. They have preserved very important information of Harappan heritage.

One of 20th century’s greatest philosophers Wittgenstein had said understanding a language is understanding a whole form of life. Has your findings on Indus Script vindicated that insight on how language works?

Well, may be. You are putting it in very lofty words. I think every language is a unique way to see the world. I am using this phrase in connection with the tragic situation that is prevailing now in the world. So many languages, minority languages, are disappearing. At the moment, we are still having may be some 5,000 languages in the world, but very rapidly a large number of them have disappeared. It is just as with plant and animal species. Once they have gone, you can’t get them back and each of them is a unique
creation which is very valuable.

But these linguistic identities, when politicised, could lead to all kinds of disastrous consequences. So how is a harmonious understanding of world languages possible?

Yes. Besides Tamil, there are other Dravidian languages that have descended from the proto-Dravidian. But Tamil has preserved the language structure in a very archaic form. And also it has very ancient sources that are very precious. But at the same time, we must say that ‘Sanskrit’ has also preserved a very important part of the Indus heritage. So, it is impossible to say that there is something like ‘pure Dravidian’ or ‘pure Aryan’. They should not be pitted against each other. I mean, there has been mixture from the beginning. And even if you look at the history of Tamil Nadu, the ‘Brahmins’ were here
already in ‘Sangam’ times. So, they have also contributed hugely to the Tamil civilisation. So you have at least these two main language groups in India from very early times, side by side.

Your next project: will you continue your work on the Indus script?

I think it will be difficult not to continue, but actually my PhD was originally on ‘Sama Veda’ and I have been doing ‘Sama Vedic’ research in South India for many decades. There is a lot of material which I have not really had a good opportunity to work on, but which I would like to publish. Also, the ‘Thirukkural’ (of Tamil Saint-poet Thiruvalluvar) is a timeless book. I am working on a translation of it into Finnish and I would like the Finns also to have it.

How do you see the WCTC’s significance? Has it provided a platform to take forward your work on the Indus script?

Yes, I think so. For the Indus script it (WCTC) is certainly very important, a big boost to draw the attention of more Tamil and other Dravidian scholars into this venture. Scholars should get funds to pursue the studies further.

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A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem!

June 25, 2010

A Dravidian solution to  the Indus script problem

aruvar payanta … perum peyar muruka
ninn ati y-ulli vantanen
(Tirumurukârruppatai 255, 269, 279)
The Indus Civilization and its forgotten script
Stone seals inscribed with an unknown script were obtained from Harappa in the upper Indus Valley in the 1870s
and 1880s. In the early 1920s, curiosity about their origin initiated excavations at Harappa and 750 km away at
.
. ..
.
Figure 1. Discovery sites of Indus seals and inscriptions. (After CISI 2: 448.)

Mohenjo-daro in Sindh. Immediately more seals of the same kind were found. The publication of these discoveries
turned attention to a few seals of the Harappan type that had come to light in Mesopotamia. They dated the newly
found Harappan or Indus Civilization to the third millennium BCE. Radiocarbon dating has fixed the duration of the
Mature Harappan phase, during which the Indus script was used, to 2600-1900 BCE. About 30 Harappan seals
come from the Gulf and Mesopotamia, left there by sea-faring Indus merchants.
Since the 1920s, ceaseless archaeological research has revealed some 1500 Harappan sites in Pakistan and
western India. The Harappan realm in the Greater Indus Valley is one of the earliest cradles of civilization. Its urban
culture is among the first four in the world to possess a script of its own. Some 5000 short Indus texts from more
than 50 sites are known today, and much other data as well has accumulated. But the decipherment of the Indus
script has remained the most intriguing problem pertaining to this impressive city culture that initiates Indian civilization.
The Indus script vanished together with the Indus Civilization, which collapsed many centuries before hymns composed
in Vedic Sanskrit begin the historical period in South Asia around 1000 BCE.
The numerous unsuccessful attempts to understand the Indus script include a recent claim that it is not a writing
system based on language, but consists of non-linguistic symbols. Similar misconceptions prevailed about the
Mesopotamian cuneiform script
and the Egyptian hieroglyphs
before their decipherments.
Extreme shortness of texts and
their restriction to seals, small
tablets and pottery graffiti have
been adduced as proofs for this
thesis, but all these features
characterize also the Egyptian
hieroglyphic script during the first
600 years of its existence. Yet this
early form of Egyptian script was
real writing, and can be partially
read on the basis of later texts.
The high degree of sign
standardization, the arrangementof texts into regular rows, and the presence of hundreds of recurring sign sequences from different sites all indicate
that the Indus script is real writing.
Most attempts to read the Indus script apply the unsuited method of comparing the Indus signs with similarlooking
signs of other scripts and transferring their phonetic values to the Indus signs. This general error is often
coupled with the mistake of deriving Brahmi from the Indus script, though it is based on the Semitic consonant
alphabet.
Preparatory work
How then can the Indus script be deciphered? We may turn to successful decipherments and to the history of writing
for guidance. Most ancient scripts have been deciphered with the help of translations into known scripts and languages.
But here no such help is available. Historical information of the kind that opened up the cuneiform script is virtually
missing. Later Indian texts tell us nothing about the Indus Civilization. Contemporary cuneiform sources speak of the
most distant land called Meluhha, widely understood to denote Greater Indus Valley, but they offer little further
information. There is no related writing system to help with the phonetic values of the signs. Nor is there any fair
certainty of the underlying language, which was a great advantage in unraveling the Ugaritic and Mayan scripts. All
surviving texts are very short and probably not complete sentences but just noun phrases. This naturally hampers
grammatical analysis, as does the absence of word dividers.
In spite of all the difficulties, there are some positive circumstances. One is the relatively high number of preserved
inscriptions. Collecting and publishing all available evidence reliably and legibly belongs to the fundamental preparatory
tasks that have proved useful in all decipherments. This aim is being realized partly in the photographic Corpus of
Indus Seals and Inscriptions; its third volume has just come out.
Several versions of a standardized text edition in machine-readable form have been completed, and a thorough
revision is again being done. Computerization has enabled the compilation of concordances that systematically
record all occurrences of individual signs and their sequences, and various other indexes and statistics. Among the
things to be standardized is the direction of writing, normally from right to left and in seal stamps carved in mirror
image from left to right. Other routine tasks are location of word boundaries and search for possible grammatical
markers. One way to segment longer texts is to see if their component parts occur elsewhere as complete texts.
A crucial but difficult task is the compilation of a reliable sign list, which distinguishes between graphemes and
allographs. The allographic variation constitutes one important basis for interpreting the pictorial meaning of the
Indus signs. Signs may represent the same grapheme if their shapes are reasonably similar and they in addition occur

in very similar contexts. Based on these criteria, my sign list has very nearly 400 graphemes.
It is difficult to construct even parts of the Indus grammar on the basis of textual analysis. The positional sequences
of signs can be exploited to analyse the Indus texts syntactically, to define textual junctures, and to classify the signs
into phonetically or semantically similar groups. Such analyses have been carried out with automated methods. Data
accumulated in this way will certainly be useful in decipherment once a decisive breakthrough has been achieved —
in other words when the language has been identified and some signs have been read phonetically in a convincing
manner. But such analyses alone are unlikely to provide that breakthrough.
The language underlying the Indus script
In the decipherment of any ancient script, there are two principal unknowns to be clarified, namely the underlying
language or languages and the type of the script.
The language problem is most crucial. If the language of the Indus script belonged to a language family not
known from other sources, the Indus script can never be deciphered. This is clear from the case of Etruscan, an
isolated language written in an easily read alphabetic script. Etruscan can be read phonetically, but in spite of this is
not much understood beyond the texts covered by copious translations. But as the Harappan population numbered
around one million, there is a fair chance that linguistic relatives have survived and that traces of the Harappan
language can be found in the extensive Vedic texts composed in the Indus Valley less than a thousand years after the
collapse of the Indus Civilization.
While it is likely that various minority languages were spoken in the Greater Indus Valley, only one language was
written. The sign sequences are namely uniform throughout South Asia. This argument is reinforced by the Indus
seals found in the Near East. Some of them have native Harappan and some non-Harappan sign sequences.
One would expect that the most frequently attested Indus sign would very often occur next to itself, but this is
never the case in the Indus Valley. The combination is however attested on a round Gulf-type seal coming from the
Near East. The seal contains five frequently occurring Indus signs but in unique sequences. This suggests that
Harappan trade agents who resided in the Gulf and in Mesopotamia became bilingual and adopted local names, but
wrote their foreign names in the Indus script for the Harappans to read. The cuneiform texts in fact speak not only of
a distant country called Meluhha, but also of a village in southern Mesopotamia called Meluhha whose inhabitants
had purely Sumerian names.
According to its inscription, one Old Akkadian cylinder seal belonged to “Su-ilishu, interpreter of the Meluhhan

language”. This implies that the Meluhhan language differed from the languages commonly spoken and understood
in ancient Near East, above all Sumerian, Akkadian and Elamite. Near Eastern languages appear historically much
less likely to have been spoken in the Indus Valley than languages known to have existed in South Asia.
Because the origin of the Aryan languages is such a controversial issue, especially in India, it is necessary to trace
these languages back to their source, the Proto-Indo-European. The location and dating of Proto-Indo-European
too have been long debated, but a fair consensus concerning this problem is in sight. When the Proto-Indo-
European-speaking community dispersed, its language had a dozen terms related to wheeled vehicles. Wheeled
vehicles were invented shortly before 3500 BCE in south-eastern Europe, from where they quickly spread to areas
where the principal Indo-European languages were later spoken.
Greek and Armenian are the closest linguistic relatives of Indo-Iranian, and the protoforms of these languages
are likely to have been spoken in the Pit Grave or Yamnaya cultures which between 3300 and 3000 BCE spread
with ox carts from North Pontic steppes eastwards to the Ural mountains. The Eurasian steppes are the native

habitat of the horse. It was there that the horse was first yoked to pull a light-wheeled chariot, at the end of the third
millennium BCE. Early Aryan loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages spoken in north-eastern Europe locates Proto-
Aryan to the Volga-Ural steppes.
From the Volga-Ural steppes the horse-drawn chariot spread southwards to the Bronze Age culture in southern
Central Asia, the “Bactria and Margiana Archaeological Complex” or BMAC, which flourished about 2300-1500
BCE. BMAC people started moving to Iran and to the Indus Valley in the Late Harappan period, around 1900-
1600 BCE. At the same time, the BMAC sites were surrounded by nomadic peoples from the Eurasian steppes,
who probably spoke early forms of Indo-Iranian. On their way to Iran and India, these migrants took over the rule
and culture of the BMAC. Alexander Lubotsky (2001) has listed all words shared by Iranian and Indo-Aryan
which do not have an acceptable Indo-European origin. In structure, these words largely agree with the 383 foreign
loanwords in the language of the Rigveda listed by Frans Kuiper (1991). Lubotsky has suggested that most words
in both lists come from the language of the BMAC. This justified conclusion implies that these foreign words of an
unknown language were borrowed by Rigvedic Aryans before they entered the Indus Valley, or from the language of
the Daasas, an earlier come wave of Indo-Iranian speakers with a BMAC substratum. Hence these words do not
represent the Harappan language. Their use for the decipherment of the Indus script would in any case not be
feasible for the simple reason that the exact meaning of so many of them is unclear.
Although Indo-Iranian languages have been spoken in the Indus Valley since the second millennium BCE, they
were hardly spoken by Harappan people in the third millennium. The domesticated horse played an important role
in the culture of the Indo-Iranian speakers, but according to faunal remains the horse came to South Asia only after
2000 BCE and it is not depicted in Harappan art. The first appearance of the horse is in Swat, in the BMACderived
Gandhara Grave culture; its characteristic “face urns” seem to be connected with the cult of Aoevins, the
Vedic gods of chariotry.
Burushaski spoken in northernmost Pakistan is a linguistic isolate, but possibly related with the Ketic languages
of Siberia. There is little trace of Burushaski further south. Burushaski’s arrival from the north was probably preceded
by the Himalayan group of Tibeto-Burman languages, which may be connected with the Northern Neolithic of the
Swat Valley and Kashmir. The Northern Neolithic had some contact with the Early Harappans but only in its own
northern area.
In general the Sino-Tibetan languages always restricted to the Himalayan regions in South Asia are unlikely
candidates for a genetic relationship with the Harappan language.
The Austro-Asiatic languages known from Central and Eastern India, with linguistic relatives in South-East Asia

and minor participation in the linguistic convergence in South Asia, are also unlikely to have descended from the
Harappan language.
The only remaining alternative among the well-known potential linguistic relatives of the Harappan language is
the Dravidian language family. The 26 Dravidian languages are now mainly spoken in Central and South India.
Figure 4. The Dravidian languages and their subgroups. (After Krishnamurti 2003: 18.)
However, one Dravidian language, Brahui, has been spoken in Baluchistan in the northwest for at least a thousand
years, as far as the historical sources go. In contrast to Burushaski, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic languages,
which are very small minority languages in South Asia, the Dravidian speakers until recently constituted one fourth of
India’s population.
Loanwords from Dravidian have been identified from Indo-Aryan texts composed in northwestern India around
1100-600 BCE. These six examples are from the earliest text, the Rigveda (the capital letters are retroflex consonants,

which did not exist in Proto-Indo-Iranian):
mukham ‘face, front, mouth’ < PD *mukam ‘id.’
khalam ‘threshing floor’ < PD *kaLam ‘id.’
phalam ‘fruit’ < PD *paZam ‘ripe fruit’
kuNDam ‘pit’ < PD *kuNTam ‘pit’
kaaNa- ‘blind in one eye’ < PD *kaaNa ‘not seeing’
kiyaambu- ‘watery plant’ < PD *kiyampu ‘taro, aroid, Colocasia’.
The retroflex consonants, a diagnostic feature of the South Asian linguistic area, can be divided into two main
groups. One of them is distributed over the Indus Valley and the Dravidian-speaking areas.
In addition to the retroflex consonants, Indo-Aryan has several other structural features that have long been
interpreted as borrowings from Dravidian. Some of them exist at the earliest level. Historical linguistics thus suggests
that the Harappans probably spoke a Dravidian language. With this conclusion we turn to the problem of script type.
The type of writing system represented by the Indus script
Recent American-Pakistani excavations at Harappa with meticulous stratigraphy have produced new evidence on
the evolution of the Indus script. Pottery has scratched symbols since 3300 BCE. Some of these pot-marks became
signs of the Indus script, which was created during the final phase of the Early Harappan period, between 2800-
2500 BCE. It is possible and indeed even probable that the Early Harappans got the idea of writing through stimulus
diffusion from the Proto-Elamites of the Iranian Plateau, but they did not copy the signs of the Proto-Elamite script.
Only few specimens from this formative period are presently available. During the Mature Harappan period, the fully
developed script was used without much change at all major sites. The script disappeared fairly soon after the
collapse of the Indus Civilization.
Archaic Sumerian, the oldest logo-syllabic writing, mainly consists of iconic word signs or logograms occasionally
complemented with rebus-based syllabic signs which also initially expressed “words”. Grammatical markers were
at first ignored in writing, but were gradually introduced with the growing familiarity with phonetic signs and better
ability to analyze language.
The logo-syllabic system demanded hundreds of signs. Devising the first syllabic scripts became possible around
2300 BCE, when many syllabograms were already in use in the cuneiform script. Logograms could now largely be
eliminated. The Egyptian variant of logo-syllabic writing, whose rebus puns ignore vowels altogether, enabled an
even more drastic reduction of graphemes. Around 1600 BCE, Semitic scribes in Egyptian-occupied Levant started
13
Asko Parpola
writing their own language with just those phonograms of the Egyptian script that comprised a single consonant.
Logo-syllabic scripts have hundreds of graphemes, syllabic scripts manage with less than 100 and most alphabetic
scripts with less than 40.
The number of known Indus signs is around 400, which agrees well with the logo-syllabic type but is too high for
the script to be syllabic or alphabetic. Word divisions are not marked, but many inscriptions comprise only one, two
or three signs, and longer texts can be segmented into comparable units. This is a typical word length in Sumeriantype
logo-syllabic script, while in syllabic and alphabetic scripts many words require more signs. The Indus script
was created before any syllabic or alphabetic script existed, so all main criteria agree in suggesting that the Indus
script is a logo-syllabic writing system.
Methodology: the basic decipherment formula and initial clues
The prospects and methods of deciphering a logo-syllabic script without translations differ in some essential respects
from those of syllabic and alphabetic scripts. The syllabaries and alphabets form closed systems that cover the entire
phonology of the language, and can be decoded as a systemic whole. In logo-syllabic scripts, there are many more
signs, and the phonetic bond between the signs is weaker. There is no chance of building such phonetic grids as in the
decipherment of Linear B, and a complete decipherment of the Indus script is certainly not possible with presently
available materials.
Most signs of early logo-syllabic scripts were originally pictures denoting the objects or ideas they represented.
But abstract concepts such as ‘life’ would be difficult to express pictorially. Therefore the meaning of a pictogram
was extended from the word for the depicted object to comprise all its homophones. In the Sumerian script the
drawing of an arrow meant ‘arrow’, but in addition ‘life’ and ‘rib’, because all three words were pronounced alike
in the Sumerian language, namely ti. Homophony is usually language-specific, and rebuses thus enable language
identification and phonetic decipherment.
Individual signs of logo-syllabic scripts may be deciphered if four conditions can simultaneously be fulfilled: (1)
the object depicted in a given pictogram can be recognized; (2) the said pictogram has been used as a rebus; (3) the
intended rebus meaning can be deduced from the context(s); and (4) acceptably homophonous words corresponding
to the pictorial and rebus meanings exist in a historically likely known language. (Method demands strictness with
homophony; in the case of Proto-Dravidian, variation in the length of vowels and consonants is allowed, but not
much else.)
The iconic shape of the Indus signs thus constitutes one of the chief keys to their interpretation. Unfortunately the
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A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
pictorial meaning of most Indus signs is not clear. In some rare cases an iconographic motif added to an Indus
inscription can suggest the intended meaning of a sign. The scene at the right end of one tablet from Mohenjo-daro
(M-478) shows a human being who kneels in front of a tree and extends a V-shaped object towards it. The person
apparently presents offerings to a sacred tree in what may be a pot shown in cross-section. If so, the intended and
iconic meanings of the V-shaped sign in the text coincide, and it can be understood directly from the pictogram. We
need not know what the Harappan word for the depicted object was.
Figure 5. Pot of offerings in the text and iconography of the tablet M-478
from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 115.)
Figure 6. (Offering of) “four pots of fish” on the tablet H-902 from Harappa. (After CISI 2: 339.)
The plain ‘fish’ sign probably has the intended meaning ‘fish’ on Indus tablets such as H-902 B which seems to
mention offering of four pots of fish. In Mesopotamia fish offerings were made in temples, in India fish and meat and
strong drinks were offered to godlings inhabiting sacred trees. That the signs looking like a ‘fish’ really have this
pictorial meaning is certified by the Indus iconography, in which it is placed in the mouth of a fish-eating crocodile.
But if phonetic decipherment is possible only in cases where the rebus principle has been employed, how can we
locate such cases, and how can we deduce the intended rebus meanings? These are certainly among the most
difficult tasks. Contextual clues include the function of inscribed artifacts. The vast majority of Indus texts are seal
stamps and seal impressions. As with iconographic clues, we can use for their interpretation parallels from elsewhere,
Western Asia and historical South Asia being most relevant.
A clay tag stamped with cloth impression on the reverse and with a square Indus seal on the obverse comes from
Umma in Mesopotamia. The Harappans’ contact with the Near East makes it highly probable that the Indus seal
15
Asko Parpola
inscriptions chiefly contain proper names of persons with or without their occupational or official titles and descent,
as do the contemporaneous Mesopotamian seal inscriptions.
Starting point: the ‘fish’ signs of the Indus script
In Mesopotamian and later Indian onomastics, names of gods are used to form personal names. We can expect to
have theophoric components of proper names and of priestly titles in some fairly large and uniformly distributed
group of signs in the Indus seals.
Although Mesopotamian ECONOMIC texts often record rations of fish, fish is NEVER mentioned in
Mesopotamian SEAL inscriptions. Yet the ‘fish’ sign, both plain and modified with various diacritic additions, occurs
so frequently on Indus seals that almost every tenth sign belongs to this group. This suggests that at least in the Indus
SEAL inscriptions, the ‘fish’ signs denote something else than ‘fish’ and are used as rebuses.
The most commonly used word for ‘fish’ in Dravidian languages is miin, and has the homophone miin meaning
‘star’. Both words may be derivatives of the root min ‘to glitter’.
Of course, one must check that the words in assumed readings are represented in more than one subgroup and
can be reconstructed for Proto-Dravidian. In addition, the hypotheses must be checked against script-external
evidence. Do the proposed interpretations make sense in the Harappan context, and with regard to the later South
Asian tradition, and the Mesopotamian contacts?
Figure 7. The fish-eating crocodilian ghariyal with the ‘fish’ sign of the Indus script on the seal M-410 from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 98.)
16
A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
There is some external evidence supporting the proposed Dravidian rebus reading of the ‘fish’ sign. The motifs
fish and star co-occur on Mature Harappan painted pottery. Tamil speakers, who call these two things with the same
word, have imagined the stars to be fish swimming in the ocean of night sky.
Additional support for reading the ‘fish’ sign as a rebus for ‘star’ is the absence of a sign depicting ‘star’ from the
Indus script, although the ‘star’ symbol is painted and incised on Early Harappan pottery. The omission of a ‘star’
pictogram from the script is understandable as an economic measure, as the ‘fish’ sign covers the meaning ‘star’ as
well.
The rebus meaning ‘star’ suits the expected meaning ‘god’ as a component of proper names in seal inscriptions.
Whenever a god or goddess is mentioned in cuneiform texts, the pictogram of ‘star’ is prefixed to the name as its
determinative, to indicate that what follows is divine. In the Sumerian script, the ‘star’ pictogram means not only
‘god’ but also ‘sky’. ‘Star’ is thought to have originally been an attribute of the sky-god An. With An as the leading
divinity of the Sumerian pantheon, his symbol would then have started to mean ‘god’ in general. Astronomy, including
the use of a star calendar, played an important role in ancient Mesopotamia, and deeply influenced the religion: all the
main gods were symbolized by particular stars or planets.
In the Near East, the ‘star’ symbol
distinguished divinities even in pictorial representations.
Significantly, a seal from Mohenjo-daro depicts an Indus
deity with a star on either side of his head in this Near
Eastern fashion.
The ‘fish’ signs could well have been
parts of Harappan proper names, for ever since Vedic
times people in India have had astral names derived
from their birth stars. There are indications that this kind
of name-giving is of non-Aryan origin.
Methodology: Checking and verifying
The hypotheses can and must be subjected to scriptinternal
checking in the manner of cross-word puzzles.
One cannot overemphasize the importance of this
Figure 8. A seated deity with stars on either side of the head on the seal operation. If we apply exactly the same assumptions
M-305 from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 383.)
17
Asko Parpola
and methods of interpretation to signs associated with an interpreted sign in a compound sign or in a recurring sign
sequence, do we get sensible results? If yes, these provisional results must be subjected to further external checking:
Are the posited compound words actually attested in Dravidian languages and not mere imagination? Particularly
important is Old Tamil literature, the only ancient Dravidian source not much contaminated by Indo-Aryan languages
and traditions. Interlocking of consistent readings with each other and with external linguistic data and clues constitutes
the essence of all decipherments.
Compounds formed with ‘fish’ signs and Indian mythology
The numerals belong to those few Indus signs whose function and meaning can be deduced with fair certainty, partly
from the fact that they consist of groups of vertical strokes, which is the way numerals are represented in many
ancient scripts, partly from their mutual interchangeability before specific signs, including the plain ‘fish’. Reading the
sequence ‘6’ + ‘fish’ in Dravidian yields the Old Tamil name of the Pleiades, aru-miin, literally ‘6 stars’. Note that
the numeral attribute precedes its headword in the Indus script as it did in Proto-Dravidian, but by no means in every
language of the world.
‘7’ + ‘fish’ corresponds to the Old Tamil name of Ursa Major, eZu-miin. This sequence forms the entire
inscription on one big seal from Harappa (H-9).
In Mesopotamia big dedicatory seals were
sometimes presented to divinities. The stars of Ursa
Major have since Vedic times been identified with the
ancient “Seven Sages”. These mythical ancestors of
priestly clans play an important role in early Indian
mythology.
Because the Pleiades constitute the first
constellation of the Vedic star calendar, its heliacal rise
at the vernal equinox is thought to have marked the
beginning of the New Year. This and the position of the
marking stars in the sky dates the calendar to the twentythird
century BCE and suggests its Harappan origin.
The Vedic people did not inherit the calendar from the
Indo-Iranian tradition but adopted it in India.
Figure 9. The sequence of signs depicting ‘seven’ and ‘fish’; these
two signs form the whole inscription of the large seal H-9 from
Harappa. (After CISI 1: 166.)
18
A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
Vedic texts prescribe the kindling of sacred fires under the Pleiades, because the Pleiades now have the Fire-
God Agni as their mate. We are told that the Pleiades were the wives of the Seven Sages, but are now precluded
from intercourse with their husbands, who divorced them. Therefore the Pleiades now rise in the east, while the
Seven Sages (that is, the stars of Ursa Major) are in the north. The Fire God Agni mentioned as the mate of the
Pleiades apparently represents the young vernal sun, whose conjunction with the Pleiades started the New Year.
Later Sanskrit texts tell the myth in more detail and in several variant forms. According to them, the Fire God
Agni (or the great ascetic god OEiva) seduced the Pleiades in the absence of their husbands, the Seven Sages. They
were divorced. Only Arundhatii, the faithful wife of Sage VasiSTha, could not be seduced. She could remain as the
star Alcor with her husband, the star Mizar of Ursa Major (see fig. 13).
This is really one of the central myths of the Hindu religion. In a Puranic version, God OEiva seduced six of the
wives of the absent Seven Sages in their Himalayan hermitage. The Sages cursed OEiva’s phallus to fall down. The
phallus started to burn the world and stopped only when the Sages placed it on a vulva-shaped platform and
worshipped it with cooling water-libations. This is how the cult of OEiva’s linga or phallus originated. OEiva, one of the
greatest gods of Hinduism, has mostly the phallus as his cult icon since the earliest historical times. OEiva’s Vedic
predecessor Rudra is thought to be of non-Aryan origin. In Vedic texts, Rudra is euphemistically called oeiva
‘benign’, and equated with the Fire god Agni as is OEiva in the Pleiades myth.
Banyan fig and the pole star
One recurring sign sequence with the plain ‘fish’ sign as its latter member begins with a sign whose iconic meaning
seems to be ‘fig tree’. Can we here too have a Dravidian astral term?
Figure 10. The seal M-414
from Mohenjo-Daro. The normal
direction of writing, from right to
left, is that of the impression; in
this original seal stamp, the text
has been carved in mirror
image. (After CISI 3.1: 409.)
19
Asko Parpola
The iconic interpretation as ’fig’ is based on a comparison with Harappan painted pottery. In the script, the fig
tree is shown as three-branched, just as on the painted pottery, except when another sign is placed inside it; then the
central ‘branch’ is omitted. In the combined sign, the branches end in fig leaves as they do on the painted pottery,
but in the basic sign with less space the fig leaves are simplified, and one or two down-going lines are sometimes
added beneath the leaves on either side; in some variants
three or four such lines replace the leaves altogether.
The ‘three-branched fig tree’ motif occurs on
Harappan pottery from the Early through the Mature
to the Late phase. In one variant from the time when
the Indus script was created, four strokes are attached
to either side of the middle stem. They are similar to the
strokes of the Indus sign, except for their upward
direction, which may be due to the direction of the two
lower stems. The strokes seem to represent the airroots
of the banyan fig.
The rope-like air-roots are characteristic of the
banyan fig, Ficus bengalensis or Ficus indica. This
mighty tree is native to South Asia and does not grow
in the parts where the Indo-Aryan speakers came from.
A post-Vedic Sanskrit name for the banyan fig is vaTa.
This is a Dravidian loanword, ultimately derived from
Figure 11. Allographs of the Indus sign (no. 123) representing a three-branched ‘fig tree’ and of its ligature with the ‘crab’ sign (no. 124), where the
middlemost branch has been omitted to accommodate the inserted ‘crab’ sign. (After Parpola 1994: 235.)
Figure 12. A painted goblet with the ‘three-branched fig tree’ motif from
Nausharo ID, transitional phase between the Early and Mature Harappan
periods (c. 2600-2550 BCE). (After Samzun 1992: 250, fig. 29.4 no. 2.)

Underlying language of Indus script, Proto-Dravidian: Asko Parpola

June 25, 2010

Underlying language of Indus script, Proto-Dravidian: Asko Parpola

http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article485447.ece

Asko-at-Coimbatore-2010

Asko-at-Coimbatore-2010

The underlying language of the Indus script was Proto-Dravidian, Asko Parpola, Professor-Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki, Finland, said on Friday.

Declaring that “an opening to the secrets of the Indus script has been achieved,” Prof. Parpola said the results of his readings kept within narrow limits: fertility cult connected with fig trees, a central Hindu myth associated with astronomy and time-reckoning and chief deities of Hindu and Old Tamil religion.

Delivering the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Research Endowment Lecture on “A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem” at the World Classical Tamil Conference here, the Indologist said the readings were based on reasonable identifications of the signs’ pictorial shapes. The results made good sense in the framework of ancient Indian cultural history.

“These readings have been achieved with strictly adhered methodology which is in full agreement with the history of writing, methods of decipherment and historical linguistics including the comparative study of Dravidian languages,” he told the audience that included Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.

Displaying nearly two dozen illustrations of Indus seals and inscriptions, he dwelt upon the topic by explaining two broad aspects — underlying language and type of the script — that were essential in the decipherment of an ancient script. He also substantiated his thesis with an etymological analysis of certain Tamil words such as ‘muruku’ and ‘miin’.

Hinting that Harappan language had a genetic relationship with the Dravidian language family, Prof. Parpola said 26 Dravidian languages were now mainly spoken in central and southern parts of India. However, one Dravidian language, Brahui, had been spoken in Baluchistan of Pakistan for at least one thousand years. In contrast to Burushashki, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic languages, very small minority languages in south Asia, the Dravidian speakers until recently constituted one-fourth of the population in India.

Loanwords from the Dravidian family had been identified from Indo-Aryan texts composed in northwestern India around 1100-600 BCE. Besides, Indo-Aryan had several structural features that had long been interpreted as borrowings from Dravidian. “Historical linguistics thus suggests that the Harappans probably spoke a Dravidian language.”

Referring to the type of writing system, Prof. Parpola said the number of known Indus signs was around 400 “which agrees well with the logo-syllabic type but is too high for the script to be syllabic or alphabetic”. Though word divisions were not marked, many inscriptions comprised one, two or three signs and longer texts could be segmented into comparable units. The Indus script was created before any syllabic or alphabetic script existed.

Pointing out that the confirmed interpretations and their wider contexts provided a lot of clues for progress, he acknowledged there were still serious difficulties in the decipherment of the script. “One is the schematic shape of many signs which makes it difficult to recognise their pictorial meaning with certainty. Possibilities of proposing likely readings and their effective checking are severely limited by our defective knowledge of Proto-Dravidian vocabulary, compounds and phraseology.”

The problem of the Indus script resembled to some extent that of the logo-syllabic Maya script, where advance was phenomenal after Mayan speakers were trained in the methods of decipherment.

The Indologist said those who had good acquaintance with the realities of Indian culture and south Asian nature could make useful contributions in suggesting possible pictorial meanings for the Indus signs. For this, there was no need to be a Dravidian speaker.

Iravatham Mahadevan, eminent archaeologist, presided over the event.

Acceptance speech of Asko Parpola, recipient of the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award

http://www.thehindu.com/news/resources/article483967.ece

Your Excellency the President of India, Srimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, distinguished dignitaries, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Vanakkam!

It is indeed a very great honour to receive the first Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award from the President of India. Yet I feel embarrassed, because my work is only partly related to Classical Tamil, while there are Classical Tamil specialists who really would have deserved this award. But as this is not the only time when the award is given, I humbly accept that this is my turn. I am most grateful for the very considerable support for my continued work in this field.

The Government of India has rightly recognized Tamil as a classical language, a status that it fully deserves in view of its antiquity and its rich literature that in quality and extent matches many other classical traditions of the world. Yet, Tamil is not alone in possessing such a rich heritage in India, which is really a very exceptional country with so many languages having old and remarkable literatures, both written and oral. Sanskrit with its three thousand years old tradition has produced an unrivalled number of literary works.

Sanskrit goes back to Proto-Indo-Aryan attested in a few names and words related to the Mitanni kingdom of Syria between 1500 and 1300 BCE, and to earlier forms of Indo-Iranian known only from a few loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages as spoken in central Russia around 2000 BCE. But none of these very earliest few traces is older than the roots of Tamil. Tamil goes back to Proto-Dravidian, which in my opinion can be identified as the language of the thousands of short texts in the Indus script, written in 2600-1700 BCE. There are, of course, different opinions, but many critical scholars agree that even the Rigveda, collected in the Indus Valley about 1000 BCE, has at least half a dozen Dravidian loanwords.

Old Tamil texts constitute the only source of ancient Dravidian linguistic and cultural heritage not yet much contaminated by the Indo-Aryan tradition. Without it, it would be much more difficult if not impossible to penetrate into the secrets of the Indus script and to unravel the beginnings of India’s great civilization. In my opinion the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilization. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that, though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilization.

Nanri! Tamizh vaazka!

The Indus script and the wild ass – Asko Parpola

June 23, 2010

Parpola brings out meaning of Old Tamil ‘taaL leg’
http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Chennai/article490698.ece

“The Hindu” has come out immediately with the following brief, ignoring, the interactions that took place at Roja Muthaiah Library onn 28th evening, when he presented his paper on  “The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and  the Wild Ass” with ppt.

After discussion and answering to crucial questions, Asko parpola clearly accepted that he did not read all the seals and his decipherment was not final.

In fact, Iravatham Mahadevan accepted  that “multi-interpretations are possible”.

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

Noted Indologist Asko Parpola on Monday delivered the ‘Gift Siromoney Endowment Lecture Series”’organised by Roja Muthiah Research Library, trying to read the old Tamil ‘taaL leg’ in the context of the newly deciphered sign depicting “a hoofed animal hind leg.” He was talking on ‘The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and the Wild Ass.’

He said “Old Tamil ‘taaL leg’ had a Toda cognate meaning ‘thigh of animal’s hind leg’ and denotes a star in PuRam 395.” The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Besides pointing to various physiological features of the animal, which lived in the desert and could survive even after losing 30 per cent of the water of its body, he narrated many stories associated with the wild ass.

Noted epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan said more young researchers should enter the field of epigraphy, continuing his work and that of Professor Parpola. He pointed out that he had already reached 81 and Parpola was only 10 years younger to him. Gift Siromoney was a professor at the Madras Christian College. Though a mathematics student, he had prepared many field reports, including the fauna of Tambaram area and Thirukkural written in different scripts of the last 2,000 years. Rani Siromoney, wife of Siromoney, also spoke.

The Indus script and the wild ass

Asko Parpola

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece

[Thanks to The Hindu for the photo and article. As “The Hindu” generally does not encourage the other view of any issue, we have no other way but reproduce it and circulate for discussion and debate]

Image of a modern impression of the seal M-290 from Mohenjo-daro, where the sequence 'hind leg' + 'wild ass' (to be read from right to left) occurs. Courtesy: Asko Parpola

Image of a modern impression of the seal M-290 from Mohenjo-daro, where the sequence ‘hind leg’ + ‘wild ass’ (to be read from right to left) occurs. Courtesy: Asko Parpola

In a paper to be presented at the World Classical Tamil Conference, I am going to discuss recent developments in my study of the Indus script. In the book Deciphering the Indus Script (Cambridge 1994), I interpreted the ‘fish’ sign as Proto-Dravidian *miin ‘fish’ = *miin ‘star’, and its compounds with preceding signs as names of heavenly bodies attested in Old Tamil. One newly deciphered sign depicts “a hoofed animal’s hind leg.” It occurs once before the plain ‘fish’ sign. Old Tamil taaL ‘leg’ has a Toda cognate meaning “thigh of animal’s hind leg” and denotes a star in PuRam 395. The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Is the reading taaL ‘(hind) leg’ meaningful in this context?

Just one Indus seal has the wild ass as its iconographic motif; it was excavated in 2009 at Kanmer in the Kutch, next to the only wild ass sanctuary in South Asia. Bones of wild ass come from Harappan sites in Baluchistan, the Indus Valley and Gujarat; the salt deserts of this very area have always been the habitat of the wild ass. Bones or depictions of the domestic horse and the donkey are not found in South Asia before 1600 BCE.

Tamil kaZutai or “donkey” has cognates in Malayalam, Kota, Toda, Kannada, Kodagu, Tulu, Telugu, Kolami, Naiki, Parji, Gondi and Kuwi. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti reconstructs *kaZ-ut-ay and asserts that Proto-Dravidian speakers knew of the donkey. More probably *kaZutay meant ‘wild ass’ in Harappan Dravidian, and the term was transferred to the similar-looking donkey when this newcomer came to South Asia from the west through the Indus Valley. Rigvedic gardabha – ‘donkey’ has no cognates in Iranian; it is a Dravidian loan word with the added Indo-Iranian animal name suffix –bha-. I explain *kaZutay as ‘kicker of the salt desert’, from *kaZ(i) / *kaLLar ‘saline soil’ and *utay ‘to kick’. The wild ass lives in the salt desert and is a vicious kicker.

There is a Hindu myth explicitly associated with the wild ass, the Dhenukavadha of Harivamsa 57. Krishna and Balarama came to a palmyra forest occupied by the fierce ass demon Dhenuka and its herd. Wanting to drink the juice of ripe palm fruits, Balarama shook the trees. Hearing the sound of falling fruits, the enraged ass demon rushed to the spot. Seeing Balarama beneath a wine palm, as if holding the tree as his banner, the wicked ass bit Balarama and started kicking him hard with its hind legs. Balarama seized the ass by those hind legs and flung it to the top of a palm. The ass fell down with its neck and back broken and died. Dhenuka’s retinue met with the same fate, and the ground became covered with dead asses and fallen palm fruits. The palm forest, horrible when terrorised by the asses, impossible for humans to live in, difficult to cross, and with a great extent and salty soil (iriNa), now became a lovely place.

The description of the palm forest as a salt desert confirms that wild asses are meant. The palm tree, Sanskrit taala from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ, is prominent in the myth and its earliest sculptural representations. The wine palm is associated with the wild ass, which inhabits the palm forest and finally falls down from the top of the palm like its ripe fruits. The wine palm is connected also with the ass’ killer (his successor as the god of its drink), Balarama, whose addiction to toddy is “an essential part of his character.”

The myth also refers to the palm emblem on Balarama’s banner (tâla-dhvaja). In the Rigveda, Indra is invited to drink Soma like a thirsty wild ass (gaura) drinks in a pond of salty soil (iriNa). In Kutch today, such ponds are called taalaab. This Persian word comes from Indo-Aryan taala ‘pond’, from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ ‘low place, depression.’ Like the camel, the wild ass can quickly drink an enormous amount of water, becoming through homophony the prototypal toddy-drinker. Further homophones of taaZ connect the wild ass with the ebb of tide and its mythical cause, the mare-faced demon of the netherworld who drinks the whole ocean.

Conclusion: taaL (from *taaZ, preserved in Old Kannada) ‘(hind) leg, stem of tree’ (whence taaZ ‘tree with a prominent stem’ > ‘wine palm’) is in many ways connected with the wild ass.

(The author, who will be the first recipient of the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award, is Professor Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki.)

Questions posed to Iravatham mahadevan and Asko Parpola.

June 21, 2010

Questions posed to Iravatham mahadevan and Asko Parpola.

Iravatham Mahadevan and Asko Parpola have to answer many questions without mincing words, which are pointed out as follows:

1. The expression, “Vedic scholar-turned-Dravidianist” proves the change in ideology that is not good for any scholar of his stature. IM has already brought Michael Witzel, the Rig Vedic Pundit last year here in Chennai and he talked differently. Of course, IM prevented native Pundits to question and test his Sanskrit capabilities. He was struggling to repeat few words mentioned by one of the audience.

2. That he has academic credentials “to prove that the Indus Civilisation was pre-Aryan and that its writing encoded a Dravidian language”, makes no credentials, as researchers have such qualifications and acumen in their steadfast work carried on for years. Scholars respect scholars till they are biased with other motives.

3. “Even though the Indus script remains undeciphered, as Professor Parpola readily admits, his theoretical groundwork on the Dravidian character of the Indus Civilisation and the script, and the fact of Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation, have been accepted by most scholars in the world“. Acceptance or non-acceptance of any hypothesis, theory etc., cannot be a criteria for coming to any final conclusion in a research plan, particularly, where the script remains undeciphered.

4. “When the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu’s award is given to me for a Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, this award will inevitably be interpreted by many people as politically motivated”. Definitely, because, he has been known for his extremist views, racist bias and linguistic fanaticism and all couched with anti-Hindu, anti-Sanskrit, anti-Hindi, anti-north, anti-Brahmin and so on. Moreover, award for Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, reminds the the world war period, where the racists scholars used to be honoured in the same way by the racist regimes, because any other solution means no award!

5. “Nevertheless, I am ready to fight for the truth, and in my opinion, the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilisation”. Why some pride, they have “full / more” pride, whether they preserve or not the linguistic heritage of the Indus civilization. In fact, the queation is whether the Indus cicilization had any preserved linguistic heritage of the Tamils conclusively, instead of taking few seals and giving convenient interpretation.

6. “At the same time, it must not be forgotten that though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilisation.” Had both people descended from the same lineage, where is the question of linguistic heritage preserved by one group of people and cultural heritage by other group? His theory that “Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation” shows after the decline of the Indus civilization, the Dravidians moved to north and then came down to south. Aryans came thereafter and moved in the same way.

7. When Aryans immigrated after the decline of Indus-Dravidian civilization, there was no “Aryan invasion”. Karunanidhi would not accept such academic exercise.

8 . The time gap between the two historical processes has to be specified and explained. The peak period of IVC has been c.2250-1950 BCE. The Sangam period starts from c.300 BCE. Why then, the “Dravidian speaking people” took nearly two millinea to shift from IVC to north and north to South?

9. Why they should have taken such a long period to compose Sangam literature only at Tamizhagam insyead of IVC or north India? It is also surprising that they could not develop any script during those 2000 years!

10. The earliest Tamil inscriptions date from the Mauryan Era. That Asoka should copy from the Persians and start indscribing on the stones so that Indians could read at different parts of India in the same language or in their languages! And the intelligent Dravidian speaking people / immigrant Tamils from the IVC should wait for Asoka and start copying his script to write in Tamil only from that particular period!

11. As the IV Dravidian speakers had been the expert makers of the seals, why they should wait for 2000 years to copy script from Asoka? Does it make sound?

12. Asoka and even Kharavela, whose territories were threatened with the “confederation of Dravidian kings” could write many lines, how is that the Dravidian speaking people could leave only few-line inscriptions, broken ones etc?

Vedaprakash

20-06-2010

War of words in the cradle of south Asian civilisation!

May 14, 2010

War of words in the cradle of south Asian civilisation

In the heart of Pakistan, the ruins of a 4,000-year-old city have spawned a cross-continental row about language, culture – and racism in academia, By Andrew Buncombe, Thursday, 25 March 2010

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/war-of-words-in-the-cradle-of-south-asian-civilisation-1927005.html

Curator Mohammed Hassan
ANDREW BUNCOMBECurator Mohammed Hassan

At the quiet ruins of Harappa, one of the two main centres of an ancient civilisation that once spread from the Himalayas to Mumbai, Naveed Ahmed took in the arid hills dotted with thorn-bush. “I think the people who lived here were very different from us,” said the part-time guide. “The stones and the beads [they made]; it was as if they were more sophisticated.”

However peaceful this ruined city of the Indus civilisation may appear, the former residents of Harappa and the remnants of their society are today at the centre of one of the most acrimonious disputes in academia, a controversy that has allegedly led to death threats and claims of racism and cultural chauvinism.

Many experts in south Asia and elsewhere believe that symbols and marks inscribed on seals and other artefacts found here represent an as yet undeciphered language. Arguing it may be the predecessor of one of several contemporary south Asian argots, these experts say it is proof of a literate Indian society that existed more than 4,000 years ago.

But other experts based in the West say although the symbols may contain information, they are not a true language. They claim the judgement of their counterparts in south Asia may be swayed by regional nationalism.

Mohammed Hassan is curator of the museum beside the dust-blown ruins. Before leading a tour, the government official served tea and biscuits in his office and insisted the people of Harappa must have possessed a written language to store information. “If they were not literate, then how could they do so many things?” he said. “They had well-made pottery, big cities that were well-planned. They had a lot of knowledge about these things. They grew cotton, wheat, rice and barley. They traded with other cities.”

The Indus civilisation covered more than 500,000 square miles and lasted, during what experts term its “mature phase”, from 2,600 till 1900 BCE. The ruins, 100 miles south-west of the Pakistani city Lahore, the ruins were rediscovered in the early part of the 19th century.

The skills of its residents – at least in terms of making bricks that could endure centuries – were revealed by two British engineers, John and William Brunton, who were building the East Indian Railway Company line to connect Lahore and Karachi and needed ballast for their track. The engineers later wrote that locals told them of well-made bricks from an ancient ruined city that the villagers had made use of. With little concern for preserving the ruins, huge numbers of the Indus-era bricks were reduced to rubble and used to support the tracks heading west.

In the early 20th century, excavation of Harappa proceeded along with that of the other Indus city at Mohenjo-daro, in the south of Pakistan, and it was at that time many of the seals now on display in Mr Hassan’s museum containing symbols and images of animals were discovered. And they have continued to beguile, fascinate and frustrate scientists, causing a running controversy that has played out on internet message boards, scientific papers and at academic conferences.

Like Mr Hassan, Iravatham Mahadevan, an expert in epigraphy from southern India who has been awarded the country’s highest civilian award for his work, has no doubts the symbols on the Indus seals represent a genuine language. “Archaeological evidence makes it inconceivable that such a large, well-administered, and sophisticated trading society could have functioned without effective long-distance communication, which could have been provided only by writing,” he wrote last year in a magazine.

“And there is absolutely no reason to presume otherwise,considering that thousands of objects, including seals, copper tablets, and pottery bear inscriptions in the same script throughout the Indus region. The script may not have been deciphered but that is no valid reason to deny its very existence.”

Mr Mahadevan believes the Indus script may have been a forerunner of so-called Dravidian languages, such as Tamil, spoken today in southern India and Sri Lanka. In addition to technical clues, he says the continued existence of a Dravidian language in modern Pakistan – Brahvi, which is spoken by people in parts of Balochistan – supports his idea.

Over the years, there have been plenty of other theories both from established experts and enthusiastic amateurs. Some, with the backing of Hindu nationalists, have claimed the script may be an early Indo-European language and that remnants of it may even exist in Sanskrit, an ancient language that is the root of many present languages in north India, including Hindi. It has even been claimed the Indus script belonged to metalsmiths, and others believe it died out with the city of Harappa itself and gave rise to no successor.

Part of the problem for the experts is that, unlike for those who cracked the hieroglyphics of Egypt, there is no equivalent of the Rosetta stone, the slab of granite-like rock discovered in 1799 that contained Egyptian and Greek text. In the 1950s, academic interest in Mayan hieroglyphics intensified when experts began to study modern spoken Mayan, but for the Indus scholars there is no agreement on which, if any, modern language is the successor to their script.

In 2004, the debate was jolted into a war of words after three American scholars claimed the Indus symbols were not a language at all. In a paper provocatively subtitled The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilisation, they said there was insufficient evidence that the symbols constituted a proper language. They pointed to various factors: that there was no single long piece of text; that there was disagreement over the number of actual symbols and that other well-organised societies had been illiterate. The symbols, they argued, may well contain information in the same way that an image of a knife and fork together might represent a roadside eatery but they were not a language that could record speech.

The ensuing uproar came mainly from south Asians. One of the American scholars, Steve Farmer claimed people would approach him in tears after he gave talks and that he had even had death threats. Comments on internet discussion boards accuse him and his colleagues of trying to prove that “non-Western cultures were less advanced”. Mr Farmer, who lives in California, said he believed much of the anger was driven by those wishing to promote pet theories about Dravidians, indigenous Aryan Hindus or “the general man in the street who wants to think ancient India was of the same order as Egypt or Mesopotamia. It’s total rubbish”. He added: “I have never seen anything like the passion that there is in India. There is not that sort of passion in the Middle East about ancient things.”

More recently, the Indus controversy has been joined by a team of Indian scientists who ran computer programmes which led them to conclude the symbols almost certainly constitute a language. Central to their claims, published last year in Science, was the theory of “conditional entropy”, or the measure of randomness in any sequence. Because of linguistic rules – such as in English the letter Q is almost always followed by a U – in natural languages the degree of randomness is less than in artificial languages.

One of the authors, Rajesh Rao, who was born in Hyderabad but is now based at the University of Washington, became fascinated by the Indus culture after studying it at school. His team measured the randomness with which the individual Indus symbols appeared on seals and compared that to the randomness of several natural and artificial languages. Mr Rao said it was closest to a natural language. “The Indus civilisation was larger than the ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Mesopotamian civilisations and the most advanced in terms of urban planning and trade,” he said. “Yet we know little about their leaders, their beliefs, their way of life, and the way their society was organised. Many of us hope that decoding the script will provide a new voice to the Indus people.”

Yet as soon as Mr Rao’s team published its findings, Mr Farmer and his colleagues hit back, denouncing their conclusions and methodology. Mr Rao, whose team has since issued a detailed defence of their theory, said he was surprised at the level of contention, within south Asia and beyond, but also at some of the comments he claims Mr Farmer’s group levelled at him.

So whether the Indus is a script with hidden meanings may never be deciphered. Naveed Ahmed, a 24-year-old part-time guide, whose family has lived “forever” in a village on the edge of the ruins speaks Punjabi, an Indo-Aryan language from the same family as Sanskrit. Was it possible a linguistic thread connected the language he used with what had been spoken – and possibly written – by the people who once occupied the ruined city? “I don’t know if it is the same,” he said. “But it’s a possibility that our language came from them. It is always a possibility.”

Michael Witzel and Rajaram: Interesting encounters!

April 19, 2010

Michael Witzel and Rajaram: Interesting encounters!

As I am an Indian and poor man, I could not have gone there to watch fun, but our Sanskrit Professor at Harvard have done a nice coverage to that event and I thank Michael Wizel and present the details as follows:

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id=”message_view_subject”>[Indo-Eurasia] Rajaram, in Boston, requires withdrawal of Horseplay in HarappaSunday, 18 April, 2010 8:45 PM

From:
“Michael Witzel” <witzel@fas.harvard.edu>

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To:
Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com
Cc:
“Michael Witzel” <witzel@fas.harvard.edu>

Dear List,

since it is the weekend, a few amusing details about our old friend,
NS Rajaram’s, talk at MIT last week (4/10) and his subsequent
interview in the local Indian immigrants’ (NRI) newspaper Lokavani
“Voice of the People’ — sponsored by a clueless US immigration lawyer.

Along with one or two of my students, I went to MIT to have some fun.
And fun it was. Some very emotional people (among the c. 40
listeners) objected to our snickering at his “ideas” (see below).

Rajaram indeed repeated all the fantasies and unscientific nonsense
that he has propagated since he abruptly turned, overnight (why?),
from a mathematician at some US colleges and a (very occasional, but
hyped) collaborator of NASA-Houston, into a “historian” back in his
home town of Bangalore in India.

No need to repeat all of this as we have discussed it on and off over
the past decade. (Just read his interview, below)

Only a few highlights.

I thought to challenge his many fantasies (see Lokavani), but as
there was little time and chance, I merely pointed out the obvious:
that his “scientific” dating of the Vedic civilization BEFORE the
Indus civilization (2600-1900 BCE) is impossible precisely on
*scientific* grounds: before 2000 BCE, there were no horses
(caballus) in India, nor had spoke-wheeled chariots been invented by
then. Both are of course prominent in the “preceding” Vedic texts.

Rajaram and friends (e.g., an *always present* loud associate of a
local temple) took up the usual secondary and tertiary ‘arguments’
and ways out: that there were “Indian” horses with seventeen ribs in
the Rgveda (of course *not* a genetic trait of horses [that have
16-18 ribs]),and the Narmadicus horses (well, dead for hundreds of
thousands of years, — along with their 3 toes (!) ). Fun.

Or quoting a Graham Hancock film (Kathy?) … No comment.

More funnily, one young women, objecting emotionally to the husband
of my student, showed him the finger and called him an asshole.
Remember the same from our Dartmouth, Mass. meeting of June 2006?
(Where Rajaram is now invited by the miniscule setup of a “Center of
Indian Studies”, at U. Mass., Darthmouth). See my detailed June 26,
2006 report:

<http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/Indo- Eurasian_ research/ message/4278>

She also wanted to ‘correct’ my Sanskrit pronunciation of shaanti and
told us the familiar Hindutva standby that we were not entitled, as
non-Indians, to talk about Indian culture. When I told her that, in
that case, she was not entitled to talk about American culture, we
only got blank, non-comprehending stares, even after explaining it
for a 2nd time. — Fun.

But back to Rajaram. More fun: He came up to me after his 2 hour (!)
talk to “greet” me, and I told him to stop lying about me (…
forgetting, by the way, about his monthly missives to my president
and provost to throw me out of the University.. .).

**He then required me to withdraw our 2000 paper “Horseplay in
Harrappa” in the Indian magazine Frontline**
that completely destroyed his credibility, even in the then Hindutva-
led (BJP) circles.

I told him: no way.

He also told the audience that his 2nd volume on the “decipherment’
of the Indus signs would come out now. Cannot wait for more
decipherments such as “mosquito”.. .

And, that he has now shifted to a maritime interpretation (along with
David Frawdley) of the Rgvedic texts. (Good luck with traveling in
the night time sky = samudra!) And to South East Asian maritime
input on Vedic civilization — a pet idea of their part-time fellow
traveller, Koenraad Elst, in Belgium.

And, even more remarkably, researching now a connection between the
late 1st millennium CE Vedanta philosophy and … physics. On that
point, he was challenged by MIT/Harvard students, of course…

For all of this (in Rajaram’s words) see the link and mssg. quoted
below.

At any rate, apart from the loss of our time, it was good weekend
entertainment.
Hope you, too, enjoy his pronouncements. …

Cheers, Michael

His interview in Lokavani: <http://www.lokvani. com/lokvani/ article.php? article_id= 6418>

For convenience, it is reproduced here:

In Conversation With Dr. Navaratna Rajaram
Ranjani Saigal 04/13/2010

(This article is sponsored by Attorney Rachel C. Tadmor)
Dr. Navaratna S. Rajaram is a mathematician and scientist who after more than twenty years as an academic and industrial researcher turned his attention to history and history of science. He has authored several acclaimed books on ancient history including Sarasvati River and the Vedic Civilization, Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization (w/ David Frawley); and The Deciphered Indus Script (w/ Natwar Jha). He is best known for showing the connections between Vedic Mathematics and Indus archaeology and proposing a decipherment of the 5000 year old Indus script jointly with the late Natwar Jha. He is currently visiting faculty at the University of Massachusetts , Center for Indic Studies at Dartmouth.

He spoke to Lokvani about his work and the need for technically minded Indians to learn more about India and its history.

What motivated , a mathematician by profession to do research in Indian history and Indology?

I was always interested in history and history of science. My maternal grandfather Sri R. Vyasa Rao wrote Sri Krishna Caritra in Kannada (my mother tongue) based on Sri Bankima Chandra Chatterji’s Bengali masterpiece of the same name. My study of the work taught me that there advantages to looking at history from a scientific point of view. I had long planned to bring out an English version of that work, which finally happened a few years ago in my English Search for the Historical Krishna. It is not a translation though but a new work that uses a lot of data which was not available to Sri Bankima Chandra.

How did you learn the techniques required to do research in History? Do you consider your “non-training” in the colonial-Eurocentric approach to history an advantage?

I don’t think you need any special training in history except a capacity to look at all claims with skepticism and never to accept anything on authority or reputation. The same is true of science also. In that sense my training in mathematics (and math physics) prepared me well for history.

Why is the Aryan Invasion theory which we now know is a myth important to Indian historians? Why are so many scholars afraid debunking the Aryan theories?

It was important because it was an attempt by outsiders, even those hostile to us, to tell us how we should see ourselves and our heritage. Now that the Aryan myth, not just the theory is dead, we need to move to a new phase– to understand what drove Europeans and even some Indians to hold on to it long after science and history had discredited it. European scholars like Leon Poliakov and Stefan Arvidson (in The Aryan Myth and Aryan Idols) have done it from a European perspective.

But Indian scholars seem to be still reluctant and even timid to face it and hesitant to call a spade a spade and expose these Aryan theories for what they are. It is residual inferiority complex.

Why is colonial-Eurocentric approach towards understanding Indigenous culture still strongly followed in intellectual history circles ?

Inferiority complex that is programmed into Indian humanities and social science programs. This is a colonial hangover or ‘dhimmitude’ towards their former masters. Colonialism may be dead but the mindset of the colonial subject is still there in the intelligentsia. This is by no means limited to India.

Why do western professors studying the history of an Indigenous culture place no value on the multiple sources of literature and  philosophies which guide the lives of the millions in the culture they study that have evolved through the ages some of which totally contradict their writings?

It is precisely because they contradict their long-held positions! It also strikes at the root of their presumption of superiority. But here the problem lies more with Indians than with the Western scholars. A clear message should be sent out that we judge everything on its merit regardless of whether source is indigenous (Indian) or Western, and no special consideration will be shown to anyone. After all this how we judge people and their work in other fields. A theorem in mathematics must be proved, no matter who states it. Why should it be any different in history or any other subject?

What is the danger in allowing  colonial-Eurocentric works go unchallenged?

We must reject all shoddy work, Western or Indian. But because West had a monopoly on such scholarship without competition, it generated a lot of shoddy scholarship. My objection is that it has given rise to shoddy scholarship and nationalistic responses that are also shoddy in scholarship. Now that the field is opening up, we must try to lift the standards of scholarship. But people with a stake in the status quo will fight it.

You have worked on  deciphering the Harappan Script and that claim has been vociferously opposed by professors following the Eurocentric approach. Are professors  closing the doors on Academic research and shutting the window to knowledge by closing their mind and not allowing their students to  look at rational thinking?

I don’t want to make too much of the vitriolic reactions of a handful of frustrated scholars — both Western and Indian — to the solution that Jha and I proposed. Several people, both in India and the West have received our work favorably and others have offered constructive criticisms. Actually the script doesn’t tell us much more than we already know– that the Harappan civilization was Vedic and also the Rig Veda came before Harappan archaeology (of the Indus Valley).

THIS IS THE REAL ISSUE– THE VEDIC-HARAPPAN IDENTITY. The rest is just diversion. Once this basic reality is accepted, it means the collapse of the academic discipline called Indo-European Studies.

As far as the script is concerned, it is just one piece of the puzzle, not the whole solution. Jha and I and David Frawley also have much more now that relate to the Vedic-Harappan equation. Jha and I had made progress towards a successor to our book The Deciphered Indus Script that would place greater emphasis on the Vedic symbolism and the identity of the Harappans. But we decided that in the prevailing climate a book would not get a reasonable hearing and be subjected to diversionary attacks and misinformation campaign. So we decided to wait until the climate turned more normal.

Unhappily, Jha died a few years ago but I and some of my colleagues are working on books on the subject. Now that these hostile academics and their followers have discredited themselves, we may bring out our books in the next few years. But for the desperate diversionary attacks by some scholars — both Western and Indian — worried about their positions and reputations, much of this work would have been available by now. So they succeeded in delaying progress by about a decade, that is all. My regret is that Jha, who made such a major contribution is no longer here to share it.

How do you hope to create a shift in the study of indigenous cultures which are currently being dominated by some powerful academics at prestigious universities?

Ignore their unsupported claims and demand that they give evidence and proof. Look at evidence without being swayed by prestige or reputation.  Above all, don’t give them  any support– financially or in terms of students. Their programs are dwindling, and it would be unwise for a young man or woman to try to make a career or gain fame following in their footsteps.

What advice do you have for our readers?

For young readers, first, study the past but don’t live in the past. See if we can bring ancient wisdom like Vadantic metaphysics to apply to problems of modern physics like quantum reality. Incidentally, this is my current area of interest. Next don’t waste time studying nineteenth century ideas like Aryan and Dravidian, etc. They are dead, no matter what their advocates may claim. (They will also be dead.) Except for details we have pretty much solved the problem of Vedic and Harappan origins and their mutual relationship. So start looking at proto-Vedic and pre-Vedic ages. This will call for a thorough understanding of natural history from the Ice Age to the present and of population genetics.

For everyone– don’t support these hostile programs just because they are at ‘prestigious’ universities or because some of these people have big reputations, at least according to themselves. Most of these are in decline and let them die a natural death. Don’t prolong the agony by giving them any life support.

On the other hand support and organize programs that stress an indigenous perspective like yoga, vedanta and science others that have a rational basis and are scientifically and intellectualy exciting.

Thank you for your time

Thank you

Richard Meadow on Indus script!

February 20, 2010

Indus: The Unvoiced Civilization, Press Release , 02/02/2010

“Indus: The Unvoiced Civilization” – Video and Discussion at Harvard University, C. Gopinath and Thomas Burke

“Indus, The Unvoiced Civilization,” a video and following discussion, was presented in the Harvard Science Center on January 10. The lecture was sponsored by the Harvard Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies in its ongoing Outreach lecture series on “Indian Society through the Ages.” The session was introduced by Dr. Bijoy Misra of the Outreach Committee, who outlined the progress of the series and summarized the lectures of the past months.

Ms. Nalini Gopinath, who presented the video, first offered an overview of facts that have hitherto come to light about the long-forgotten Indus civilization. For a 900-year span from about 2600 BCE to 1700 BCE a sophisticated urban civilization flourished in the region of the Rivers Indus and Gagghar-Hakra, extending to south to modern Gujarat and east nearly to Delhi. The territory was rich in many kinds of flora and fauna, which are now extinct there. Crops such as wheat, barley, millets, sesame and cotton were cultivated.  This sophisticated urban civilization had trading ties to Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula. Seals bearing Indus characters have been found as far west as Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. These, together with a few Mesopotamian texts, point to a thriving trade between the Indus region and Western Asia.

The DVD Presentation titled “Indus:  The Unvoiced Civilization” lasted about one hour. It took the audience through the three most prominent sites – Harappa, Mohenja-Daro and Dholavira. It depicted the archeological finds, such as carnelian jewelry, pottery and seals. The urban centers of Harappa (Punjab), Mohenjo-Daro (Sindh), Dholavira (Gujarat), and Rakhigarhi (Haryana) as well as many smaller settlements reveal a concern for urban planning and sometimes include very sophisticated drainage and water storage systems. Mohenjo-daro, in particular, had many wells, while Dholavira was designed to channel rainwater into huge reservoirs. Harappa had both wells and tanks. It is speculated that as many as 40,000 people may lived in the city of Harappa and about 20,000 in Dholavira.

The presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session with Dr. Richard Meadow, who appeared in the film and participated in the excavations of Harappa. The questions pertained to the script and the extent of the civilization. Dr. Meadow explained that a total of 400-600 characters have been identified from the various Indus inscriptions. No single inscription contains more than 17 characters. We do not know which language or languages were spoken in the Indus region. None of the many attempts which have been made to decipher the script have gained general acceptance. Sites of the civilization have been found as far as  northern Afghanistan.  Gaps in the archeological record do not permit us to speak of cultural continuity from the Indus civilization to the modern day, but many undeniable similarities suggest possible survivals.

Question and Answers by Dr. Richard Meadow

Why is the script not deciphered as yet?
We do not know which language or languages were spoken in the Indus valley. We have no bilingual inscriptions, no known inscription of more than 17 characters, and no obvious successor script. There is a theory that the characters do not reflect spoken language but are non-linguistic symbols, although this is widely debated.

How many characters have been identified so far?
About 400-600, the larger number is arrived at by regarding some similar characters as being separate.

How come there is so much evidence of trade out of the Indus region but no evidence of imported goods?
It is speculated that imports were mainly perishable items like textiles, which have not survived.

Why is there little evidence of tombs like those found in Mesopotamia and Western Asia?
Although few tombs are known, there are some sites at which have been found a large number of burials, for example at Harappa and at Farmana (Haryana). There seems to be no evidence so far that the Indus people had very rich graves of the kind known in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, or China. One must also remember that the long-lived Indus civilization left extensive remains, still largely unexplored. So far, excavations have in general uncovered only the topmost third of the many sites. “We still have only a hazy picture of the earlier phases of the culture,” as represented by the lower levels at the archaeological sites.

Why do archaeologists speak of a gap between the end of Indus culture and the beginning of the Vedic period, even though many of the Indus artifacts shown in the DVD are still in use today?
It is true that many cultural traits and artifacts may survive from an earlier into a later period. But it is methodologically problematic to speak of archeological continuity without some evidence of survival of artifacts in the interval between the two periods.

How far did the civilization extend?
Sites of the Indus civilization are found almost to the border of Central Asia in the northwest, east almost to Delhi, south almost to Mumbai, and west nearly to the Iranian border as well as to coastal Arabia.

Is it possible that some Indus people are buried in Western Asia in one of the 80,000 tombs found in Bahrain?
Evidence is still lacking.

Is it true that the British built the Indian Railway system using bricks from the Harappa site?
The sites were always known to the local people. The British first became aware of Indus sites in the early 1800s. In the 1850s the Archeological Survey of India began to scout them. When the British built the Northwest Railway in the 1860s they used vast quantities of ancient bricks from Harappa to prepare the roadbed for the tracks. All have probably disintegrated by now. The ancient people of Harappa themselves recycled bricks, reusing old ones in new structures.

What do the names Harappa and Mohenja-Daro mean?
These are the names used by the local people and they may possibly be very old. There is no convincing explanation of their meaning. We do not know what the Indus people called themselves. Mesopotamian texts seem to refer to the Indus region as Meluhha.

Where can we find the DVD?
It’s a Japanese production and can be procured on the internet. Harvard affiliates can borrow it from Tozzer Library.

The next lecture in the series will be “The Indus Civilization: Myth and Reality.” It will be presented by Dr. Richard Meadow of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Dr. Meadow will note that while the Indus civilization has often been characterized as highly structured, uniform, and unchanging, in fact it was a highly diverse, varied, and dynamic cultural phenomenon with many different kinds of sites with strong local and region characteristics that changed over time.  The lecture is scheduled for Sunday, 14 February in Hall A, Harvard Science Center, 1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, at 3.00 pm. Admission is free and all are invited.

http://www.lokvani. com/lokvani/ article.php? article_id= 6272

‘Earliest writing’ found

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/334517.stm

The fragments of pottery are about 5,500 years old

Exclusive by BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

The first known examples of writing may have been unearthed at an archaeological dig in Pakistan.

So-called ‘plant-like’ and ‘trident-shaped’ markings have been found on fragments of pottery dating back 5500 years.

Dr Richard Meadow of Harvard University: “We may be able to follow the history of signs.”

They were found at a site called Harappa in the region where the great Harappan or Indus civilisation flourished four and a half thousand years ago.

Harappa was originally a small settlement in 3500 BC but by 2600 BC it had developed into a major urban centre.

[ image: Harappa was occupied until about 1900 BC]
Harappa was occupied until about 1900 BC

The earliest known writing was etched onto jars before and after firing. Experts believe they may have indicated the contents of the jar or be signs associated with a deity.

According to Dr Richard Meadow of Harvard University, the director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project, these primitive inscriptions found on pottery may pre-date all other known writing.

Last year it was suggested that the oldest writing might have come from Egypt.

Clay tablets containing primitive words were uncovered in southern Egypt at the tomb of a king named Scorpion.

They were carbon-dated to 3300-3200 BC. This is about the same time, or slightly earlier, to the primitive writing developed by the Sumerians of the Mesopotamian civilisation around 3100 BC.

“It’s a big question as to if we can call what we have found true writing,” he told BBC News Online, “but we have found symbols that have similarities to what became Indus script.

[ image: Work at Harappa is likely to fuel the debate on early writing]
Work at Harappa is likely to fuel the debate on early writing

“One of our research aims is to find more examples of these ancient symbols and follow them as they changed and became a writing system,” he added.

One major problem in determining what the symbols mean is that no one understands the Indus language. It was unique and is now dead.

Dr Meadow points out that nothing similar to the ‘Rosetta Stone’ exists for the Harappan text.

The Rosetta Stone, housed in the British museum since 1802, is a large slab of black basalt uniquely inscribed with the same text in both Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek.

Its discovery allowed researchers to decipher the ancient Egyptian script for the first time.

The Harappan language died out and did not form the basis of other languages.

Dr Meadow: “The earliest inscriptions date back to 3500 BC.”

“So probably we will never know what the symbols mean,” Dr Meadow told BBC News Online from Harappa.

What historians know of the Harappan civilisation makes them unique. Their society did not like great differences between social classes or the display of wealth by rulers. They did not leave behind large monuments or rich graves.

They appear to be a peaceful people who displayed their art in smaller works of stone.

Their society seems to have petered out. Around 1900 BC Harappa and other urban centres started to decline as people left them to move east to what is now India and the Ganges.

This discovery will add to the debate about the origins of the written word.

It probably suggests that writing developed independently in at least three places – Egypt, Mesopotamia and Harappa between 3500 BC and 3100 BC.