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Indus Seals and the Indus Civilization Script


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Does the Indus Civilization Script Represent a Language?
Examples of the 4500 year old Indus script on seals and tablets

Examples of the 4500 year old Indus script on seals and tablets

Image courtesy of J.M. Kenoyer / Harappa.com

The Indus Civilization—also called the Indus Valley Civilization, Harappan, Indus-Sarasvati or Hakra Civilization—was based in an area of some 1.6 million square kilometers in what is today eastern Pakistan and northeastern India between about 2500-1900 BC. There are 2,600 known Indus sites, from enormous urban cities like Mohenjo Daro and Mehrgarh to small villages like Nausharo.

Although much archaeological data have been collected, we know almost nothing about the history of this massive civilization, because we haven't deciphered the language yet. About 6,000 representations of glyph strings have been discovered at Indus sites, mostly on square or rectangular seals like the ones in this photo essay. Some scholars—notably Steve Farmer and associates in 2004—argue that the glyphs don't really represent a full language, but rather simply a non-structured symbol system.

An article written by Rajesh P.N. Rao (a computer scientist at the University of Washington) and colleagues in Mumbai and Chennai and published in Science on April 23, 2009, provides evidence that the glyphs really do represent a language. This photo essay will provide some context of that argument, as well as an excuse to look at pretty pictures of Indus seals, provided to Science and us by researcher J.N. Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin and Harappa.com.

Sources and Further Information

Rao, Rajesh P. N., et al. 2009 Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script. Science Express 23 April 2009

Guide to the Indus Civilization

Bibliography of the Indus Civilization

Study of the Indus Script at Harappa.com includes an article by Asko Parpola, essential reading to understanding this issue.

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