Friday, April 24, 2009

Fish, Arrow, Fish, Jar, Two Fish, Arrow

Very old chicken scrawl not chicken scrawl after all.

There is now evidence that the Indus Script could have been a real language. A photo essay, with pictures of those famous seals, provides a short and simple background to this interesting new development.

Why is it a big deal? Of the oldest known systems of written language, the Indus Script remains the only one not deciphered. Of course, there is much controversy over whether or not the Harappans had a real script.

There's even a "dictionary" of Indus Script "words" on, so now you *really* have no reason to suck at Scrabble.

I find this whole business of combining computer science, pattern recognition, history, archeology and linguistics simply fascinating. It raises a whole bunch of questions that start with Science and History and go into the metaphysical and existential.

For example, how does a scientist know, just by observing repetitive patterns, that there is a language or a method behind the code? At a more basic level, what is language and why was it necessary for Sumerians or the Chinese to develop a written system? How on earth did they get to agree on a set of symbols? How did Indus seals show up in Mesopotamian cities? Was written language primarily a tool for trade and commerce? If there were no written languages, what would the 21st century look like? (Via)


Rahul Siddharthan said...

I plan to blog about this too... one of the coauthors, Ronojoy Adhikari, is a colleague of mine. Good to see it get so much attention.

km said...

Rahul: I noticed your institute's name on the original research paper and wanted to ask you to blog in more detail! It would be a terrific read.