‘Hind Leg’ + ‘Fish’: Towards Further Understanding of the Indus Script
and the cuneiform texts there do occasionally speak of ships coming from
a far-o country called Meluh
a bringing exotic goods such as ivory thatare likely to be of Harappan origin.
But even these contemporary sourcesdo not allow recognition of the linguistic identity of the Harappans. TheIndus script is not clearly related to any other known script,
nor do wehave any bilingual inscription translating or transcribing an Indus text intoa known language or script. Circumstances which have made it possible todecipher other ancient scripts
are thus for the most part lacking here. It isnot surprising that the Indus script has resisted the more than a hundredattempts to decode its secrets that have been made since 1875, when the
rst specimen was published.
Recently a team consisting of a historian, a computer linguist and anIndologist published a new hypothesis concerning the Indus script: theymaintain that it does not constitute a language-based writing system,but just consists of non-linguistic symbols of political and religious
Nine major arguments are put forward,
but none of them
For interesting new evidence on the Meluh
a people settled in Mesopotamia seeVermaak 2008.
Proto-Elamite texts have been found as far east as Tepe Yahya in Kerman (cf. Damerow& Englund 1989) and Shahr-i Sokhta in Seistan (cf. Englund 2004: 103; Lamberg-Karlovsky 1978; Potts 1999: 81-83). Shahr-i Sokhta was in contact with the EarlyHarappan sites of Pakistani Baluchistan in 3000-2600 BCE (cf. Biscione 1984). In 1994,a collection of typically Proto-Elamite beveled rim bowls was found in Pakistani Makranat Miri Qalat, a site later occupied by the Indus Civilization (cf. Besenval 1997: 207-210). As some iconographic motifs of the Indus seals moreover seem to go back toProto-Elamite models (cf. Parpola 1984), it appears possible that the Early Harappans
obtained the idea of writing from the Proto-Elamites during the rst quarter of the third
millennium. In any case the Early Harappans did not copy Proto-Elamite script signs, butdevised their own, adopting local symbols, some of which we know from the “potter’smarks” and motifs of painted pottery (cf. below).
On successful decipherments of ancient scripts and the methods used in them seeespecially Pope 1999 and Daniels 1996.
Possehl 1996 oers a relatively complete review of the various attempts to decipher
the Indus script.
Farmer, Sproat & Witzel 2004.
The points discussed or theses are: 1. Statistics of Indus sign frequencies & repetitions.2. The “texts” are too short to encode messages. 3. There are too many rare signs,especially “singletons.” 4. There is no sign repetition within any one text. 5. “Lost”longer texts (manuscripts) never existed. 6. No cursive variant of the “script” developed,hence there were no scribes. 7. No writing equipment has been found. 8. The “script”signs are non-linguistic symbols. 9. Writing was known from Mesopotamia, but it was