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Archaeology Archives - Page 3 of 11 - varnamvarnam | Page 3
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Tag Archives | Archaeology

The Indus Script – Analysis

(A letter in cuneiform sent to King of Lagash)

Read Part 1, Part 2.

There are two points the Dravidian camp and the Indo-Aryan camp agree on: the signs are mostly written from right to left and they are logo-syllabic. Bryan Wells was able to decipher the script as Dravidian and even read words from it. Subhash Kak has not deciphered the script, but has shown that it bears similarities to Brahmi script and the language could be an Indo-Aryan one like Prakrit. If we had lengthy sentences in Indus script, we could validate both these claims with confidence.

When it comes to the decipherments, the literature is overwhelmingly in favor of Dravidian, proto-Dravidian or early Kannada-Tamil.  This comes not just from Indian scholars, but also Soviet and Finnish groups which have worked on this problem.Compared to this the Indo-Aryan angle has very little support; most books don’t even mention this possibility.

But is the Dravidian case rock solid? Assume for a moment that Dravidian or proto-Dravidian was spoken by the Harappans, when they lived in the urban settings. Now if Indo-Aryans forced these people — people who lived in well planned cities —  to move to South India, what happened to their urbaneness.? There is not a single Harappan site in any of the South Indian states dating to that period or for that matter any later period. Thus if Dravidians did indeed move from Indus valley to South India, they would have moved from an advanced Bronze Age culture backwards to a Neolithic culture[2][5].  This parallels another explanation where the urban residents of BMAC became pastoral cattle breeders by the time they reached Indus Valley.

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The Indus Script – Decipherments

(Asokan inscription in Brahmi)

Read Part 1

When say “deciphering the Indus script” there are two aspects to it. The first is the structural analysis which looks at the signs which are used the most, the relationship between the signs etc and the second is assigning various sounds to the symbols to attempt a reading.

Dravidian

In 1968, the Russian linguist Yuri  Knorozov who assisted in the Battle of Berlin and later decoded the Mayan script found internal structures in the Indus seals using software analysis. Based on that he read the text as proto-Dravidian. One of the signs in the Indus script is that of a man carrying a stick. This for Knorozov  represented the posture of Yama or Bhairava hence he thought it was one of the predecessors of one of such gods. He also read the script and one such reading is ‘[day of the [god] -guardian honored leader, lightning of the cloud worthy hero’. The criticism of Knorozov is that while his analysis was useful, the reading was pure guess work[1].

But how did Dravidians, who currently live in the four Southern states, end up in the Indus Valley? According to one version, Proto-Dravidian speakers moved into the Indus Valley from Iran some time between 6500 and 3000 B.C.E. These people, who derived Proto-Dravidian from Proto-Elamite-Dravidian, developed the Indus culture over a period of 2000 – 4000 years[1]. When the Indo-Aryans arrived, sometime after the collapse of the Indus Valley, Dravidian was the dominant language.

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The Indus Script – Introduction

(Lothal, according to the ASI)

4000 year back, in Lothal, Gujarat, a merchant walked from his home in the lower town towards the wharf. As he walked past the bead factory, he saw the artisans already at work there; some of these beads were in demand in lands as far away as Mesopotamia. Crossing the public drain and the acropolis he reached the wharf. There were quite a few ships waiting to carry goods to Dilmun, Ur, and Lagash.

He glanced to his left, in the direction of the worker’s barracks, located at the far end of the wharf and quickly walked to the opposite end – towards the warehouse. All the goods were bundled and tied as expected. As he walked to the first bundle, one of his workers put some wet clay on the rope. He took a rectangular seal from the folds of his dress and pressed it hard on the clay. Satisfied with the impression, he moved on to the next bundle. When the recipient got the shipment, he would know exactly what is contained.

There are good reasons to believe that such a scenario could have happened. One probable use of Indus seals was  in economic activity; the seals found in Lothal had impressions of a coarse cloth on their reverse and sometimes several seals were used to mark the goods. Besides this, there is enough evidence of trade relations between the Harappans and Mesopotamia going far back to the time of Sargon of Akkad (2270 – 2215 B.C.E) and even before that to 4000 B.C.E with the find of Baluchistan cotton in Jordan.

Seals

In 1875, Major-General Clark, who was the Commissioner of Awadh, discovered the first seal which had the engraving of a hump-less bull and six signs above it in Harappa[3]. 134 years later we don’t know what is written on those seals; there are many decipherments, but no consensus. While papers are coming out, applying various statistical methods to find out if the Indus seals encode a linguistic system, there is another debate over if these small palm size steatite seals with random looking inscriptions represent Indo-European, proto-Dravidian, Munda or some other language.

Why is decoding the Indus script and language so hard when Egyptian hieroglyphics, Linear B and cuneiform have been deciphered? In the case of Egyptian hieroglyphics and cuneiform there was bi-lingual encoding, like the Rosetta stone, which helped. When it comes to the Indus, which is an unknown script representing an unknown language, we don’t have that luxury. Linear B was deciphered without bi-lingual text which gives hope, but then Indus seals are short. The average length of a seal is 5; the longest single sided inscription has seventeen signs. With such data, deciphering the seal is a hard task.

When it comes to the Indus seals we want answers to these questions:

  • What is the script?
  • What is the language?
  • What is the subject matter?
  • Were the Harappans Vedic people or Dravidians?

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Iraq Museum Reopens

Stuff Happens“, that was Donald Rumsfeld’s response when asked about the looting that happened in Baghdad following the US invasion of Iraq. One of the places that got looted was the Iraq Museum which carries artifacts from as far back as 9000 B.C.E. There was the usual mango man (aam aadmi) style looting where people ran into the museum and grabbed random millenia old artifacts, but there was also professional work where they broke through concrete walls.

Initially it was thought that 170,000 pieces had disappeared; soon the number was reduced to 15,000. Eventually it turned out that only 33 pieces were missing. An important object that disappeared was the Warka Vase, which is dated to 3200 – 3000 B.C.E. Then one day a red Toyota stopped by:

“The red Toyota spluttered to a halt in front of the Iraq Museum and three men in their early twenties jumped out. As they struggled to lift a large object wrapped in a blanket out of the boot, the American guards on the gate raised their weapons. For a moment, a priceless 5,000-year-old vase thought to have been lost in looting after the fall of Baghdad seemed about to meet its end. But one of the men peeled back the blanket to reveal carved alabaster pieces that were clearly something extraordinary. Three feet high and weighing 600lb intact, this was the Sacred Vase of Warka, regarded by experts as one of the most precious of all the treasures taken during looting that shocked the world in the chaos following the fall of Baghdad. [The Iraq War & Archaeology]

Finally after 6 years the museum opened, in February. Well, sort of. You can visit if your name is Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. It will take much longer before an Iraqi mango man can stand before the exhibits, look at the cuneiform inscriptions of ancient Sumer, and wonder about the Meluhhans who could read that tablet. Till then even we Meluhhans have to visit it virtually.

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Pavlopetri, Dwaraka etc.

That is the video of a 5000 year old submerged town —- almost a complete town with separate buildings, courtyards, streets and graves — in Greece. Pavlopetri was a harbor town which dates to between the Minoan civilization and the Mycenaean Greek culture, which coincides with the de-urbanization of Harappa.

“This site is unique in that we have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed. Equally as a harbour settlement, the study of the archaeological material we have recovered will be extremely important in terms of revealing how maritime trade was conducted and managed in the Bronze Age.” [World’s Oldest Submerged Town Dates Back 5,000 Years]

Recently The Archaeology Magazine had a feature on 12 great underwater discoveries — of submerged sites, Bronze Age ship wrecks and European ships —- and they left out underwater archaeology in India.

In 2002, in Mahabalipuram, “underwater investigations showed the presence of the remains of walls as well as large stone blocks, which seemed to correspond to the time period of the surviving shore temple. Excavations carried out by ASI in 2005 also revealed the remains of two structural temples, found near the shore temple.” Also after 2004, the “naval diving team, assisting the Archaeological Society of India, also discovered another structure perhaps a temple 100 metres north-east.”

Similarly the ASI conducted excavations near the Dwarkadheesh temple and Gomti Ghat in Dwaraka.They found “a structure of stone blocks with post holes to fit wood”, and “coins, pottery, pieces of bangles and toys”

Previous under water excavations revealed about 120 anchors. These anchors often had three holes of which the upper one was used for tying a rope and the other two holes for holding wooden flukes. The Underwater Archaeology Wing recently found what they call fragments of ancient structures. It is not known of it is part of a wall or temple and so it is classified as part of some structure. One of the structures consists of stone blocks with holes to fit wood and the age of that is unknown.[Dwaraka Update (2)]

Also, a circular wooden structure made of stone and wood was found. Murli Manohar Joshi claimed that finds in Dwaraka were 9500 years old, but science disagreed: some of the finds were dated to 2280 B.C.E.

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