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Re: VMs: O.T.: The Indus Script--Write or Wrong? (Science)

On Thu, 16 Dec 2004 Wdimitr@xxxxxxx wrote:
> Since the 1870s, archaeologists have uncovered more than 4000 Indus
> inscriptions on a variety of media. Rudimentary signs appear around 3200
> B.C.E.--the same era in which hieroglyphics and cuneiform began to
> appear in Egypt and Iraq.  By 2800 B.C.E., the signs become more
> durable, continuing in use in later periods; the greatest diversity
> starts to appear around 2400 B.C.E. ...
> The signs start to diminish around 1900 B.C.E. and vanish entirely by 1700
> B.C.E., when the Indus culture disappears. ...

> This is no dry discussion: Powerful Indian nationalists of the Hindutva
> movement see the Indus civilization as the direct ancestor to Hindu
> tradition and Vedic culture.

No doubt in many ways ancestral - I think there are recognizable images of
Krishna on some seals - but probably not the ancestor of the
Sanskrit/Vedic part of Vedic culture, given these dates.  Not unless
Proto-Indo-European hails from Pakistan and India.  The last I heard both
archaeologists and linguists were a bit mystified about the routes and
mechanism of the spread of the the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European.
One historian has even suggested that the Aryans arrived in India by ship
from Mesopotamia.  Interesting and solves a number of problems, while
creating a variety of others, but not popular with Indo-Euopeanists.

> Oddly, the inscriptions are almost all found in trash dumps rather than
> in graves or in primary contexts such as the floor of a home. "They were
> thrown away like expired credit cards," says Meadow.

That's not so odd.  Think of the number of labelled broken things we throw
away.  What if the only preserved examples of English were the text cast
into broken bottles?  It's a question of what contexts will preserve
writing.  A lot depends on the writing media.  I gather most Indus samples
are seals, probably reading the equivalent of "Jno. Ed. Koontz, Esq."
I'm not sure where Mesopotamian seals are usually found, but I think most
preserved Mesopotamian texts were recorded on clay tablets, and most of
the ones preserved are the equivalent of notes and correspondence in file
folders, found in the remains of burned archives.  Or in heaps nearby
where discarded tablets were thrown.  The bulk of these are accounting
memoranda reading "Paid/received:  N units of X from Y."  When a burned
library is found you get larger, more literary or historical texts and
these are naturally more famous.

Without baking in a conflagration clay tablets tend to disintegrate, so
without accidents or war nothing would remain.  We have the Mycenaean
materials we have because the sites in question were burnt by invaders.
At Pylos the notes on the mobilization to oppose the attackers make up a
portion of the materials preserved.  None of the Mycenaean materials are
literary.  A few are summary sheets with some running text.

If writing is on perishable materials like paper it tends to perish
readily with age, and the sort of conflagration that preserves clay
tablets destroys it immediately.  In such cases we depend on very rare
accidental preservations in unusual conditions, or on extensive recopying
over the years, which is how we have most Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Arabic
materials we have.

In some cases, you find writing on artifacts and buildings, mostly
statements of ownership or dedicatory notes, often very formulaic and
highly abbreviated.  If you had to decypher English on the basis of
inscriptions from the inside of wedding rings and cornerstones of
buildings, even with a few pages of accounting materials thrown in it
would be pretty difficult.

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