Join our weekly newsletter.
Articles, news, and ideas.

Languages, people and their cultures.

In need of a translation or interpreting service? Get a 5% lifetime discount now!

The Indus Script - Frustrating Yet Fascinating for Archaeologists and Linguists

Indus Script of Indus Valley
The Indus Script - Frustrating Yet Fascinating for Archaeologists and Linguists
on December, 11 2014
Indus Script of Indus Valley

Image credit: Indus Valley Seals by World Imaging under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Archaeologists and linguists have long been frustrated and fascinated by the Indus Script, which until now remains undeciphered. Had the scientists and linguists been successful, it would have unlocked another ancient language.

The site of the Indus Civilization that prospered some 4,500 years ago in isolation is located in what is known today as Eastern Pakistan. Historical information about the community and its people are scarce. In the 1920s archaeologists that were working in the area unearthed various artifacts such as ceramic tablets, seals and amulets that were decorated with very strange symbols. It was known that the civilization was as advanced as the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians.

Difficulty in deciphering

The absence of any reference to decipher the Indus Script made the task difficult. Up to this day no tool has been found that could help in unlocking the secrets of the Script, unlike the Rosetta Stone that helped unravel the Egyptian glyphs, since it was written in three languages, making the task of deciphering the language easier due to the presence of some points of reference.

Not a language but just symbols

Some scientists doing research on the Indus Script believe that it was not a language but just a group of symbols or pictograms. Some researchers say that its roots were the same as the Dravidian language family that is similar to several languages spoken today in Southern India. Others think it is a very old form of Sanskrit. Researchers still cannot agree whether to call it a language or label it as a group of symbols. If it is a language, it could be a language isolate because there is nothing similar to it.

Recurring symbols

From the 5,000 inscriptions that had been found, one symbol that had been repeated many times is a unicorn, which according to legend came from India. The contention that the seals were just symbols was fueled by the fact that the texts were very brief, with some only consisting of five symbols. One inscription, which had about 20 signs, was the longest that had been seen, so far.

There are researchers speculating that the Script is related to the Dravidian languages, some of which are still spoken in Baluchistan and Southern India. The Dravidian language in this area is called Brahui. If this posit is correct, then the Indus Script is related to Tamil language's old form. It would mean that the fish symbol could represent the old Tamil word for fish: "min." However, min could also mean "planet" or "star." This then confounds rather than shed light.

There had been more than 100 attempts to decipher the Indus Script but there is still nothing that could provide a definitive translation. Maybe the world has to wait for the discovery of a Rosetta Stone-like companion to the Indus Script before its meaning can be revealed, since modern technology is no match to it.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

Join our weekly newsletter for articles, news and ideas

In need of a translation or interpreting service? Get a 5% lifetime discount now!