Foreign experts give reasons for failure in deciphering Indus script

10 Jan 2020

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DELEGATES discuss advancement in deciphering Indus script at the inaugural session of the conference on Thursday.—Dawn
DELEGATES discuss advancement in deciphering Indus script at the inaugural session of the conference on Thursday.—Dawn

LARKANA: Workshops at the three-day ‘International Confer­ence on Indus Script’ began at Moenjodaro on Thursday with archaeology experts and scholars of the related fields discussing advan­ce­ment in the research carried out so far on decipherment of the scripts of the artefacts found in the ruins of the ancient civilisation.

Inaugurating the conference, Culture Secretary Ghulam Akbar Leghari welcomed the guests. NFM chairman Dr Kaleemullah Lashari initiated the discussion.

The workshops would continue on Friday when papers of more researchers would be presented. Experts and scholars from a dozen countries, including the United States, United Kingdom and Germ­any, are taking part in the confer­ence organised by the department of culture and tourism and National Fund for Mohenjodaro (NFM).

He noted that many good attempts had been made in the past to decipher the scripts but the results could not convince experts as they fell short of answering questions about the ancient civilisation.

Three-day international conference gets under way at Moenjodaro

He was of the view that the approach of the earlier attempts missed the archaeological under­stan­ding of the chronological distri­bu­tion of the inscribed material.

Dr Jonathan Mark Kenoyer from the US emphasised that the inscribed material like graffiti on the excavated pottery had largely been disregarded though it was required to be associated with the corpus of the Indus seals and inscriptions.

He said associating all such objects in the study was essential.

He pointed out that there was sufficient evidence to establish that the Indus script showed an evolution in style, thus development of the script was necessary to be incorporated in all attempts to understand the nature of Indus writing system.

Dr Kenoyer provided some sequencing in this regard.

Dr Asko Parpola from Finland could not make it due to his health issues but his paper was presented at the conference.

His paper largely praised the weighing system of Indus civilisation because of its ease in use and uniformity and presence of multiple standard units.

Their associations with nume­rical signs were largely discussed in two papers one by Dr Bryan Wells and the other by Dr Andreas Flus, a scholar from Germany.

The archaeological evidence of the signs used for numeric count was found interesting; this co-asso­ci­ation had earlier been consi­dered but the newer considerations had some satisfactory answers to the possibilities in the matter, the participants noted.

The use of the Indus weighing system in western Asia had been mentioned at confe­rences held earlier. In today’s sessions, it was touched in more detail. Use of the signs in Dilmun — a region in the Middle East — was an addition to the understanding of certain signs used in Indus. It was considered probable that the twin sign might have been used to mention personal names, or relation­ships like “son of”.

According to the scholars, decipher­ment of the script is a difficult task and it may have become easier if there is some knowledge of the dynasties; names of the rulers do provide an advantage to the experts at work but knowledge of the language, especially under­standing of the actual dialectical vari­ants, that might have found its representation, can also help.

In Indus, the lack of larger inscription is the main hindrance in the understanding of the writing. In the absence of such material, it is hard to think of decipherment.

The experts agree that in the absence of such material, more reliance can be put on the more scientific and multifaceted work. The multidisciplinary approach is the only hope where the work can lead to certain level of satisfaction.

Dr Michael Jansen emphasised the need for creating such data bank and making this available digitally so that research works were available to experts.

Local experts and scholars — Dr Farzand Maseh, Dr Sajid Hussain Khan, Dr Nadeem Shafique, Dr Asma Ibrahim and Dr Qasid Malah — are also participating in the conference.

They are to present their papers on Friday, said Saeed Memon, the PRO to the minister for culture and tourism.

He said papers of delegates from India and some other countries would also be presented at the conference as they could not come due to various reasons.

Culture Secretary Akbar Leghari also attended the technical session.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2020