Ancient Indus Valley script communicated language, determines computer modeling

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Washington, September 2 (ANI): A team of mathematicians and scientists has rejected claims that the Indus Valley people were functionally illiterate, by employing computer modeling to prove that the Harappan script communicated language.

In 2004, perhaps out of befuddlement and frustration, a group of scholars declared that the ancient Indus Valley script marked only rudimentary pictograms and that the people during the Harappan period were functionally illiterate.

According to a report in the TIME, that hypothesis, which caused a minor uproar in the world of Indus Valley researchers, was recently rejected by a team of mathematicians and computer scientists assembled from institutions in the US and India.

They employed computer modeling to prove that the Harappan script communicated language, and has reinvigorated attempts to crack what is one of the lingering puzzles of ancient history.

The group examined hundreds of Harappan texts and tested their structure against other known languages using a computer program.

Every language, the scientists suggest, possesses what is known as "conditional entropy": the degree of randomness in a given sequence.

In English, for example, the letter t can be found preceding a large variety of other letters, but instances of tx and tz are far more infrequent than th and ta.

"A written language comes about through this mix of built-in rules and flexible variables," said Mayank Vahia, an astrophysicist at the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in Mumbai who worked on the study.

Quantifying this principle through computer probability tests, the scientists determined that the Harappan script had a similar measure of conditional entropy to other writing systems, including English, Sanskrit and Sumerian.

If it mathematically looked and acted like writing, they concluded, then surely it is writing.

But this is just a first step. Vahia and his colleagues hope to piece together a solid grammar from the sea of impenetrable Indus signs.

Their August research paper charted the likelihood of certain characters appearing in parts of a text - for example, a fish sign appeared most frequently in the middle of a sequence and a U-shaped jar sign toward the end.

Bit by bit, the structure of the script is coming into view.

"We want to find the bedrock against which all further interpretation of the language should be checked," said Vahia.

Down the road, he imagines he could write in "flawless Harappan" - even though he may have no idea what the assembled sequences would mean. (ANI)

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