Science Mag: "no Indus script"

jkirk jkirk at SPRO.NET
Sun Dec 19 23:56:34 EST 2004


Well--I certianly care and wouldd like to see the discussion continued here.
However, if not I can always go to the other list.
Joanna Kirkpatrick
=========================
----- Original Message -----
From: "George Thompson" <gthomgt at ADELPHIA.NET>
To: <INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk>
Sent: Sunday, December 19, 2004 6:52 PM
Subject: Re: Science Mag: "no Indus script"


> Well, I don't care at all what the list managers decide to do about this
> matter, although other list members may indeed care.
>
> I myself am deeply involved in the discussions of the IVC sign system [not
a
> script at all as far as anyone can tell].  I do not rely on this list for
> information on this issue.  It just occurs to me that list members who may
> want to know more about this matter might be better informed by having
> access to the actual debate.
>
> But if no one on this list cares about this, well then, I will not disturb
> your peace.
>
> Best,
>
> George Thompson
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk]On Behalf Of Dean
> Anderson
> Sent: Sunday, December 19, 2004 5:30 PM
> To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
> Subject: Re: Science Mag: "no Indus script"
>
>
> Although I personally welcome spirited discussion on this list... given
> the already contentious nature of the debate about the recent
> Farmer-Witzel-Sproat theory and its connection with other topics that
> have created controversy on this list in the past, it might be better to
> consider the opinions of those who like the peaceful environment here
> and take discussion of this thesis to another list like the yahoo
> indology list where it has been posted as:
>
> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/INDOLOGY/message/4841?threaded=1 by Steve
> Farmer
>
> And
> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/INDOLOGY/message/4847?threaded=1 by
> Michael Witzel.
>
> Or perhaps another venue.
>
> Best,
>
> Dean Anderson
>
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk] On Behalf Of
> >George Thompson
> >Sent: Friday, December 17, 2004 9:15 PM
> >To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
> >Subject: Re: Science Mag: "no Indus script"
> >
> >
> >Dear List,
> >
> >I post a message from Steve Farmer, who is not a member of
> >this list, but who has been receiving messages from list
> >members.  I would recommend to the list managers that it would
> >be a good idea to subscribe him to the list, so that list
> >members can discuss his thesis with them.
> >
> >Best wishes,
> >
> >George Thompson
> >.....................
> >
> >Dear George,
> >
> >I just noted a thread starting on the old Indology List. I
> >never bothered to join the List after the old one died in late
> >2000. But now I've answered John Huntington's post on it,
> >through him (whom I don't know). Would you or someone else be
> >willing to post it there? I don't mind going on the List, but
> >petitioning for permission to be on Lists isn't my style.
> >
> >Here's the post.
> >
> >Dear John,
> >
> >Unfortunately, I never bothered to join the Indology List
> >after the old List faded away and real discussion ended on it,
> >back in late 2000 or early 2001, I guess. So I can't answer
> >your questions on the List. I'm really busy right now, but I
> >wouldn't mind talking about these issues on the List, but
> >petitioning first to a committee to join isn't my style.
> >
> >So please repost this to the List for me. It is written in
> >haste, but my points are clear. I'm willing to come onto the
> >List if invited if a discussion develops.
> >
> >Tell Signe that Possehl objects because, obviously, we burn
> >him in our paper! (Look at footnote 5, e.g.)
> >
> >To your questions:
> >
> >You write:
> >
> >> If as seems to be the case Harappan civilization seals were
> >intended a
> >> marker of possessions, the very diversity of signifier type seems to
> >> suggest that there were indeed individualized, they would
> >parallel the
> >> Chinese usage almost exactly.
> >
> >We don't claim that they were markers of possession, John. We
> >draw much more elaborate parallels with Near Eastern symbol
> >systems. On the 'markers of possession' idea, see my last
> >comment in this post.
> >
> >> As for ephemera and the lack there of for most ancient
> >civilizations-
> >> we know for example that the Shang had brushes, a few have
> >been found,
> >> and silk, impressions of which have been found on bronze
> >vessels which
> >> were originally wrapped in the material. Did they write on silk or
> >> bamboo tallys or other such ephemera, as far as I am aware none has
> >> come to light yet. But the assumption is that they probably did,
> >> because their successors did. We simply do not know who the
> >successors
> >> of the Harappans were so there can be no such assumption.
> >
> >We deal with 'missing markers' of manuscript production at
> >length. We investigated the Shang dynasty materials in some
> >depth when researching that section. (One of my regular
> >collaborators, BTW, is John Henderson, the specialist on early
> >China.) In any event, rejection of the "perishable manuscript
> >thesis" is key to our work. The evidence is strong that they
> >didn't write on perishable materials.
> >
> >> As for the inscribed shards, it is well known that the Greeks used
> >> pottery shards to mark with the names of persons to be
> >ostracized from
> >> society. Also short inscriptions but, of course, in a known alphabet.
> >
> >Not just the Greeks but everyone in the Mediterranean region.
> >And the texts were quite long. We deal with this at length in
> >our paper, pp. 22 ff.
> >
> >> If the symbols are part of a symbolic notations system, then there
> >> should probably a comparison to a parallel system found on
> >Indic punch
> >> marked an tribal coins of the symbols on Sanchi stupa two (which, by
> >> the way, will be on our website in just a few days) or the
> >auspicious
> >> markings on the Bharhut and Sanchi one Toranas. There are some
> >> survivals from Harappan symbology on these sites tree chaityas, for
> >> example.
> >
> >We've looked at this extensively, although we don't deal with
> >this in the paper. We don't find any evidence of such
> >survivals -- visual similarities are subjective and often
> >deceptive -- but we are willing to discuss this issue further.
> >You are talking about over a millennium-long gulf here, of
> >course. Punch mark coins do not have any clear parallels with
> >known Indus signs, or at least not any that aren't fortuitous.
> >
> >> It seems to me that Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel have left a
> >great many
> >> unexplored comparisons in both languages and in symbol
> >systems, I know
> >> of more that dozen more that have proven to be very challenging
> >
> >Well, John, there are what -- 6000 or so languages? And
> >several hundred scripts? A few specifics here would be
> >appreciated. :^) We can't discuss them all.
> >
> >> Indeed the line between a symbol system and a written language is
> >> itself a variety of shades of gray, think of the transition between
> >> the Chinese pictorial glyph, to the logographic, to the ideographic.
> >> How could one even imagine where draw a line?
> >
> >One way to draw a line is to talk about semantic range. Over
> >50% of the Indus corpus is made up of 20 signs. This includes
> >signs on at least a dozen different types of inscriptions --
> >not just on seals. How wide would that semantic range be?
> >Compare this with Shang oracle bones, if you want. As I often
> >point out, the "Harappan Wisemen" would have a vocabulary
> >using all known Indus symbols (300-400 by most counts) much
> >less than Koko the Signing Gorilla or the average 3-year-old
> >child on this model. Better leave those Harappan Wisemen with
> >their nonlinguistic signs. :^) (Or embrace Koko:
> >http://www.koko.org/ ) (Koko reportedly is capable of rebus
> >signing too, but I suspect Penny may have something to do with
> >that. I live in the Santa Cruz mountains near Koko. I can hear
> >her beating her chest in the morning, unprompted by
> >Penny.)
> >
> >> Ho Ping-ti in his Cradle of the East found the clearly made potter's
> >> marks on the bottom of 6000 before present Yang Shao culture
> >to be at
> >> a minimum "proto-writing."
> >
> >Garbage science, much derided among Sinologists. I follow that
> >field closely. There have also been similar claims in the last
> >year, also similarly and rightly derided.
> >
> >> The Chinese wrote with sharp tools just as the Harappans appear to
> >> have done. Babylonians wrote with sharp sticks in wet clay.
> >I for one
> >> will continue to think of the Harappan seals as identifiers of
> >> belongings and, "this belongs to Charlie," not much in the way of
> >> literature whether it is said using pictorial glyphs, logographic
> >> glyphs, ideographic glyphs, or alphabetic glyphs (even with >
> >> ligatures).
> >
> >Besides the seals there were over a dozen different types of
> >objects that carried symbols. The idea that they were all
> >identity markers can be easily falsified, although it does
> >take a longer discussion. But NB: the usual claim is that this
> >was a fully literate society, and whatever you think of the
> >symbols, I think Witzel, Sproat, and Farmer have killed off
> >that idea once and for all.
> >
> >Best,
> >Steve
> >
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk]On Behalf Of
> >John Huntington
> >Sent: Friday, December 17, 2004 6:20 PM
> >To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
> >Subject: Re: Science Mag: "no Indus script"
> >
> >
> >Dear Colleagues,
> >
> >I have read with great interest the Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel
> >article and have a couple of questions.
> >
> >Why has no one compared the to what is to me a very obvious
> >comparison, Chinese seals? Seals range in date from Zhou times
> >onto the present and had the language not been a forerunner of
> >modern Chinese through a process of continuous development,
> >would have presented very similar problems to those of the
> >Harappan seals. All inscriptions are very short, one to maybe
> >eight characters, extremely varied in content, with some 2000
> >or so recognized as early as the Shang dynasty.  Shang
> >inscriptions, mostly on oracle bones, are also short but there
> >are thousands of them sometimes as many as twenty or so on one
> >ox scapula so we do have longer texts and more diverse
> >texts(in a sense).  However, these are an artifact of a
> >fortune telling tradition which as is well known is unique to
> >China. Bronze inscriptions from the Shang are equally terse
> >often only one or two characters.
> >
> >If as seems to be the case Harappan civilization seals were
> >intended a marker of possessions, the very diversity of
> >signifier type seems to suggest that there were indeed
> >individualized, they would parallel the Chinese usage almost exactly.
> >
> >As for ephemera and the lack there of for most ancient
> >civilizations- we know for example that the Shang had brushes,
> >a few have been found, and silk, impressions of which have
> >been found on bronze vessels which were originally wrapped in
> >the material. Did they write on silk or bamboo tallys or other
> >such ephemera, as far as I am aware none has come to light
> >yet. But the assumption is that they probably did, because
> >their successors did. We simply do not know who the successors
> >of the Harappans were so there can be no such assumption.
> >
> >While certain types of ephemera is predictable, detailed usage
> >is not so without the finding something such a palm-leaf
> >manuscripts one cannot say they did exist, but not finding
> >them in an area in which there virtually no ephemera is being
> >found simply is not a case for "proving" that longer texts did
> >not exist.
> >
> >As for the inscribed shards, it is well known that the Greeks
> >used pottery shards to mark with the names of persons to be
> >ostracized from society. Also short inscriptions but, of
> >course, in a known alphabet.
> >
> >If the symbols are part of a symbolic notations system,  then
> >there should probably a comparison to a parallel system found
> >on Indic punch marked an tribal coins of the symbols on Sanchi
> >stupa two (which, by the way, will be on our website in just a
> >few days) or the auspicious markings on the Bharhut and Sanchi
> >one Toranas.  There are some survivals from Harappan symbology
> > on these sites tree chaityas, for example.
> >
> >It seems to me that Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel  have left a
> >great many unexplored comparisons in both languages and in
> >symbol systems, I know of more that dozen more that have
> >proven to be very challenging and bear some relationship to
> >the problems that the raise.
> >
> >Indeed the line between a symbol system and a written language
> >is itself a variety of shades of gray, think of the transition
> >between the Chinese pictorial glyph, to the logographic, to
> >the ideographic. How could one even imagine where draw a line?
> > Ho Ping-ti in his Cradle of the East found the clearly made
> >potter's marks on the bottom of 6000 before present Yang Shao
> >culture to be at a  minimum "proto-writing." The Chinese wrote
> >with sharp tools just as the Harappans appear to have done.
> >Babylonians wrote with sharp sticks in wet clay. I for one
> >will continue to think of the Harappan seals as identifiers of
> >belongings and, "this belongs to Charlie," not much in the way
> >of literature whether it is said using pictorial glyphs,
> >logographic glyphs, ideographic glyphs, or alphabetic glyphs
> >(even with ligatures).
> >
> >Best of Holidays to all
> >
> >John
> >
>



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