The Indus script - lost perishable manuscripts

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Tue Apr 28 02:40:05 UTC 2009

Dear Asko,

Thanks much for posting. I'm very eager to get into this Indus string- 
size issue (the word 'inscription' is loaded), which I think is one  
of several "Indus script killers" nearly on its own. Some ninety  
years of digging at multiple large urban sites, finds of thousands of  
tiny-sized symbol strings only, on many types of objects, and not one  
reasonable sized one? And this from a urban civilization that was  
supposedly "writing" for well over a half century, and on some  
accounts more, supposedly with a civilization-wide system.

That's not a sign of "writing" in the accepted linguistic sense of  
systematically encoded speech, but something more interesting, I  
think. Science rarely "proves" anything, but it certainly makes some  
views less credible than others.

Leaving aside the periods after the Persians introduced writing in  
the NW nearly a millennium and a half after the disappearance of  
Indus symbols, which you spend most of your time on, and is  
irrelevant to the purpose, it's pretty easy to undercut your case  
with your own data when you add in what we know about literate  
civilizations. You write:

> More than 2100 Indus texts come from Mohenjo-daro alone, and yet  
> less than one tenth of that single city has been excavated. Farmer  
> and his colleagues do not know what has existed and what may be  
> found in the remaining parts of the city, even if it is likely that  
> only imperishable material of the kinds already available continue  
> to be found.

"Only" 10%?? How much digging would you have to do of a Maya  
ceremonial or urban site to find one text over 17 symbols long?  
(Answer: you wouldn't have to dig at all, since you see long texts  
everywhere.)  How many Mesopotamian texts on durable materials do we  
have? Literally hundreds of thousands. How many from Shang dynasty  
China? Again hundreds of thousands, etc.

We're talking about durable texts, not perishable ones. Of those we  
only have four still from the Maya, none from Shang dynasty China  
(although there are suggestions on Shang signs that they used them),  
and of course they used them in Mesopotamia as well, although they  
have all perished.

I want to return to this in detail -- deep detail -- about Wednesday  
or so. I can't earlier, unfortunately. I tore a muscle in my back  
today and temporarily out of commission and in pain, and dental  
things tomorrow, but I should be OK and have lots of leisure time on  

Very happy we're going to have this discussion: Festina lente and  
let's settle some things this time. I'll discuss all of your evidence  
on this issue, at length, on Wed. if possible.

Looking forward to seeing you in Kyoto.


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