The Indus script - lost perishable manuscripts

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Tue Apr 28 02:51:20 UTC 2009

Obvious blooper in the post:

> And this from a urban civilization that was supposedly "writing"  
> for well over a half century? [read: "well over a half millennium?"]


On Apr 27, 2009, at 7:40 PM, Steve Farmer wrote:

> 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 Wed.
> 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.
> Best,
> Steve

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