Science Mag: "no Indus script"
gthomgt at ADELPHIA.NET
Sun Dec 19 20:52:18 EST 2004
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
From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk]On Behalf Of Dean
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
Or perhaps another venue.
>From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk] On Behalf Of
>Sent: Friday, December 17, 2004 9:15 PM
>To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
>Subject: Re: Science Mag: "no Indus script"
>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.
>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.
>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:
>> If as seems to be the case Harappan civilization seals were
>> marker of possessions, the very diversity of signifier type seems to
>> suggest that there were indeed individualized, they would
>> 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
>> we know for example that the Shang had brushes, a few have
>> and silk, impressions of which have been found on bronze
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> markings on the Bharhut and Sanchi one Toranas. There are some
>> survivals from Harappan symbology on these sites tree chaityas, for
>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
>> 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
>> 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 >
>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.
>From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk]On Behalf Of
>Sent: Friday, December 17, 2004 6:20 PM
>To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
>Subject: Re: Science Mag: "no Indus script"
>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
>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
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