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Ancient Writing: Race to be First

Dateline: 05/11/99

The race is on. Major contenders for (river valley) civilization with the earliest writing are: Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and maybe China (although it would be hard to show that Chinese writing wasn't influenced by contact with the rest of Eurasia) -- with Sumeria (3300-3200 B.C.) the clear favorite.

Defining Language

"Representing spoken language in writing grew out of the transformation of pictures and random marks into images with consistent meaning."
From (sarasvati.simplenet.com/aryan/040699sci-early-writing.html) Who Began Writing?
Deciphering Indus Script
For further information, look at Indus script expert Asko Parpola's article
"Religion reflected in the iconic signs of the Indus script: penetrating into long-forgotten picto graphic messages."
Last year archaeological evidence from (news2.thdo.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_235000/235724.stm) Egypt at the tomb of a king named Scorpion was radio-carbon dated to 3300-3200 B.C. In March 1998 archaeologists in Pakistan uncovered jars with ancient writing from about the same period.

Articles from Newsweek [5/6/99] and the (news2.thdo.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid%5F334000/334517.stm) BBC News confirm that Harappa, in the Indus Valley (Pakistan), is in the lead. The writing may come from as early as 3500 B.C., although conservative estimates date the pieces to 3300-2600 B.C.

"Plant-like and trident-shaped" marks are not simply potters' marks, graffiti, or doodling, Richard Meadows, director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project, claims. The terra cotta vessels in which the marks were inscribed, both before and after firing, repeat certain signs, but "not particularly placed or continuous bands." Meadows thinks they may have religious significance or show the jars' contents.

Meadows hopes to gather more such inscriptions and follow their progress as they grow into the written language of the Indus Valley. Unfortunately, he says, the Indus Valley language has died out, and no one fully understands it.

Online Resources

Ancient Harappa produced the artwork for a traveling exhibit of the Asia Society.

Links to information on India, Pakistan, and the Indus Valley.

Harvard man finds world's oldest writing in Harappa
Richard Meadow from Harvard has found 5500-year old writing, more primitive than Harappan, at Harappa.

[ < URL = http://sarasvati.listbot.com/cgi-bin/view_archive?Act=view_message&list_id=sarasvati&msg_num=27&start_num= accessed 05/11/1999 >] Sarasvati-Sindhu Home Page: Archive: Message #27
Dr. S. Kalyanaraman says that Dr. Meadows may be wrong about the Indus language dying out; instead, he thinks it may have migrated.

Assessment of Parpola's model of decipherment
A National Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research, Iravatham Mahadevan assesses Parpola's interpretation.

Lexicon of Sumerian Logograms
By John A. Halloran. Sumerian is known to us largely through Sumerian-Akkadian dictionaries. The two languages are not related. By the Old Babylonian period (1800-1600 B.C.) only the scribes still spoke Sumerian.

[ < URL = http://www.teleport.com/~arden/writing.htm accessed 05/10/99 > ]The Origin and Development of Writing in Mesopotamia
By Arden Eby. An economic interpretation comparing two theories: Gelb who believes writing evolves from the simple and concrete to the complex, abstract and Schmandt who believes a specialized economy precipitated more advanced record keeping--writing.

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