Posts Tagged ‘China’

Ever since the publication of my book ‘Indus Seals (2600-1900 BCE)Beyond Geometry: A New Approach to Break an Old Code’ I am often asked about the nature of the hurdles in the Indus seal research and about what has been my approach to decipherment of the enigmatic signs and symbols engraved on these seals. The answer is long and I have attempted to cover it in my book, however, for those who want a shorter version please read this blog.

Most cited difficulties in deciphering the seals are the brevity of the inscriptions and the absence of a bilingual dictionary such as the Rosetta Stone which helped in deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs. An average Indus seal has only 5 signs while the longest Indus text is composed of 26 signs. However, we cannot wait for the discovery of large volumes of textual material. Bearing in mind that the brevity of text might be a unique feature which cannot be judged by the yardstick used for ancient writing systems discovered elsewhere, we must continue to reconstruct the other aspects of Indus civilization which will eventually provide a larger socio-cultural and ideological context to examine and understand the seals.


According to Asko Parpola, methodological weaknesses have been a cause of failure in deciphering the script. “The most common approach has been this: Indus signs are equated with similar-looking signs of other, readable ancient scripts and the phonetic values of the latter are transferred to the Indus signs. However, this method works only when the two scripts being compared are closely related … In contrast, the Indus script has no obvious genetic affinity with any other known script.”

N.A. Baloch classifies the method of decipherment used by the researchers into two groups. “The first method has been of concentration entirely on the internal structure of the Indus script which has reduced the entire corpus of the signs, marks, and pictorial representations into writing and enumerating so much so that each and every sign has an identification number now. The second method has directed the research towards proving some sort of relationship between the Indus script and other scripts and languages of the contemporary civilizations.”

Apart from these reasons, I strongly feel that there have been a few detours in the long journey of decipherment which has derailed the Indus seal research. These detours have proved futile as they have misled the scholars to seek clues in distant cultures and languages. Perhaps, for a better understanding of the Indus seals and their languages, I would like to draw the attention to the route suggested by Baloch. According to him, “For the language of the (Indus) script, the scholars will have to abandon their wild-goose chase of looking for the proto-type in Turan and South India and look for the evidence within the land where the seals were made and discovered… this lock of the Indus script had apparently been prepared by the great smiths of yore that is not likely to yield to such foreign-made keys so easily.” Baloch further suggests that, “In order to resolve this problem on a rather firm rational ground, a third hypothesis can be presented based on the assumption that the key to the decipherment of the Indus script may be found right in the land where it had been lost— Indus Valley. The decipherment could, perhaps, be worked out looking into the words and phrases of the language of the Indus Valley, the language of the land itself, Sindhi of the peasants, as it has remained unaffected throughout the centuries.”

And yet Sindhi is not the only language to be considered for Indus seal research. I have used the Sindhi model in my book because of my familiarity with that language and because it has retained a larger percentage of the ancient words. However, there are other languages spoken in the Indus region which can be explored for ancient words, adages and legends that can be identified on the seals. It must be emphasized that seals are not only engraved with rows of signs and symbols but they are also imbued with images of animals, humans, deities, trees and unidentifiable objects. Hence beyond the calligraphic, geometrical and linguistic facets of ancient writing , the Indus seals also depict an assortment of social, cultural and ideological content which requires a holistic approach for its interpretation. This approach will certainly extend the seal research and help in a better understanding of the Civilization in general.

Indus Civilization is recognized as the fourth ancient civilization of the World, the other three were discovered in China, Egypt and Iraq; the fifth was discovered in Central America after the discovery of Indus. Indus is also the largest ancient civilization but it remains to be the least understood.  It must be emphasized that the failure to decipher Indus symbols and signs has contributed a lot to this lack of understanding.

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“Prince Mikasa, an imperial Army Veteran who turned pacifist…died in Tokyo on Thursday. He was 100.” On October 27th I came across this obituary in the New York Times. Until then all I knew of Prince Takahito Mikasa was that he had once visited Pakistan to participate in an International Symposium on Moen jo Daro and that he was a brother of Emperor Hirohito of Japan. However, now I am curious to see what bought him to Moen jo Daro.

I looked at his picture printed with the obituary, attired and armed in the traditional way, he looked boyish. “Prince Mikasa around 1930” the year printed in the label confirmed my guess.  It also revealed that he was the first Japanese royal to become a professor, and to get a driver’s license. I quickly glanced through the news: born on December 2nd, 1915, he was the fifth in line to the throne and was the uncle of present emperor, Akihito. The obituary any way was short and even looked shorter considering the stature of the late Prince.  I searched more about him on the internet. As expected, many pictures appeared;  in one, the young prince was dancing with his wife Princess Yuriko at a party,  in another both were riding on elephants in Sri Lanka. Fast forward, the couple grew old, the first picture to draw my attention showed them sitting on a bench sharing an album; in another both were standing and viewing the imperial costumes at a Museum, and finally the one from the last years of Prince’s life- he seated in a wheel chair, she holding on to her walker.

Prince Mikasa, served as a junior officer in the imperial army during its notorious invasion of Nanking, but he came to be more known for his views against the war.  He was a strong critic of Japanese aggression in China and after the World War Two had asked his brother to abdicate the throne.  In his Asokan moment he even thought of giving up his own title to live an ordinary life. He did not succeed in achieving the status of a commoner but he had the freedom to immerse in the vast ocean of knowledge to understand human history. He was tempted to reach the remnants of ancient past  for a glimpse of the beginnings of the modern world.

In 1954, Prince Mikasa established the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan. He taught at the Tokyo University, learnt Hebrew and  translated “a handbook of biblical archaeology.” Prince Mikasa’s major interest was the East and  in 1968 he also  became an honorary visiting professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.  In one of his interviews he explained what attracted him to ancient  East, “The reason I studied Oriental archaeology was to seek out from the ruins of the Middle East and the Near East, the origin of mankind and civilization, the outlines of man and state, and to think over what man should be.”  He had found solace in history and antiquity and that is what had bought him to Moen jo Daro. I looked into the proceedings of the International Symposium on Moen jo Daro which were published as a book with the cover design printed with a collage of Indus seals. The Symposium was held on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the excavations of the site.  The year was 1973, I was still a novice in archaeology.But today as I am reading the address of Prince Mikasa on Moen jo Daro I find it very relevant and  must share his views in his own words. Below is an excerpt from his address:

“May I be permitted to tell you about my own impressions?  When I received the invitation from the Government of Pakistan last year, my heart was filled with joy. As a student of the ancient history of the Middle East, I never forget the name of Moenjodaro, the most ancient and most elaborately planned and constructed city in this world, which has reminded Sir Mortimer Wheeler of New York’s Broadway Street. After going around the sites of the city, I realized how poor and how superficial was the knowledge obtained from books and photographs. Each block of bricks, rectangular or triangular, laid vertically or horizontally, the wonderful system of drainage in straight or loosely curved lines made a vivid impression on me. The dyer’s shop and the metal-worker’s shop remind the daily life of the artisans of Moenjodaro.

The Government of Pakistan and UNESCO have already done a great job to save this ancient culture. We, the participants, will do our best to co-operate with the Government of Pakistan and UNESCO in the noble task of preserving this universal human heritage.”

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