There are still many remains of the enigmatic harbor Indus script - their content, however, remains unclear. Photo: JMKenoyer / Harrapa.com
Reading aloud It is one of the great puzzles of archeology: Archaeologists, linguists and mathematicians have been banging their heads over the images, symbols and signs of the so-called Indus script for more than 130 years. Is the scripture used in the Indus Valley between 1900 and 2600 BC, based on a spoken language? Or do the characters reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs only correspond to pictograms with their own meanings? Scientists now believe that they have at least found an answer to this question: The logical structure of the Indus script actually indicates a spoken language, conclude Rajesh Rao of the University of Washington in Seattle and his Indian colleagues from computer analysis. Squares, rectangles, jagged lines, complicated geometrical patterns: The signs of the Indus script found on small clay tablets are manifold. They come from the Indus culture, which originated in today's border area between India and Pakistan? at a time when significant civilizations had developed in Mesopotamia and the Nile. Scientists agree that the characters are written.

But since its discovery in the 19th century, more than a hundred attempts have failed to decipher it. After all, researchers even came up with doubts as to whether the Indus script was actually based on a spoken language. In 2004, researchers proposed that the signs could only be understood as pictograms with religious or political symbolic content.

This contradicts now Rajesh Rao and his team of Indian computer scientists and mathematicians. The researchers had developed an analysis method in which a computer program evaluates the logical structure of the signs and their sequence. This system was applied not only to the Indus script but to several well-known languages, including modern English, the Sumerian language spoken in Mesopotamia, a forerunner of Sanskrit, and the ancient Tamil language. For comparison, the researchers also used the algorithm to analyze other sequences of characters, such as the code of human DNA or the programming language "Fortran".

The logical structure of the Indus script fits exactly into the scheme of known, spoken languages, the evaluation showed. Thus, the scripture is actually based on a language that was spoken on the Indus more than 4, 000 years ago, explain the scientists. The researchers still can not decode the characters on the tablets yet. "We now want to analyze the structure and syntax of the font and thus close to the grammatical rules, " announces Rao. The scientist hopes to actually crack the code once and get past the contents of the clay tablets. display

Rajesh Rao (University of Washington, Seattle) et al .: Science, Online Publication, doi: 10.1126 / science.1170391 ddp / science.de? Ulrich Dewald

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