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cracking codes

22 October 2015

At www.nature.com/news/ancient-civilizations-cracking-the-indus-script-1.18587 … as far as codes, or undecyphered scripts are concerned, the Indus script has kept a few brians busy over many years. One thousand settlements once covered 800,000 square km of what is now Pakistan and NW India, a well developed urban culture with a population of around a million people (an estimate). Most of these settlements were villages but there were five cities, such as Harappa and Mohenjo Dara.

The script itself is made up of pictographic signs and other human and animal motifs. Hindu nationalists regard the script as an early form of Sanskrit – others think it was produced by Dravidian speakers. It all depends on when you think Sanskrit (or Indo European) speakers entered the region. If you think in terms of them coming from the steppes and then it would be right to see the script as Dravidian. However, if you follow the line of Renfrew and trace Indo European back to the early farmers of the Fertile Crescent and then the people of Indus could well have an origin in Baluchistan and what is now Iran. Until somebody translates the script one way or the other we don't really know.

What caught my eye was that one of the symbols was what looked like a unicorn – until you looked at it closer. It was a one horned bull. The horn even had the appearance of a comet's coma, tracing an arc. A connection with the bull in the sky that was common in the ancient world is interesting as we have Enlil, the bull of heaven, and the Golden Calf of the Exodus story, as well as bulls common in myth and religious rituals across Europe and Africa. I was reading the other day that even the San Bushmen had rituals involving a bull like animal – in this instance, an Eland (a large antelope with prominent horns). I may write something up about this.

At www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-34547694 … some 70 medieval graves were found near Exeter (from the 13th or 14th centuries) and are not in hallowed land. They were in fact interred in a Bronze Age earth enclosure (a piece of ground surrounded by a bank and ditch). Plague victims would have been buried in a mass grave, it is thought, so are these another example of hunger and privation in the 13th and early 14th centuries (as a result of crop failure and climate anomalies).

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