The Legacy and Language of Indus Valley Civilization

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The Indus Valley Civilization was the first urban based society in India. It was a Bronze Age society that extended from modern Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India. The height of the city was through 2600-1900 BCE, and it approximate existence was from 3300-1300 BCE. The civilization covered approximately a million square kilometers. Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were thought to be the two greatest cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, coming in around 2600 BCE along the Indus River Valley. The valley could be compared to Mesopotamia and Pharaonic Egypt as some of the most widespread and ancient east societies. (Yadav, 2010) But, there is one thing the Indus Valley Civilization might not have in comparison to Mesopotamia and Pharaonic Egypt, text. The Indus Valley Civilization, also known as Harappan civilization, held more than 1,000 cities, which contained organized wastewater drainage systems, trash collection systems, public granaries and baths. Many cities were surrounded by large walls and citadels, not for defense of war but from animals and possibly a gate taxation. Strangely there is no evidence of temples or a ruler over the land, though the uniformity of Harappan and the rest of the Indus Valley artifacts suggests some form of governance. (Yadav, 2010)

There is no evidence of warfare, no large amounts of remains to identify a large loss, and there was no king or ruler over the valley like most old world civilizations. No archaeological evidence points to any religion or political organization. But, it is an important step in the civilizations that succeeded after. With the cultivation of cotton and possibly rice, domesticated chickens, and even a non-muscle power windmill. (Walter, 1983, 58) They created sculptures, seals, pottery, and even jewelry from materials, such as terracotta, metal, and stone. Seals are one of the most commonly discovered artifacts in Indus Valley cities, which they are usually decorated with animal figures, like elephants, buffalos, and made up animals. The seal carving was for the identification and to stamp clay on trade goods, they even developed an accurate system of standardized weights and measures. They had a system and great knowledge, but did they have a writing system. (Kenoyer, Meadow, 2008, 126-128) Like mentioned previously, as one of the ancient societies like Mesopotamia and Pharaonic Egypt, the Indus Valley might lack one crucial element. Many scholars and scientist debate about the topic of the Indus Valley text. Do the seals and the famous sign mean a written language, or is the chicken scratch just a type of logo? And unlike other ancient civilizations, the Indus Valley’s text is not solved. Some of the troubles being there is no Rosetta stone, meaning there is no text with both Indus symbols and another text translating it in another language. Plus, there are no long text or origin story.

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Now, on the side that the symbols found in the Indus Valley are actually a written language, we still haven’t translated the text. Many are trying to translate the many seal found in the ruins. Reserchers have found around 400 distinct signs, though Wells identifies up to 676 distinct signs. (Yadav, 2010) How could so many different symbols not be a form of text, a form of linguistics. Researchers have found the probable direction of writing, as some of the symbols get compressed on the left side. Meaning that the nice spacing on the right is where they started, they wrote from right to left. (Linguarum, 1976, 18) The key working difficulty in trying to interpret the script is that, due to the scarcity of information one is forced to make an assumption in context of the script. This leads to an excessive amount of explanations, of which are often not plausible or implausible. There are many opinions on if the script varies from an Indo-Aryan language, Dravidian language, to even a purely numerical system. There is no consensus on any interpretations. (Yadav, 2010)

A more impartial approach, not using prior assumptions, is statistical analysis. The method includes identifying patterns through counting. This approach cannot shed light on smaller details, but it can reveal features of its syntax. “Research on the Indus script using the statistical approach was initiated by Knorozov and his team in 1965, further developed by Parpola and collaborators in, continued by Siromoney [11] in the 1980s.” (Yadav, 2010) Researchers have started to apply the technique of n-gram modeling, which can be a more thorough statistical analysis of sequences, to the Indus script. (Yadav, 2010) If one admits the working hypothesis that the symbols on the seal identifies its carrier, then the script might give the individual's name, occupation, residence, and even rank or title. In support of such a claim, studies of seal texts show large variation in the sequence of individual signs, but also frequent repetition of chosen few. This hypothesis could give the future decipherers some basis to continue. (Walter, 1983, 61)

Many that try to disprove the symbols being texts, are those that refer the lack of long text or origin story. The longest script usually being 14 to 15 symbols long. Why would a civilization not write their stories if they could? The lost-manuscript thesis, being that the lack of long texts id due to it being written on durable materials. But, many passed this thought over. Some researchers, like archeologist John Marshall, still insist that “Indus scribes” must have written their long texts on “birch bark, palm leaves, parchment, wood, or cotton cloth, any of which would have perished in the course of the ages.” (Farmer, 2004, 24) To counteractive to the possibility of the lost-manuscript thesis and explain how the Indus symbols were not evolving in the linguistic directions even after such a long use. Symbols are suggested were used as non-linguistic sign systems that aided key religious, political, and social functions without encrypting speech or as memory aids. Evidence is says their symbols played a part in in controlling large multilinguistic populations, so they were not true linguistics text. It is possible if one creates enough rules as well as generate semi-convincing decipherments of any ancient symbols into a language, even if the signs did not encode language in the first place. (Farmer, 2004, 45)

Political motives have linked the Indus civilization to the Dravidian and Indo-Aryan models, so they become obscured under a large coating of scientific language, which have played a significant role in the Indus-script thesis. The evidence that the Indus civilization may have been multilinguistic, denting both sides of this ongoing debate of whether the Indus Valley is from India or it settled in India. (Farmer, 2004, 22) Overall, the absence of long Indus writings on any medium is incomparable to any known literate civilization. The first test to the lost-text thesis arose from the general model of the evolution of manuscript traditions. It traces patterns and parallels of growth in pre-modern religious, philosophical, and cosmological systems into a combination of neurobiological and literate forces. With no appearance of these expected byproducts in any found Indus artifacts and in the oldest parts of the Vedic texts, it suggests that no written texts made in the Indus civilization. (Farmer, 2004, 25) In the end, the text is still in controversy of whether its linguistic or logo type symbols, and so far, there is no way to prove either side.

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