A One-Sentence Refutation of the Indus-Script Myth

Not one ancient literate civilization is known — including those that wrote routinely on perishable materials — that didn’t also leave long texts behind on durable materials.

That’s all it takes to refute the 130-year-old Indus-script myth — and it is only one of numerous obvious arguments. Despite the fact that the Indus symbols were around for at least 700 years (and arguably much longer), with ‘inscriptions’ (if that’s the right word) found on thousands of objects of many different durable materials, the longest Indus ‘text’ on a single surface is 17 signs long*, and the average has under 4.6 signs — which is typical of many other nonlinguistic symbol systems.

Note that we have much longer texts even from so-called proto-writing systems (e.g., proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite) and special limited-use scripts like the Ogham system (used in medieval Britain). Compare the longest Indus ‘text’ with a proto-Elamite accounting tablet.

For discussion of how Indus symbols functioned, see Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel 2004. The evidence in this paper is further expanded in Farmer, Weber, Barela, Sproat, and Witzel (see Paper Abstract) and other papers.

See our $10,000 Prize Challenge to ‘Indus Script’ Adherents

*Seal M-314, illustrated in the links to this page. Old-style Indus-script adherents (including Parpola, Possehl, Kak, Wells) have claimed that the longest Indus ‘inscription’ is 26 signs long. The reference is to two examples of a mass-produced molded object (M-494 and M-495) on which, if you add up all the symbols on three separate surfaces, gives you this number. The claim that this is a continuous ‘message’ is a implausible, and the view that the ‘message’ involves ‘writing’ is even weaker: three of the symbols in a row on one of the surfaces represents what is known to be a sacrificial bowl. For the evidence, see photographs.

©2005 – 2008 Steve Farmer      

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