Dennys Frenez

International Association for Mediterranean and Oriental Studies, Rome
Crafting a Writing System: Insights on the Invention and Development of the Indus Script


The Indus (or Harappan) Civilization, developed along the Indus River basin of present-day Pakistan and northwestern India between ca. 2600 and 1900 BC, was acknowledged almost one century ago as a cultural complex coeval to other Bronze Age state-level urban cultures in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Iranian Plateau. Nonetheless, failure to decode its writing system severely limited our understanding of significant aspects of its ethnolinguistic, sociopolitical and economic organisation. Over the past decades, several unsuccessful attempts to define the syntactic structure of the Indus Script and even decipher it have been made using different paleographic methods and linguistic approaches. Such efforts were, unfortunately, often driven by biased cultural preconceptions (and the relative reactions) that led to interpret the Indus Civilization as a secondary urban phenomenon deeply influenced by ‘western’ cultures. However, the main reason to fail was the lack of a thorough archaeological study of the inscribed media and their discovery contexts, which prevented to define coherent synchronic corpora of signs thus introducing erroneous population parameters in the statistical interpretations. This paper, therefore, aims to present the specific socio-economic context and original cultural patterns that led to the local creation and first developments of the Indus Script during the Early Harappan Phase, ca. 3200-2600 BCE. The main features, stylistic and morphologic developments, and absolute chronology of the inscribed media will also be discussed to set a firm ground for the future definition of a coherent group of signs and variants.

Session 2

Wednesday, 13 January 2021, 14:00


Images Related to the Talk

Harappa - Inscribed sherd

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