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ties did prosper without writing, for example the Incan empire which instead used a system of knotted strings (p. 47; Lawler 2004: 2029). But writing has been a most effective tool of administration, and the Indus script was created in the transitional period as part of a thorough reorganization of the Harappan culture, which included also standard- ization of weights and measures and led to the expansion and 500 years’ duration of the Mature Harappan Civilization over a million square kilometers. The Harappans are not likely to have committed long literary texts to writing, and may have restricted themselves to record- ing economic transactions and other administrative affairs (as was done, for example, in Mycenaean Greece).

Pointers to a Writing System in the Indus Texts One of the first testimonies of phonetic writing in Egypt is the famous palette of Narmer (c. 3050 BCE). Above the head of the king, who smites his enemy with a mace, is depicted the façade of his palace inside which are depicted a ‘catfish’ and an ‘awl’. These signs, placed in the picture like the iconographic symbols of Mesopotamia, identify the king, but on a linguistic basis. Through the rebus or picture puzzle principle, the pictograms supply the phonetic values n‘r and mr, respec- tively, yielding the king’s name Narmer.16)

Both in Mesopotamia17) and in Egypt the application of the rebus principle meant a breakthrough in the creation of language-based writ- ing. The signs used in writing were standardized and written in regular lines following the order of spoken words and sounds.

That the Indus signs form a standardized system and that the signs are written in regular lines are very important pointers to a language- based writing. But the most important characteristic of the Indus texts in this respect becomes evident if we do not limit their consideration to single inscriptions, as Farmer et al. do. This is the fact that the Indus

signs form a very large number of regularly repeated sequences. The ______________________________

  • 16)

    Cf., e.g., Gardiner 1957: 7; Ray 1986; Ritner 1996: 73.

  • 17)

    Cf. Michalowski 1996: 35; Cooper 1996: 42.


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