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almost totally missing. The script was forgotten long before the earliest preserved literary records of South Asia were composed, so the later Indian sources tell us nothing about the Indus Civilization.

The Indus script is not closely and obviously related with any other known writing system which could help defining the phonetic values of the Indus signs. In addition, several further facts make the problem of the Indus script unusually difficult to tackle. As already stated, all surviving texts are very short — even the longest text is merely 26 signs. This means that we probably have no complete sentences but mostly just noun phrases. There are no clearly distinguishable word dividers, which have been of great help in the analysis of for instance the Aegean scripts. And though numerous signs are clearly pictographic, many are so simplified that it is virtually impossible to understand what they depict.

No wonder, then, that after about one hundred published attempts at deciphering the Indus script, the problem remains unsolved — that at least is the general verdict.23) Why have these attempts failed? Very often the material has been manipulated in unacceptable ways to fit preconceived ideas. Apart from this, the most popular method has been to equate Indus signs with similar-looking signs of other, readable scripts, and to read the Indus signs with their phonetic values. This method, however, works only when the scripts compared are closely related, and even then there are pitfalls. It is true that some Indus signs have close formal parallels in other ancient scripts. For example, the Indus sign looking like a mountain can be compared with signs occur- ring in Sumerian, Egyptian, Hittite and Chinese scripts. But each of these parallel signs represents a different language and has a different phonetic value, even if the meaning is the same or similar.

Methodology What, then, is sound methodology? Some preparatory tasks have proved

______________________________ 23) Cf. Possehl 1996; Robinson 2002: 264–295.


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