Cowlix Wearing my mind on my sleeve

Sunday, March 17, 2002
Harappan mystery

The riddle of the stones: on the mystery of the Happaran language, which is apparently related to the Dravidian family. While we've learned much about the early Asian civilization from archaelogical work the language remains a puzzle.

Billed as one of the last great mysteries of the historical world, it has been regarded by some scholars as the most intriguing linguistic riddle since the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt were deciphered in the 19th century. For others - cryptographers and cranks alike - it poses a challenge to rank alongside the Nazis' Enigma code. The writing of the Harappan, or Indus valley, civilisation remains almost as baffling today as when first encountered in 1872 by a British amateur archeologist, Sir Alexander Cunningham, in what is today Pakistan. Despite relentless research and numerous claims of decipherment, no single interpretation has found approval and the signs have still to yield a universally accepted sentence.


Whoever should crack the code, say experts, will be assured of fame and fortune: lucrative book deals, lecture tours and celebratory documentaries on television. But, be forewarned. This is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted. Dozens of great minds have tried and failed. Dozens who have claimed to have decrypted the markings have been dismissed as either self-deluding eccentrics or charlatans.

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