Indus Script: Decipherment: Next Stage

The Indus script has over 4,000 examples of inscriptions that are built from at least 419 different characters¹. Decipherment of the entire corpus of the Indus Script will therefore need more resources than I can provide. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that it can be done. I currently (in March 2015) have tentative translations for over one hundred Indus Script signs.

I envisage three aspects to the translation work.

Firstly, comparison with Chinese characters, with the Shuowen Jiezi as the first point of reference.

Image: Shuowen Jiezi: research tool
Image: Shuowen Jiezi: research tool

The bronze character can be compared with Indus sign number 43, on the right.

It should be noted that some of the character forms predate those in the Shuowen Jiezi. The inscriptions on early Chinese bronze vessels were prepared with a stylus in the wet clay of the piece-mould. It is therefore not surprising that some of the Indus Script signs resemble archaic Chinese bronze characters.

On the left is a bronze version of the Chinese character lì .

Image: Iravatham Mahadevan: Compilation: Lynn Fawcett

Secondly, pattern analysis of the script of the kind carried out by Ms Yadav and her collaborators.

Thirdly, I suggest a new line of investigation, namely comparison with characters from Classical Yi. Classical Yi is another logographic script. There are over 80,000 glyphs in the preliminary proposal to encode the characters². Some of the characters bear a striking visual resemblance to Indus Script symbols. I have given you a few examples in the table below. I have not been able to find a reference work in English that I can use to test this hypothesis. However, I think that an expert in Classical Yi might be able to shed more light on the Indus Script.

Image: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Lynn Fawcett



Bronze script character: lì: Shuowenjiezi: research tool in Chinese traditional philology: Accessed: 7 November 2014

Indus Script Sign Number 43: Image extracted from Sign List of the Indus Script: Iravatham Mahadevan, 1977: The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables: The Director General Archaeological Survey of India

Examples of Classical Yi Glyphs: Table prepared by Lynn Fawcett, October 2014: Glyphs from the Preliminary Proposal to encode Classical Yi characters²: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett


1. Iravatham Mahadevan identified 419 different Indus Script signs: Iravatham Mahadevan, 1977: The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables: The Director General Archaleological Survey of India

2. Preliminary Proposal to encode Classical Yi characters: SC2/WG2 N 3288: People’s Republic of China, Bijie University of China, Bijie, Guizhou, 2007: Accessed: 18 September 2014