Computers Unlock More Secrets of the Mysterious Indus Valley Script (Aug. 4, 2009) — University of Washington researcher has used computers to extract patterns in ancient Indus symbols. They show distinct patterns in the symbols’ placement in sequences and create a statistical model for the unknown language.

Indus-Valley“The statistical model provides insights into the underlying grammatical structure of the Indus script.

The symbols are found on tiny seals, tablets and amulets, left by people inhabiting the Indus Valley from about 2600 to 1900 B.C. Each artifact is inscribed with a sequence that is typically five to six symbols long.

The new study looks for mathematical patterns in the sequence of symbols. Calculations show that the order of symbols is meaningful; taking one symbol from a sequence found on an artifact and changing its position produces a new sequence that has a much lower probability of belonging to the hypothetical language.

The researchers used a Markov model, a statistical method that estimates the likelihood of a future event based on patterns seen in the past.

One application uses the statistical model to fill in missing symbols on damaged archaeological artifacts. Such filled-in texts can increase the pool of data available for deciphering the writings of ancient civilizations.

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