Hi again, everybody! I turn here to claims regarding Indian scripts.
Many of these claims involve the interpretation of the Indus Valley Script (IVS). IVS has been found on tablets in the ruins of Mohenjodaro and Harappa and dated around 4,500-4,000 years BP. The Indus Valley Civilization, if IVS is genuinely a script (see below), is one of the oldest literate civilizations known, and the issues extend well beyond linguistics.
IVS is the subject of a vast scholarly literature but has no accepted decipherment or interpretation. The two most plausible candidates for the unidentified language represented are Indo-European (probably early Sanskrit/pre-Sanskrit) and Dravidian, the main language ‘family’ of Southern India; the best known language in this ‘family’ is Tamil. On the ‘Dravidian IVS’ theory, the later arrival in India of the IE-speakers might have contributed to the fall of the Indus Valley Civilization, or might alternatively have post-dated it altogether. The old mainstream notion of an ‘Aryan Invasion’ of India by users of IE around 3,500 years BP has long been modified; but if IE arose much further west, as is still accepted in the mainstream, the language ‘family’ must have entered India at some date.
Many of those who believe that IVS represents Dravidian invoke Brahui, the isolated Dravidian language of the Indus region, which they interpret as a survivor of early Dravidian domination in the region (but there are other, mainstream accounts of the situation of Brahui suggesting that the language was transplanted to the region at a much later date).
If IVS instead represents very early Sanskrit or the like, IE was in India much earlier than orthodox scholarship maintains, too early to permit any Aryan incursion in the second millennium BCE. The arrival of IE in India might, indeed, have been the event which triggered the development of the Indus Valley Civilization. Edwin Bryant has proposed a moderate version of the view that IE entered India at an early date, but (as I noted earlier) there are also stronger, clearly non-mainstream views, proposed by K. D. Sethna and others, according to which IE actually had its origins in India. An authoritative and generally accepted decipherment of IVS would be a very important factor in the solution to this historical problem.
There have been over 100 ‘decipherments’ of IVS, many by non-mainstream writers and those with political, cultural and linguistic biases. Predictably, most ‘decipherers’ favour either IE or Dravidian (or languages which may be related to Dravidian, such as Elamite), depending upon their own linguistic background or interests. IE interpretations of IVS include those of Barry Fell (see earlier), who believed that he had deciphered the script as representing early Sanskrit/pre-Sanskrit, George Feuerstein and his associates, David Frawley, Daniel Salas, Rama Sarker, etc. Dravidian interpretations include those of Tariq Rahman and Anand Sharan, who believes that IVS is still in use in Bihar State, India (not close to the IVS sites). Sharan therefore accepts a version of the ‘Aryan Invasion’, but (as a ‘Dravidian supporter’) he also denies that the Dravidian-speakers were culturally and technologically inferior to these invaders. His account of how in that case Dravidian came to be ‘pushed’ south is not entirely convincing. Of course, it is not agreed by mainstream Indologists that IVS is indeed still in use, in Bihar or anywhere else.
Clyde Winters and other Afrocentrists ‘decipher’ the script as Dravidian; they go on to link Dravidian generally, Sumerian and even Chinese with African languages held to have been widely diffused by an early African diaspora. Ivan van Sertima and his associates present a range of other Afrocentrist views. Most of the material in this work is non-linguistic in character, involving artefacts, ‘racial’ characteristics and such; but Walter A. Fairservis claimed that the language represented by the Indus Valley Script was Dravidian – which is hardly supported by his editor’s claim that the IVS-users were black Africans rather than Dravidians akin to dark-skinned contemporary Southern Indians (endorsed by Wayne B. Chandler, who believes that Dravidians later ‘inherited’ what was originally an African civilization).
Indologists Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel have proposed that IVS is in fact a non-linguistic symbolic system (see above) which was used by an elite in a multilingual situation and does not encode any particular language. They support this view with many arguments, including the total absence of long texts in IVS (the longest known text has only seventeen characters, and very few have more than ten); this would make IVS unique as a true script, if it were a script. Richard Sproat has also commented on some academic approaches to such issues which in the view of these three authors have not led in the direction of what they hold to be reliable solutions. Michael Witzel offers extended critiques of non-mainstream proposals in this area. William Bright also concludes that none of the ‘decipherments’ offered to date can be substantiated and that the methods adopted are often dubious).
There are also claims regarding mysterious artefacts, some of them bearing markings interpreted by some as short inscriptions in an otherwise unknown script, found submerged in Indian waters off Cambay.
There is a body of markedly non-mainstream work regarding an ancient civilization and language known as Naacal, allegedly carried to Mesopotamia, Egypt, India etc. in very remote ages by Mayan adepts. The first recorded use of the term is by the maverick archaeologist Augustus le Plongeon. Le Plongeon believed in a late-pre-historic world civilization centred on a Pacific continent known as ‘Mu’ or ‘Lemuria’ (later submerged, giving rise to pre-Polynesian cultures in places such as New Zealand) and massive early diffusion more generally. His ideas were linked with those of H.P. Blavatsky and were developed further by James Churchward , Wishar Cervé and others. Churchward claimed to have learned from a priest in India to read the Naacal language, written on ancient tablets which are said to represent fragments of a larger text. He also claimed to have verified the material from the records of other ancient peoples, although his references to ancient sources are typically ludicrously vague. (Le Plongeon also asserted that Jesus spoke Mayan on the Cross, and Churchward further claimed that the Greek alphabet, as normally recited, is really a poem in Mayan.)
More next time, heading still further east!