But the symbols found on many other ancient artifacts remain a mystery, including those of a people that inhabited the Indus valley on the present-day border between Pakistan and India. Some experts question whether the symbols represent a language at all, or are merely pictograms that bear no relation to the language spoken by their creators.
A University of Washington computer scientist has led a statistical study of the Indus script, comparing the pattern of symbols to various linguistic scripts and nonlinguistic systems, including DNA and a computer programming language. The results, published online April 23 by the journal Science, found the Indus script’s pattern is closer to that of spoken words, supporting the hypothesis that it codes for an as-yet-unknown language.
“We applied techniques of computer science, specifically machine learning, to an ancient problem,” said Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and lead author of the study. “At this point we can say that the Indus script seems to have statistical regularities that are in line with natural languages.”