"Indus Age: The Writing System"

Gregory Possehl
$49.95 Cloth, 265 pages

With the announcement earlier this decade that Mayan hieroglyphics had been finally deciphered, the script of the ancient Indus Valley civilization became the most significant remaining undeciphered writing system in the world.

The pictographic script of the Indus Valley was invented and used by the people of Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, and more than 1000 other smaller settlements in Pakistan and northwestern India for about 600 years, between 2500 and 1900 B.C. Mathematicians, archaeologists and code breakers have attempted to decipher the writing system since its discovery in the late 19th century without success. A Rosetta stone has yet to be found that can yield the secrets of the script and provide unequivocal proof that a particular deciphering is correct.

“Indus Age: The Writing System” is not another attempt at deciphering. It is an in-depth survey of the nature of Indus writing and is a comprehensive review of most of the prominent deciphering efforts. It ends with a discussion of the progress that has been made at deciphering, with some thoughts on the direction of future research.

The book is the first of a projected four-volume Indus Age series written by Gregory L. Possehl, chair of the anthropology department and curator-in-charge of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Asian section. When completed, the series will be the most significant analysis of the history of the Indus Valley civilization to be published.

The Times Higher Education Supplement recently praised Possehl’s achievement, saying, “The way in which he reviews the major decipherments makes this book at once useful to the professional and accessible to the neophyte. ‘Indus Age: The Writing System’ is a necessary addition to the library of any serious Indus scholar.”

The second volume in the series, “The Beginnings,” will be published this November.

--University of Pennsylvania Press

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Originally published on October 14, 1999