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Organizing (Clustering) and (re-)presenting
the corpus of inscriptions

slideflash.gif (2985 bytes)The page presents NINE (9) auto-advance slideshows for rapid viewing.

[Each slide show has the following options: to view the INDEX; to advance back and forth (First, Next, Previous, Last); to view a selected inscription from the index; to view the slideshow from a desired inscription. The slides advance automatically at about 1 second for each slide. The indexes are consistent with the numbers assigned to the inscriptions in the Parpola Pictorial Corpuses, Volumes 1 and 2: Collections in India and Pakistan. The slides also include inscriptions found in collections outside India and Pakistan.]

Slideshow 1: Some inscribed objects in colour, discovery sites map and legacy of metallurgy in India

Slideshow 2: Texts of the script (i.e., epigraphs without pictorial motifs or field symbols)(duration: 30 mts.)

Slideshow 3: Complete corpus of inscribed objects (duration: 40 mts.)

The following slide shows are clustered selections from the corpus.

(Frequencies of inscriptions are in parenthesis; duration of each auto advance slide show is between 1 to 3 minutes):

Slideshow Cluster 1: Inscriptions with PICTORIAL ONLY (111)
[also,'svastika_'--a pictorial and a sign]
Slideshow Cluster 2: Inscriptions with ONLY ONE SIGN (42)
Slideshow Cluster 3: Inscriptions with TWO SIGNS (120)
Slideshow Cluster 4: Inscriptions with THREE SIGNS (166)
Slideshow Cluster 5: Inscriptions with FOUR SIGNS (147)
Slideshow Cluster 6: Inscriptions with FIVE SIGNS (79)

[Note: The average number of signs per inscription is only five for the entire corpus.]

Total objects presented in Parpola pictorial corpuses and Mahadevan concordance are a statistically small population, further fragmented due to the 400 to 500 signs (including variants and ligatures of basic signs) and over 100 (including variants and pictorial ligatures yielding the so-called 'fabulous' animals categories) :

No. of inscribed objects discovered: India: 1537; Pakistan: 2138; West Asia: 17

One clue emerges from this clustering method. The pictorials are as important as signs and must be 'deciphered' to understand the message conveyed by the inscription on an object.

Another clue which may be surmised: A sign by itself may constitute a message and hence may be a lexeme.

Considering that as many as 273 (111 + 42 + 120) inscriptions are communicated using two signs or less (with or without a pictorial motif or 'field symbol'), it may not be appropriate to assign syllabic or alphabetic values to each sign or each pictorial. Each pictorial or each sign may contain a 'word' or 'lexeme'.(Unless, of course, the entire messaging system is cryptographic using 'syllabic' or 'alphabetic' codes; this we think, is unlikely considering the nature of the cylinder seals in Mesopotamia mainly with pictorials used to convey movable property items.)

For a complete view of the corpus of inscriptions Slideshow 7 (3567 slides; approx. duration: 30 mts.) is organized in sequence of the sites from which the inscribed objects were discovered. Slideshow 8 (2909 slides; approx. duration: 30 mts.) is a display of the texts of the script only as in Mahadevan corpus of Indus Script (without the pictorial motifs or field symbols). The site names are abbreviated as follows:

Major sites

M         Mohenjodaro

H        Harappa

L        Lothal

K        Kalibangan

C        Chanhujo-daro

B        Banawali

Rhd    Rahman-dheri

Pk        Pirak

Minor sites

Agr            Alamgirpur

Amri        Amri

Ch            Chandigarh

Dmd        Daimabad

Dlp        Desalpur

Dlv        Dholavira (Kotadi, Kotda-Timba)

Hls        Hulas


Jk            Jhukar

Krs          Khirsara (Khera-shara, Netra)

Lh            Lohumjo-daro

Msk        Maski

Mehi        Mehi

Pbm        Pabumath

Pbs        Prabhas Patan (Somnath)

Rgr        Rakhigarhi

Rgp        Rangpur

Rhr        Rohirah

Rjd        Rojdi

Rpr        Rupar (Ropar)

Sht        Shahi-tump

Sktd        Surkotada

Tkwd        Tarkhanewala-dera


Ad         Allahdino (Nel Bazaar)

Ai        Amri

Blk        Bala-kot

Grb        Gharo Bhiro (Nuhato)

G            Gumla

Hd            Hissam-dheri

Kl            Kalako-deray

Kd            Kotdiji

Lwn        Lewan-dheri (Dar Dariz)

L III        Loenbar III

Mr            Mehrgarh

Nwd        Naru-Waro-daro

Ns            Nausharo

Nd            Nindo-wari-damb


Pg            Periano-ghundai

Skh            Sarai Khola

Sb            Sibri-damb

Trq            Tarakai Qila

Ukn           Provenance Unknown

West Asian sites

Djoka (Umma)





Ukn (Prob. from W. Asia)

An important test for a 'successful' decipherment is that a sign or pictorial should be explained consistently on a variety of  inscribed objects. The inscriptions are classified by types of object carrying the inscription.

The frequencies in parenthesis are based on Mahadevan conordance (which excludes objects that do not contain a 'sign'); the actual numbers will be higher based on the more comprehensive Parpola photo corpus which includes inscriptions containing only pictorials.

Seals (1814)

Tablets (in bas-relief or inscribed) (511)*[including Seal Impressions]

Miniature tablets (of stone, terracotta or faience) (272)

Copper tablets (135)

Bronze implements/weapons (11)

Seal Impressions*

Pottery graffitii (119)

Ivory or bone rods (29)

Inscribed on Stone, Bracelets, Ivory plaque, Ivory dice, Carnelian tablet, Terracotta ball, Brick (15)

Display Board (Dholavira or Kotda with 10 signs, possibly atop a gateway) (1)

Almost all the miniature tablets are from Harappa; almost all copper tablets are from Mohenjodaro. An inference is that the miniature tablets served the same function as the copper tablets which evidence repetitive messages or sign sequences.

(See: Prof. Parpola's analyses of Copper Tablets)
(See: Iravatham Mahadevan: An Interview )
(See and hear the views of Prof. Dani)
(See the views of Prof. Parpola)

This classification provides a clue as to the function served by many inscriptions: inscriptions on bronze implements/weapons (11) and copper tablets (135) could perhaps have been done only by a metal-smith-fire-worker. There is a reasonable inference here: many messages may relate to the 'economic activity' of metal-smiths. This inference is consistent with the emergence of the Bronze Age in neighbouring civilizations which have also attested to contacts with the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization sites (witness, for e.g. the finds of cylinder seals in Indian sites and the finds of 'Indus' seals and artefacts in Mesopotamian sites.)

Another inference may be drawn from the fact that copper was a valuable commodity in those times. The use of a copper tablet to convey a message would strengthen an inference that great importance was attached to the message conveyed through the inscription on such a copper plate. It should be noted here that two silver seals have also been discovered.

The 'economic activity' of metal smith includes (sic) the production of metal objects such as vessels, tools and weapons. The inscriptions may (!) therefore constitute a record of 'objects' possessed by the owner of the inscribed object whether the 'owner' is a metal-smith or a customer serviced by the metal-smith.

We have to be very cautious in interpreting the individual signs and individual pictorials; because, given the small size of the corpus, virtually ANY lexemic or phonemic or even artistic (cultural) value may be assigned and ANY language may be read into the inscriptions, if inscriptions they are in a language and do not merely represent artistic extravaganzas.

A solution to minimize, if not avoid, such a fallacy lies in adding synergic value to the individual inscriptions by clustering them in a concordance-like fashion. The next steps presented in the website are a construction of a series of concordances not based on mere sign lists but a combination of sign clusters, sign-variant clusters and pictorial clusters. Every effort will be made to avoid the dangers of 'spurious' correlations in dealing with a small population (in a statistical sense).

The decipherment problem is one of relating the clusters of pictorials/signs in inscriptions with the language of the civilization, considering the remarkable consistency and stability of the script for nearly a millennium spread across the most expansive civilization of its time, spanning considerable distances from the Sarasvati-Sindhu doab to the Tigris-Euphrates doab and with intimations of contacts with Ancient Iran and communities in South India.