Chennai team taps AI to read Indus Script

  • The Indus script has long challenged epigraphists because of the difficulty in reading and classifying text and symbols on the artefacts.
  • Now, a Chennai-based team of scientists has built a programme which eases the process.


  • Scanning the image, the algorithm smartly “recognises” the region of the image that contains the script, breaks it up into individual graphemes (the term in linguistics for the smallest unit of the script) and finally identifies these using data from a standard corpus. In linguistics the term corpus is used to describe a large collection of texts which, among other things, are used to carry out statistical analyses of languages.
  • The algorithms come under a class of artificial intelligence called “deep neural networks.”
  • “These have been a major part of the game-changing technology behind self-driving cars and Go-playing bots that surpass human performance,” .
  • The deep neural network mimics the working of the mammalian visual cortex, known as convolutional neural network (CNN), which breaks the field into overlapping regions.
  • The features found in each region are hierarchically combined by the network to build a composite understanding of the whole picture.

The process consists of three phases:

  • In the first phase, the input images are broken into sub-images that contain graphemes only, by trimming out the areas that do not have graphemes.
  • The grapheme-containing areas are further trimmed into single-grapheme pieces.
  • Lastly, each of these single graphemes is classified to match one of the 417 symbols discovered so far in the Indus script.

Indus Script:

  • The Indus script (also known as the Harappan script) is a corpus of symbols produced by the Indus Valley Civilization during the Kot Diji and Mature Harappan periods between 3500 and 1900 BCE.
  • Most inscriptions containing these symbols are extremely short, making it extremely difficult to judge whether or not these symbols constitute a script used to record a language, or even symbolise a writing system.
  • In spite of many attempts, ‘the script’ has not yet been deciphered, but efforts are ongoing.
  • There is no known bilingual inscription to help decipher the script, nor does the script show any significant changes over time.
  • However, some of the syntax (if that is what it may be termed) varies depending upon location.
  • The Indus valley script is much older than the Prakrit and Tamil-Brahmi scripts. However, unlike the latter two, it has not yet been deciphered because a bilingual text has not yet been found.

Rosetta stone:

  • A bilingual text has in many other cases aided archaeologists in understanding ancient scripts, for example, the Rosetta stone.
  • This stone which was found in the eighteenth century carries inscriptions of a decree, issued in 196 BCE, in three parts, the first two in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic and the Demotic scripts, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek.
  • Since the decree was the same, the Rosetta stone provided the key to deciphering Hieroglyphs.
  • For the lack of such a “Rosetta stone,” the Indus script remains undeciphered today.

Source: The Hindu & Wiki

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