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July 14, 1999
Harvard man finds world's oldest writing in Harappa
A piece of pottery discovered at Harappa recently had a message on it -- and no ordinary one.
According to Indian experts on ancient scripts, it is an example of the oldest writing known. Dating back to 3500 BC, the message, over 1000 years older than the bulk of Harappan writings, was discovered recently by Richard Meadow of the Harvard University.
"It is more primitive than Harappan, but clearly related to it," noted historian Dr N S Rajaram, who along with paleographist Natwar Jha, has deciphered messages on more than 2,000 Harappan seals. "It can, therefore, be called pre-Harappan."
The messages and the methodology for decipherment will be presented in their forthcoming book The deciphered Indus script, said Jha, who is the principal at Kendriya Vidayalaya, Farakka.
Dr Rajaram, who is also a Vedic scholar, examined the writing on the pottery, which is accessible on a British Broadcasting Corporation website. The oldest writing is Iilavartate vara, which means ''Ila surrounds the blessed land.'' In the Rig Veda, the world 'Ila' is often used to denote the River Saraswati, explained Dr Rajaram.
He said this reflects the Rig Vedic idea of sanctity of the land associated with the now-extinct Saraswati, which flowed mightily during that period.
The writing on the pottery could also refer to the ancient Ilavrita, ruled by a king of the same name, who received it as a gift from his father Agnidru, Dr Rajaram said. Ilavrita also means 'surrounded by Ila'.
Where the Harappan script uses a single sign to indicate all vowels, the pre-Harappan, judging from the website, has no symbols for vowels. Instead, it uses 'doubled consonants' to indicate vowels appearing at the beginning of words, a feature found in some Harappan examples also.
''This lack of vowels had been anticipated by Dr Jha and myself, which allowed me to decipher the writing almost immediately,'' said Dr Rajaram.
In addition to being the oldest writing, the Dr Meadow's example, said Dr Rajaram, shows that the Rig Vedic concepts already existed by 3500 BC.
Since Vedic India had the oldest writing in the world, it is reasonable to suppose that the Vedic civilisation is also the oldest civilisation.
''This should make scholars re-examine the theory of Mesopotamia as the Cradle of Civilisation,'' he said.
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