UPSC PRELIMS 2020 : Indus Script

Indus Script

Topic : Indus Script

Topic in Syllabus: Heritage & Culture



Indus Script

According to the research paper titled ‘Interrogating Indus inscription to unravel their mechanism of meaning conveyance’,the Indus inscriptions can be compared to the structured messages found on stamps, coupons, tokens and currency coins of modern times.

The Indus inscriptions have not been deciphered due to the absence of bilingual texts, extreme brevity of the inscriptions, and ignorance about the language(s) encoded by Indus script.



The majority of the Indus Valley inscriptions were written logo graphically (by using word signs) and not by using phonograms (speech sounds units), claims a recent research paper published in Palgrave Communications, a Nature group journal.

  • The paper mainly focuses on understanding how Indus inscriptions conveyed meanings, rather than on deciphering what they conveyed.
  • The inscribed seals and tablets were used in some administrative operation that controlled the commercial transactions of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation.
  • According to paper, though many ancient scripts use rebus methods to generate new words, the inscriptions found on the Indus seals and tablets have not used rebus as the mechanism to convey meaning.
  • The researcher also rejected the popular hypothesis that the seals were inscribed with Proto-Dravidian or Proto-Indo-European names of the seal-owners.


Rebus Method

  • A common perception among some scholars is that the Indus script is logo-syllabic, where one symbol can be used as a word sign at one time and as a syllable-sign at another.
  • This method, where a word-symbol also gets sometimes used only for its sound value, is called the rebus principle.
  • g.:The pictures of a honey bee can be combined with a leaf to signify the word “belief” (bee+leaf).


History Facts:

  • It is the earliest form of writing known in the Indian subcontinent, developed by the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’.
  • It is also known as the Harappan script.
  • The origin of this script is poorly understood and it remains undeciphered.
  • The languages that the script represents is still unknown and its connection with proper Indian writing systems is uncertain.
  • There is no known bilingual inscription to help to decipher the script.
  • The earliest known examples of the Indus Script signs, attested on ‘Ravi’ and ‘KotDiji pottery’ was excavated at Harappa.
  • It dates back to early Harappan phase (3500-2700 BCE).
  • Examples of Indus writing has been found on seals pottery, bronze tools, stoneware bangles, bones, ivory.
  • Square stamp seals are the dominant form of Indus writing media.
  • The Indus Script was generally written from right to left but there are some exceptions where the writing is bidirectional.
  • It combined both word signs and symbols with phonetic value.
  • The Indus script has been assigned the ISO 15924 code “Inds”.


Sample Question:

The Indus Valley Civilization has not been deciphered yet. Consider the following reasons:

  1. No knowledge about their language
  2. Small length of inscriptions
  3. Absence of bilingual texts


Which among the above is/ are correct reasons?

A. 1 and 2

B. 1 and 3

C. All of the above

D. None


Answer: C