Artificial Intelligence Cracks 4,000 Year-Old Mystery

An ancient script that’s defied generations of archaeologists has yielded some of its secrets to artificially intelligent computers. Computational analysis of symbols used 4,000 years ago by a long-lost Indus Valley civilization suggests they represent a spoken language. Some frustrated linguists thought the symbols were merely pretty pictures. “The underlying grammatical structure seems similar to what’s found in many languages,” said University of Washington computer scientist Rajesh Rao. The Indus script, used between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. in what is now eastern Pakistan and northwest India, belonged to a civilization as sophisticated as its Mesopotamian and Egyptian contemporaries. However, it left fewer linguistic remains. Archaeologists have uncovered about 1,500 unique inscriptions from fragments of pottery, tablets and seals. The longest inscription is just 27 signs long.

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