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10 June 1999
Earliest known writing found in Pakistan

The first known examples of writing may have been unearthed at an archaeological dig in Pakistan, at a site called Harappa in the region where the great Harappan or Indus civilisation flourished about 4500 years ago.
      At the site, originally a small settlement developed by 2600 BCE into a major urban centre, so-called 'plant-like' and 'trident-shaped' markings have been found on fragments of pottery dating back 5500 years. The earliest known writing was etched onto jars before and after firing. Experts believe they may have indicated the contents of the jar or be signs associated with a deity.
      According to Dr Richard Meadow of Harvard University, the director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project, these primitive inscriptions found on pottery may pre-date all other known writing. Before the Harappa discovery, the oldest writing might have come from clay tablets found on an Egyptian tomb of a king named Scorpion.
      The fragments of pottery found in Pakistan were carbon-dated to 3300-3200 BCE. This is about the same time, or slightly earlier, to the primitive writing developed by the Sumerians of the Mesopotamian civilisation around 3100 BCE. It's a big question as to if we can call what we have found true writing, told Dr Meadow, but we have found symbols that have similarities to what became Indus script." "One of our research aims is to find more examples of these ancient symbols and follow them as they changed and became a writing system, he added.
      One major problem in determining what the symbols mean is that no one understands the Indus language. The Harappan language died out and did not form the basis of other languages. So probably we will never know what the symbols mean, Dr Meadow said.
      The Harappan civilisation is unique: their society did not like great differences between social classes or the display of wealth by rulers and they did not leave behind large monuments or rich graves. They appear to be a peaceful people who displayed their art in smaller works of stone. Around 1900 BCE Harappa and other urban centres started to decline as people left them to move east to what is now India and the Ganges.
      This discovery will add to the debate about the origins of the written word. It probably suggests that writing developed independently in at least three places - Egypt, Mesopotamia and Harappa between 3500 BCE and 3100 BCE.

Source: BBC News

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