Inaccessible Classics

Some ancient writing systems still haven't been deciphered

Phaistos Disk

As a typical American Internet user, I see the world largely in English. Whether it’s online shopping or doing research about this very blog, the sites I visit tend to be written in my native tongue. But once in a while I come across something in a foreign language that I need to understand, and in those cases I turn to the translation feature on Google’s web site.

It turns out that there are big gaps in that system, the biggest being that it does not include every language every written by humans. Come on, Google, get on the ball! Fortunately, they cover the major languages, but I recently read an article about seven ancient languages that have not yet been deciphered by linguists, nor by Google developers.

As has been the case in other ancient writing samples, the unintelligible sources may turn out to be mundane tax records from some nomadic IRS agent. Still, the stories surrounding the demise of these languages and the search to uncover their meanings are interesting. In one case—the Sitovo inscription—a researcher was sentenced to death for trying to crack what Bulgarian official thought was a secret message to Soviet officials. And I thought writing a blog was a dangerous profession!

You can read more about the 7 Ancient Writing Systems That Haven’t Been Deciphered Yet on the web site for Mental Floss magazine.


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