Just in case you thought we knew everything there was to know about the ancient world, New Scientist brings a little mystery back with their list of eight untranslated alphabets:
These fall into three broad categories: a known script writing an unknown language; an unknown script writing a known language; and an unknown script writing an unknown language. The first two categories are more likely to yield to decipherment; the third – which recalls Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous “unknown unknowns” – is a much tougher proposition, though this doesn’t keep people from trying.
Most of the undeciphered scripts featured here have been partially deciphered, and well-known researchers have claimed that they have deciphered some much more fully. Further progress is possible for most of them, especially if new inscriptions are discovered, which fortunately happens fairly often.
Can you read these?
- Etruscan (Italian Greeks, known letters, unknown language),
- Kushite (black pharaohs, known letters, unknown language)
- Olmec, Zapotec & Isthmian (pre-Mayan Central Americans, three unknown scripts, two possibly known languages)
- Linear A (ancient Minoan, partial script, unknown language)
- Rongo-rongo (maybe not-so-ancient Easter Islandese, unknown script, known language)
- Indus (ancient Pakistan, unknown script, language possibly like Tamil)
- Proto-Elamite (really, really, really old, partially known script, mystery language)
- The Phaistos Disc (It’s one thing. Could be just cool squiggles in rock. Probably something more.)