4 Enigmatic Scripts That Have Yet To Be Deciphered

There are thousands of languages in the world, most of them studied and well documented. Some enigmatic discoveries, however, still leave scientists baffled.

Here are four enigmatic languages no modern person can understand.

1. Proto-Elamite

Photos courtesy of © Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia Commons. Modified by Curiousmatic.

This Middle Eastern writing system was used in modern day Iran for a relatively short period around 3,000 BC, according to the University of Oxford.

Over 1,200 different signs have been found, according to a BBC report, meaning the script is in all likelihood logographic, like Chinese, meaning each symbol represents a word, not a letter or a sound.

The language is found on clay tablets, over 1,600 of which are available, from many different places in what is today southwestern Iran.

There many factors that make it hard to translate, including the fact there is no related language spoken or written today, and no bilingual texts that could help translation. The BBC also reports that the tablets likely include many mistakes, making them even harder to read.

Some progress towards understanding has been made in recent years, however, revealing that the tablets most likely indicate ownership of slaves, designating personal status, and enumerating resources.

2. The Enigmatic Script “Linear A”

Left photo courtesy of Ursus, right photo courtesy Hexagon1, both via Wikipedia Commons.

Used from approximately 1850 BC to 1400 BC, this syllabic script has been found in many places on Crete, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The language it is based on has never been deciphered, but the meaning of its syllables can be derived from Linear B, a successor language that is considered proto-Greek, and which uses many of the same symbols.

It has been discovered on tablets, shards, pottery, metal and stones on Crete and two nearby island, according to a paper hosted by Mansfield University.

Linear A is believed to be the language of the wealthy, seafaring Minoan civilization.

3. The Indus Script

induscript enigmaticPhoto courtesy of World Imaging via Wikipedia Commons.

This pictographic script has been found on tiny stamp seals, amulets, ceramic objects and small tablets in a large area of what is today India and Pakistan, where the Indus civilization flourished from around 2600 to 1900 BC, according to Eurekalert, the news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The enigmatic script was discovered in the 1830s, and since then thousands of artifacts have been found. Despite this, no one has been able to decipher its meaning, and some have questioned whether the script represents language at all, or if the pictographs simple have their own meaning.

Recent computer-aided statistical studies have discovered that the symbols seem to be placed deliberately in a manner similar to a language, however. Researchers have also begun using artificial intelligence (AI)  and deep learning to unlock the secrets of the Indus script .

4. Rongorongo

enigmatic rongorongo
Left photo courtesy of Stéphen-Charles Chauvet, middle photo courtesy of Sebastian Englert, right photo courtesy of Peter the Great Museum, all via Wikipedia Commons. Modified by Curiousmatic.

Believed to have developed in the 1800s, this enigmatic script was found engraved on stone and wooden tablets on the Easter Islands, according to the British Museum. Only a few tablets have been found.

Because of this, and a lack of anything to compare the tablets to, deciphering the language has been made very difficult for researchers. It’s believed, however, that it’s a writing system that mixes ideographs, where each symbol represents an idea, with syllables.

If this is true, the Easter Islands would be one of the few places where writing was invented and not brought by another culture.

Another theory, however, is that the Easter Island people were inspired by a visit by Spanish explorers in 1770, who annexed the islands and forced the natives to sign an agreement, possibly inspiring them to create their own written language.


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Ole Skaar