could be read in Vedic Sanskrit; one of them was found to mention a crucial river, the Saraswati, albeit obliquely. This river, highly revered in the Rigveda, is not visible today above ground as a single stream, but is known to have been a major river during the Indus civilisation. Surface surveys on the Pakistani side of the India/Pakistan desert border region conducted in the 1970s and after have traced much, though not all, of the Saraswati’s former course, part of which flowed in parallel with the Indus rather than as its tributary. In the course of their surveying, Pakistani archaeologists stumbled upon close to 200 settlements from the Mature phase of the Indus civilisation clustering along the Saraswati (almost all of which, including a city, await excavation).
Further support for the Hindu nationalist view seemed to come in the form of an excavation photograph from the 1920s showing a broken Indus seal inscription depicting the hindquarters of an animal, accompanied by four characters. Jha and Rajaram claimed that the animal was a horse, as shown in a ‘computer enhanced’ drawing published by them; and that the four characters could be read, in Vedic Sanskrit, as arko ha as va, which they translated as ‘Sun indeed like the horse’. But horses were unknown to the Indus civilisation, almost all scholars had long maintained, since they were not depicted among the many animals (including buffaloes) shown on its seal stones and in its art and no horse bones had been discovered by excavators; or at least no bones that convinced zoo-archaeologists specialising in horse identification. The bones of the wild ass (onager) are known in the Indus valley, but not horse bones. The horse is generally thought to have arrived in north-western India only with the horse-drawn chariots of the Aryans during the mid-second millennium BC; certainly, in later Indian history armies imported their horses from outside India. Horses are, however, abundantly mentioned in the Vedic literature. If, after all, horses did feature in the Indus civilisation, was this not important evidence that the creators of the Indus inscriptions and the authors of the later Vedas were one and the same indigenous people? Within months, The Deciphered Indus Script was demonstrated to be nonsense in articles for national news magazines in India written by scholars, notably Michael Witzel, a professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, with his collaborator Steve Farmer. In ‘Horseplay in Harappa’, Witzel and Farmer demonstrated beyond question, even for non-specialists, that the supposed Indus alphabet was so absurdly flexible that it could be manipulated to produce almost any translation that the book’s authors might desire. Furthermore,
“Within months, 'The Deciphered Indus Script' was demonstrated to be nonsense...”
The Past | April/May 2021