Deciphering of texts and manuscripts of ancient civilizations has a great interest for scientists and historians around the world. And this is not only because of curiosity – deciphering can give a priceless information about everything related to this manuscript. For instance, one can find out how people lived, their habits and traditions, political and cultural situation in their society, and the most important thing – their way of thinking. It could be possible to identify the “development” model of that people, or “how man has become a man”. Beginning with “how did he invent the first hunting tool?” and finishing with “what was the principle of city-planning?”. All of this information will allow us to take a broader look at the ancient civilization and reveal many mysteries that surrounded Maya tribe or Indus Valley.
But deciphering is very complicated and laborious process that requires structural knowledge in philology and linguistics, intuition and sometimes even a good visual memory. And one cannot be separated from another. In other words, for succesful deciphering it is not enough only to be a polymath in this field or just to have a great intuition. That is why a number of descriptors in XIX-XX century have failed trying to guess the content of manuscripts. Many of them have got a satisfactory results at the beginning, however, overestimated their abilities, they continued doing this work leaving common sense and deepen more and more to the field of fantastic excogitation. Another attempts were unsuccessful even from the beginning since the descriptors could not recognize the links between known and unknown, and made this links by themselves. And as a consequence, this led to wrong and meaningless results.
For not repeating this mistakes I would give you some basic tips. For starting deciphering one should define some initial tasks:
1) Determination of “catalogue” of text symbols. This is the most important and difficult step in translating ancient texts. In most of the world’s languages today every word contains vowels and consonants. But there is a different situation in ancient languages: some symbols characterises “V” syllables (vowels) and “C” syllables (consonants). This way of writing is called “alphabetical writing”. But another symbols can characterise the mixture of this basic syllables like VC (vowel+consonant), CV (consonant+vowel), CVC, VCV. This writing is called “syllabic writing”. Also there are a lot of other types of writing, but it should be stressed that any writing is limited and ordered.
2) Symbols transcription. Also it can be called “text formalization”. The main idea is to recognize all the variations of certain symbol writing. Sometimes it is even necessary to correct such symbols because of the author’s handwriting or mistakes and sometimes because of the text is damaged.
3) Determination of the text structure. This means the determination of text direction and text grammar.
4) Text division. Usually during the text explorations it is expedient to consider a text as a consequence of a morphemes. And sometimes one part of a text could be a key for another part.
For doing all this steps one should have a good intuition and experience in deciphering. Because in the first stage descriptor will use his own knowledge and common sence. This means a comparison the elements of unknown writing with the familiar one, exposing text to combinatorial analysis, distinguish and classify certain groups of combination in the text. This is really spadwork, but there is no other ways. And if one can interpret further text being based on previous gained data – it is a good confirmation that he is on the right way.
Text deciphering can be easier with the help of “bilinguas”. Bilingua – is it the same text but written in another language. And this is not the only source of useful information. Exploration of the place, of ancient tools and other items can give an important links for further translation. For instance – it is possible to find an axe with a little sign like “This axe belongs to …”, or to find any pictures that could be related to initial text.
1) “Secrets of Ancient writings. Problems of deciphering”, I.M.Dyakonov, pub. Progress, 1976
2) “Deciphering algorythms”, Brechko A., pub. Vlados, 2000