Workshop on Deciphering Ancient Symbols and Writing Systems Co-Organized by Beckman Researcher, Richard Sproat

Richard Sproat, Beckman Institute faculty member in the Artificial Intelligence group, and Steve Farmer are the co-organizers of "A Workshop on Scripts, Non-scripts, and (Psuedo) Decipherment." The workshop, which will be held on July 11, 2007 at Stanford University, will bring together researchers with a variety of backgrounds including archaelogy/epigraphy, comparative history, Indology, and computational linguistics. Though their backgrounds are varied, their common interest is in scripts and in writing systems.

This workshop is being held in conjunction with the 2007 Linguistic Society of America Summer Institute. It will help researchers as they explore new archaeological discoveries that claim to show evidence of a previously unknown form of writing.

"One's natural reaction when faced with a set of symbols on an ancient artifact is to assume that the symbols were some sort of writing. In the absence of a convincing decipherment, by what criteria could one draw this conclusion? Now suppose one has a writing system, and someone presents you with a proposed decipherment. How should you evaluate that decipherment?" Sproat said. "Unfortunately, these questions are not asked as often as they should be when ancient symbol systems are discussed. One of the goals of this workshop is to raise awareness on these matters."

The following topics will be presented at the workshop:

  • Ceci n'est pas une pipe: A Reappraisal of the non-Cuneiform Texts from Early Iran
    Jacob Dahl, Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science
  • The Strange Case of the So-Called Indus Script: Distinguishing Writing from non-Linguistic Symbols
    Steve Farmer
  • The Language or Languages of the Indus Civilization
    Michael Witzel, Harvard University
  • Is the Indus Script Indeed Not a Writing System
    Asko Parpola, University of Helsinki
  • Unsupervised Analysis for a Collection of Decipherment Problems
    Kevin Knight, Information Sciences Institute, USC
  • Decipherment as Alignment
    Gerald Penn, University of Toronto
  • Decipherment, Pseudodecipherment and the Phaistos Disk
    Richard Sproat, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The workshop is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Rastegar Family Endowment.