Corpus of Indus Inscriptions [I]

This book, at least 15 years in the making, is a major contribution to the study of the ancient Indus script, the product of diligent research and the careful collection of all known Indus inscriptions into a single database and two volume publication. The first volume (first edition 2022, second 2023) is accompanied by Dr. Fuls' second volume, A Catalog of Indus Signs [II] (2023). Over 500 pages, it offers the reader the fruits of decades-long research into the Indus script. Every single inscription is listed by place it was found, with every sign meticulously documented and numbered, including ones found outside the Indus valley proper such as in the Iranian plateau. Where an indistinct sign is present, that is represented, as well as the reading direction (typically right-to-left in sealings, the positive impression of the Indus seals most of us are used to seeing). The type of inscription and the CISI identifier is also shown, allowing one to correlate with the image present in the Corpus of Indus Inscriptions Vol. I, Corpus of Indus Inscriptions Vol. II, and so on. This is clearly the work of a data scientist, who takes every field and representation seriously.

The reader is referred to Fuls' Catalog for a more detailed review of the enormous effort. The beauty of this volume – and it is wonderful, even for the amateur to leaf through the inscriptions – is that the full inscription is given with all signs as clearly as can be ascertained laid out next to each other (Vol. 1 is an index of each sign, but does not show them next to adjacent signs in the same way). That said, there are also a handful of valuable tables, including find spots and temporal distribution of artefacts found at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Interestingly, these are not evenly distributed across the sites. For example at Harappa more tablets (56%) than seals (22%) were found,"but inscribed artefacts in great quantities and, therefore, suited for statistical analysis were discovered only at two mounds. Most of them were found at Mound F [the so-called "granary"]: 173 square seals (SEALS:S), 36 rectangular seals (SEALS:R), 164 bas-relief tablets (TAB:B), and 215 inscirbed tablets (TAB:I). At Mound AB only a total of 153 inscribed aretefacts were discovered, with 48 square seals, 19 rectangular seals, 11 bas-relief tablets, and 7 incised tablets. No incised copper tablets were found at Harappa," (p. 12)

At Mohenjo-daro, the majority of seals were discovered in the DK.G area. To what extent this reflects the intensity of archaeological excavations is not entirely clear, and stratigraphic evidence from each site, while interesting and helpful, is not consistent enough across eras to arrive at too-firm conclusions, even if in Fuls reading, there are definite trends from the evidence so far: "At Mound F [Harappa], incised tablets were at first the dominant artefact type replaced later on by square seals, rectangular seals, and bas-relief tablets. By contrast, incised tablets are less common at Mound AB [also at Harappa] and almost non-existent at Mohenjo-daro (only 4 out of 1,792 inscribed artefacts from the whole site, i.e. 0.2%). The only common trend that can be observed here is the increasing use of rectangular seals dominating during the later phases at Harappa, Mound F as well as at the southern and northern parts of the DK.G area at Mohenjodaro," (p. 13). Since rectangular seals generally do not show iconography, what might one infer from this, if the writing of signs became increasingly separate from the animals, real and sometimes apparently mythical, that accompanied most inscriptions?

In addition then to the various statistical exercises that the author draws out so well from the evidence in both volumes, it is also these kinds of questions that the reader, leafing through the inscriptions and data, is left to ponder. The presentation of so much research so clearly and factually is something that one can imagine future scholars and researchers building upon, looking for patterns and insights that may otherwise not have surfaced. Deciphering this script is likely to be an effort that spans subsequent efforts. Andreas Fuls (and his partner in this monumental task, Bryan Wells) have made a real contribution to the field, one that may yet lead to unexplored horizons that open this little understood and much speculated about area of human history to further investigation and understanding.

Significantly, it is always being added to, and available to interested, qualified scholars and researchers online, although a good place to start would be this and the partner volume, both of which are also available as Kindle editions. There is also a comprehensive one hour presentation on YouTube, by Andreas Fuls, Mathematical epigraphy and the Interactive Corpus of Indus Texts.