Undeciphered writing systems

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An undeciphered writing system is a written form of language that is not currently understood.

Many undeciphered writing systems date from several thousand years BC, though some more modern examples do exist. The term "writing systems" is used here loosely to refer to groups of glyphs which appear to have representational symbolic meaning, but which may include "systems" that are largely artistic in nature and are thus not examples of actual writing.

The difficulty in deciphering these systems can arise from a lack of known language descendants or from the languages being entirely isolated, from insufficient examples of text having been found and even (such as in the case of Vinča) from the question of whether the symbols actually constitute a writing system at all. Some researchers have claimed to be able to decipher certain writing systems, such as those of Epi-Olmec, Phaistos and Indus texts; but to date, these claims have not been widely accepted within the scientific community, or confirmed by independent researchers, for the writing systems listed here (unless otherwise specified).


Certain forms of proto-writing remain undeciphered and, because of a lack of evidence and linguistic descendants, it is quite likely that they will never be deciphered.

Bronze Age scripts

The following is a list of undeciphered scripts from the Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 BC).

Asian scripts

Mesoamerican scripts

Many Mesoamerican writing systems have been discovered by archaeologists. Many of them remain undeciphered due to a lack of knowledge of the original language. These writing systems were used between 1000 BC and 1500 AD.

South American scripts

  • QuipuInca Empire, 15th century, thought by some to have been a writing system, but generally believed to be an accounting system.

African scripts

Pacific scripts

Medieval and later scripts

Related concepts: texts that are not writing systems

One very similar concept is that of false writing systems, which appear to be writing but are not. False writing cannot be deciphered because it has no semantic meaning. These particularly include asemic writing created for artistic purposes. One prominent example is the Codex Seraphinianus.

Another similar concept is that of undeciphered cryptograms, or cipher messages. These are not writing systems per se, but a disguised form of another text. Of course any cryptogram is intended to be undecipherable by anyone except the intended recipient so vast numbers of these exist, but a few examples have become famous and are listed in the undeciphered historical codes and ciphers category.


  1. ^ "Vasil Ilyov. DISCOVERIES ABOUT THE LITERACY, LANGUAGE AND CULTURE OF THE ANCIENT MACEDONIANS". Archived from the original on 2008-09-29. Retrieved 2008-10-26. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  2. ^ "Pavel Serafimov. The Sitovo Inscription" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-02-17. Retrieved 2008-10-26. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  3. ^ "Mel Copeland. Phrygian language". Archived from the original on 2008-09-24. Retrieved 2008-10-26. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  4. ^ "Mysterious Voynich manuscript is genuine, scientists find". Archived from the original on 2009-12-07. Retrieved 2009-12-07. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ Macalister, R. A. S. (December 1935). "The Newton Stone". Antiquity. 9 (36): 389–398. doi:10.1017/s0003598x00010863. ISSN 0003-598X.
  6. ^ Lee, Rob; Jonathan, Philip; Ziman, Pauline (2010-09-08). "Pictish symbols revealed as a written language through application of Shannon entropy". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 466 (2121): 2545–2560. Bibcode:2010RSPSA.466.2545L. doi:10.1098/rspa.2010.0041. ISSN 1364-5021.

External links

  • Proto-Elamite (CDLI link)
  • Vinča signs (The Old European Script: Further evidence - Shan M. M. Winn)
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