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In philology, decipherment is the discovery of the meaning of texts written in ancient or obscure languages or scripts.[1]

Ancient languages

In a few cases, a multilingual artifact has been necessary to facilitate decipherment, the Rosetta Stone being the classic example. Statistical techniques provide another pathway to decipherment, as does the analysis of modern languages derived from ancient languages in which undeciphered texts are written. Archaeological and historical information is helpful in verifying hypothesized decipherments.


Name of scholar Script deciphered Date
Magnus Celsius Staveless Runes 1674
Jón Ólafsson of Grunnavík Cipher runes 1740s
Jean-Jacques Barthélemy Palmyrene alphabet 1754
Jean-Jacques Barthélemy Phoenician alphabet 1758
Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy Pahlavi script 1791
Jean-François Champollion Egyptian Hieroglyphs (Decipherment) 1822
Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Eugène Burnouf, and Henry Rawlinson Old Persian Cuneiform (Decipherment) 1823
Thomas Young Demotic script
Manuel Gómez-Moreno Northeastern Iberian script
James Prinsep Brahmi, Kharosthi
Edward Hincks Mesopotamian Cuneiform
Bedřich Hrozný Hittite Cuneiform
Vilhelm Thomsen Old Turkic
George Smith and Samuel Birch, et al.[2] Cypriot syllabary
Hans Bauer and Édouard Paul Dhorme[3] Ugaritic alphabet
Wáng Yìróng, Liú È, Sūn Yíràng, et al. Oracle Bone script
Aleksei Ivanovich Ivanov, Nikolai Aleksandrovich Nevsky, et al. Tangut script
Michael Ventris, John Chadwick, and Alice Kober Linear B
Yuri Knorozov and Tatiana Proskouriakoff, et al. Maya
Louis Félicien de Saulcy Libyco-Berber script (almost fully)
Jan-Olof Tjäder "Enlarged opening script" of Ravenna (variant of the Latin alphabet)
Zaza Alexidze Caucasian Albanian alphabet
François Desset[4] Linear Elamite

See also


  1. ^ Although the script, Libyco-Berber, has been almost fully deciphered, the language has not.
  1. ^ Trask, R.L (2000). The Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, p. 82 ("The process of determining the relation between an extinct and unknown writing system and the language it represents. Strictly, decipherment is the elucidation of the script—that is, determining the values of the written characters")
  2. ^ "Cypro-Syllabic".
  3. ^ "Anatomy of a Decipherment","
  4. ^ "Breaking the Code (Francois Desset, Padua) - YouTube". Archived from the original on 2021-12-11. Retrieved 2021-01-04.
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