Archaeology Through Computational Linguistics: Inscription Statistics Predict Excavation Sites of Indus Valley Artifacts

Cognitive Science 40 (8):2065-2080 (2016)
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Abstract

Computational techniques comparing co-occurrences of city names in texts allow the relative longitudes and latitudes of cities to be estimated algorithmically. However, these techniques have not been applied to estimate the provenance of artifacts with unknown origins. Here, we estimate the geographic origin of artifacts from the Indus Valley Civilization, applying methods commonly used in cognitive science to the Indus script. We show that these methods can accurately predict the relative locations of archeological sites on the basis of artifacts of known provenance, and we further apply these techniques to determine the most probable excavation sites of four sealings of unknown provenance. These findings suggest that inscription statistics reflect historical interactions among locations in the Indus Valley region, and they illustrate how computational methods can help localize inscribed archeological artifacts of unknown origin. The success of this method offers opportunities for the cognitive sciences in general and for computational anthropology specifically.

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