Much of what we know about early civilizations results from the decipherment of ancient scripts and languages. To decipher an unknown script, one needs to understand how languages and writing systems work; it also helps to have good decipherment strategies and luck.
This course will examine some successful decipherments of the past (such as that of Egyptian hieroglyphs and of Mesopotamian cuneiform), recent breakthroughs (such as the decipherment of the Maya script), and cases that are still being worked on. Linguistic, geographical, and historical background information will be provided as needed. There will be frequent exercises (usually weekly), based on real examples.