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Asko Parpola

Asko Heikki Siegfried Parpola
Born July 12, 1941, Forssa

Master of Arts 1963, Licentiate 1966, PhD 1968 (Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics), University of Helsinki

Emeritus professor and docent in Indology, University of Helsinki 2005–
Research Fellow 1968–72, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), Copenhagen
Acting professor of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics 1972, University of Gothenburg
Research Fellow 1972–74, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Senior Research Fellow 1974–1981, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Acting professor of comparative religion 1977, University of Helsinki
Professor of Indology (personal chair), University of Helsinki 1982–2004
Visiting scholar 1987, Churchill College, University of Cambridge 1987
Visiting scholar 1999, Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University 1999
Visiting scholar 2006, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto
Hermann Collitz Professor, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Linguistic Society of America/Stanford University 2007

Research themes
Vedic research (the Veda is India’s oldest known literature and religion)
The riddles of the Indus Civilization: writing, language and religion
The prehistory of Aryan languages in the light of archaeology and historical linguistics

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Awards and special achievements
University of Helsinki Master’s Thesis Prize 1963
First Class Knight of the White Rose of Finland 1990
Alfred Kordelin Foundation lifetime achievement award 2003
Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland
M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award 2009
Honorary member of the American Oriental Society
Indian Presidential Citation of Honour in Sanskrit Studies 2015

Photo: Juri Ahlfors
Written by Asko Parpola, (Olli Siitonen ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Solving the riddles of the Indus Civilization

In 1964 my friend Seppo Koskenniemi asked me whether I wanted to try a computer for some research tasks. In 1952, it had been possible to decipher the Linear B script without translations by studying such things as the sequence of script signs and the density of their occurrence. The computer assisted in collecting such data on the undeciphered writing system of the Indus Civilization, which now became our pastime. My brother, the Assyriologist Simo Parpola, brought his expertise on the Middle East and its writing systems to the project. We converted 2500 short texts into numbers and then drew Indus symbols above the numbers on the printouts. We assumed that what we had was a word/syllable script based on a Dravidian language. We got really started with our investigation when my teacher Pentti Aalto encouraged us to try and read certain symbols. My rashly prepared initial reports (1969–70) were received both positively and critically. The criticism helped me to eliminate mistakes, but did not manage to dispirit me.

We published the first concordance of Indus symbols in 1973 and with Kimmo Koskenniemi an improved version in 1979–82. The works contained 400 previously unpublished texts, which I had discovered in Indian and Pakistani museums in 1971. In 1973 I initiated an international photographic publication of Indus seals and texts, of which there has been three large volumes, in the years 1987, 1991 and 2010. From Finland Virpi Hämeen-Anttila and Petteri Koskikallio and the photographers Erja Lahdenperä, Jyrki Lyytikkä, and Arto Vuohelainen have taken part in the project.

Photographic publications of Indus seals and texts, Photo: Asko Parpola.

In my book Deciphering the Indus script, which was released in 1994, I developed the ideas from those early years further. Even after this I have still been able to carry on the investigation: my new views are contained in my work The Roots of Hinduism (2015), which has been supported by BAULT.

Photo: Asko Parpola.


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