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In philology, decipherment is the discovery of the meaning of texts written in ancient or obscure languages or scripts.[1] Decipherment in cryptography refers to decryption.[2] The term is used sardonically in everyday language to describe attempts to read poor handwriting.[3] In genetics, decipherment is the successful attempt to understand DNA, which is viewed metaphorically as a text containing word-like units.[4] Throughout science the term decipherment is synonymous with the understanding of biological and chemical phenomena.

Ancient languages[edit]

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
Magnus Celsius Staveless Runes
Jón Ólafsson of Grunnavík Cipher runes
Jean-Jacques Barthélemy Palmyrene alphabet
Jean-Jacques Barthélemy Phoenician alphabet
Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy Pahlavi script
Jean-François Champollion Egyptian Hieroglyphs
Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Eugène Burnouf, and Henry Rawlinson Old Persian Cuneiform
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.[5] Cypriot syllabary
Hans Bauer and Édouard Paul Dhorme[6] 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
Francois Desset[7] Linear Elamite

See also[edit]

Deciphered scripts[edit]

Undeciphered scripts[edit]

Undeciphered texts[edit]


  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. ^ Vaudenay, Serge (2006). A Classical Introduction to Cryptography. Springer, p.3. ("Action to transform a ciphertext into a plaintext by an authorized party [emphasis added]")
  3. ^
  4. ^ Snustad, D. Peter, et al. (2016). Principles of Genetics. Wiley, p.302
  5. ^ "Cypro-Syllabic".
  6. ^ "Anatomy of a Decipherment","
  7. ^ "Breaking the Code (Francois Desset, Padua) - YouTube". Retrieved 2021-01-04.