playlist

Talks on ancient languages

Take a step back in time and discover the history of humanity's most fundamental building block.

  1. 2:15
    Murray Gell-Mann The ancestor of language

    After speaking at TED2007 on elegance in physics, the amazing Murray Gell-Mann gives a quick overview of another passionate interest: finding the common ancestry of our modern languages.

  2. 12:05
    Genevieve von Petzinger Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves all over Europe?

    Written language, the hallmark of human civilization, didn't just suddenly appear one day. Thousands of years before the first fully developed writing systems, our ancestors scrawled geometric signs across the walls of the caves they sheltered in. Paleoanthropologist, rock art researcher and TED Senior Fellow Genevieve von Petzinger has studied and codified these ancient markings in caves across Europe. The uniformity of her findings suggest that graphic communication, and the ability to preserve and transmit messages beyond a single moment in time, may be much older than we think.

  3. 8:10
    Saki Mafundikwa Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets

    From simple alphabets to secret symbolic languages, graphic designer Saki Mafundikwa celebrates the many forms of written communication across the continent of Africa. He highlights the history and legacy that are embodied in written words and symbols, and urges African designers to draw on these graphic forms for fresh inspiration. It's summed up in his favorite Ghanaian glyph, Sankofa, which means "return and get it" — or "learn from the past."

  4. 17:01
    Rajesh Rao A Rosetta Stone for a lost language

    Rajesh Rao is fascinated by "the mother of all crossword puzzles": How to decipher the 4000 year old Indus script. At TED 2011 he tells how he is enlisting modern computational techniques to read the Indus language, the key piece to understanding this ancient civilization.

  5. 12:07
    Gregory Heyworth How I'm discovering the secrets of ancient texts

    Gregory Heyworth is a textual scientist; he and his lab work on new ways to read ancient manuscripts and maps using spectral imaging technology. In this fascinating talk, watch as Heyworth shines a light on lost history, deciphering texts that haven't been read in thousands of years. How could these lost classics rewrite what we know about the past?

  6. 19:37
    Neil MacGregor 2600 years of history in one object

    A clay cylinder covered in Akkadian cuneiform script, damaged and broken, the Cyrus Cylinder is a powerful symbol of religious tolerance and multi-culturalism. In this enthralling talk Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, traces 2600 years of Middle Eastern history through this single object.

  7. 14:53
    William Noel Revealing the lost codex of Archimedes

    How do you read a two-thousand-year-old manuscript that has been erased, cut up, written on and painted over? With a powerful particle accelerator, of course! Ancient books curator William Noel tells the fascinating story behind the Archimedes palimpsest, a Byzantine prayer book containing previously-unknown original writings from ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes and others.