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Scholarly Politics and Human Foibles

In addition to fanatical perseverance and devotion to detail and wide linguistic and cultural knowledge, the successful archaeological decipher has required a high order of intellectual power of analysis, the courage to follow his or her intuition rather than the conventional wisdom, and the luck to come along at the right moment, which generally was when sufficient examples of the script to be deciphered had become available and accessible.

Champillion and Ventris had these advantages in abundance and to a lesser degree perhaps, did Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, the decipherer of Babylonian cuneiform, and Yuri Knorozov, the Russian pioneer of the Maya decipherment in the 1950’s. Rawlinson never explained his decipherment properly, and now it is plain from study of his notebooks that he borrowed without attribution from the work of a humble scholar, Irish clergyman Edward Hincks. Read more