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Top 5 Most Mysterious Undeciphered Codes

Jan 2018

Language ,

Undeciphered codes are the ultimate mystery, especially to a polyglot or language enthusiast! Did you grow up with Indiana Jones, or Tomb Raider? Perhaps you love Dan Brown’s books about symbologist Robert Langdon?

Then you’ll enjoy this brief foray into undeciphered codes. We’ll discuss some of the better-known codes that are yet to relinquish their secrets, and end with a little story more close to home in Glasgow.


The Tărtăria Tablets


undeciphered codes - amulet
Image: Wikipedia


We’ll start with something old. Debates aside – this code is either very old, or indeed, the oldest ever discovered.

The The Tărtăria Tablets were discovered in 1961 in Romania. Originally thought to date back to around 2700BC, they were more recently found to be much more unusual.

Radiocarbon dating has found that the tablets, and therefore, the whole Vinča culture could be much older than first thought, with the tablets dating back to 5500 BC.

In a recent post, Ivan Petricevic went through the arguments suggesting that these tablets contain the earliest known examples of the written word. However, we haven’t quite figured out what it is yet, let alone settled the age argument. It shows pictorial characters resembling everything from horned animals to trees.

Found with human remains and jewellery fragments, it’s a great, undeciphered code to kick off this list.


Rongorongo Writing of Easter Island


indecipherable codes - easter island
Image: Wikipedia


Discovered between 1864-1866 on remote Easter Island, the last person able to read these symbols remains as much a mystery as the meaning.

Many wooden tablets were found in the 18th century, and no one could be found to read them. Certain interesting things have been discovered about the writing so far – it is read from left to right, but in long lines encircling the tablet – you have to turn it around in your hands in order to follow.

As a side note – isn’t it funny that you can do the same thing with a modern-day tablet when the screen lock is switched off?


The Somerton Man


indecipherable codes tamam shud


From languages lost, to sentences simply too secret to fully understand. The Somerton man is the name given to a body, found lying on a beach in Australia on December 1st, 1948.

Police and investigators were unable to find out much about him at all – the cause of death was unknown, labels had been removed from his clothes and his belongings were scant.

Whilst there are many mysterious things attributed to the man, and his possessions, perhaps the oddest is the scrap of paper found in his trouser pocket.

It is torn from the final page of a rare New Zealand copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It reads tamam shud, or ‘finished’, and also has the imprint of an as-yet indecipherable code. The story is still a complete mystery.

Some believe it was suicide of a jilted lover, but then why were people trying to help with the investigation threatened by unidentified men a few years later? Why was another man found dead in a park a few months earlier with another copy of this rather obscure book lying next to him?

We might never know the truth, but I’d put money on it being stranger than fiction.

Research the case a little yourself, if you dare. Here are the particularly mysterious letter fragments, according to all-knowing Wikipedia (take from that what you will!)



The MIT Puzzle


MIT indecipherable code


In 1999, MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science turned 35 years old.

How did they celebrate?

By creating a REALLY complicated puzzle, of course!

Designed by LCS Director Michael Dertouzos, the code protects the contents of a time capsule which will not open until 2033, or until the code is solved, whichever comes sooner.

A little different from languages, sure, but what is a language if not a sequence to learn and mimic?

The puzzle is designed to be impossible to speed up solving – each year, the computer working it out is replaced with a faster model, but the only way to truly break it before time is up would be to find a computational short-cut.

Pretty cool!

Glasgow Cathedral Hebrew Carving

indecipherable text

Now for something a little closer to home – a bit of a blog post ‘Easter Egg’, if you will.

Head into Glasgow Cathedral and go down to the lower church via the right stairs (facing the nave). Shine a light on the first pillar you come to.

There are words etched there, which seem to be in Hebrew, but anyone attempting to translate has come up with differing offers.

It’s thought to have been written around the time the first person was buried in the adjacent Necropolis, a Jewish man was the first to be laid to rest there. But it could be earlier.

How do we know this? Our marketer used to be a tour guide at the cathedral. If you’re in the area and understand old Hebrew, why not pop in and give it a bash?


We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these mind-bending undeciphered codes. Which one do you think we’ll solve first? If you need something translated in a known language, then we’re pretty fast. Contact us for more info.

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