September 22, 2005

Search For the Cosmic Rosetta Stone

The images are vivid, capturing the essence of exploration. Archaeologists digging up the remains of long lost civilizations.

Anthropologists encountering exotic cultures with strange languages.

But do archaeologists and anthropologists have anything to teach the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), where encounters are at the distance of light-years, and a round-trip exchange could take millennia?

“Absolutely!” was the resounding response at a conference held last year of the American Anthropological Association. One of the best-attended sessions of that meeting consisted of papers from leading scholars who pondered the daunting challenges of reconstructing alien civilizations – at interstellar distances.

A month earlier, in November 2004, many of the same scientists had gathered at the SETI Institute for a symposium fittingly called “In Search of a Cosmic Rosetta Stone,” a reference to the slab of basalt that provided the key to decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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