The third Indus symbol I'll be writing about looks like a parenthesis. Most of the time, like our letter "C," its curve bulges to the left. If it were a parenthesis, it would be the first one and you'd expect another later on, turned the other way. But it doesn't necessarily work that way in the Indus script. When it curves like our letter "C," I call it CEE. When it curves the other way, like a closing parenthesis, I call it BACK CEE, which is a lot shorter than anything else I could come up with. Either way, it has the numerical designation I3. The Roman numeral indicates that it takes one stroke to draw it and the Arabic numeral indicates that it is the third sign in my list. I further distinguish each variant with a letter, "a" for CEE and "b" for BACK CEE.
This symbol has two designations in Koskenniemi and Parpola's list, 154(a) and 163 for the two directions it turns. Wells assigns a single number, 572, noting that it occurs 35 times and has only a single variant, which is odd. There are 22 occurrences at Mohenjo daro, 10 at Harappa, 1 at Lothal, and 2 at Kalibangan. In looking through these, I seem to see a bit of variation. Four are BACK CEE, while the rest are CEE, for one thing. Less significant is the degree of curvature. Some are nearly straight, while others are more like the parenthesis in their curve. A couple are more angular, while one is definitely pointed and thus more of a "greater than" sign. In addition, one has a bit of a round bulge in the middle, which changes it into another sign, the BOAT (to be discussed in another post).
Fairservis calls this F-7 when it is a CEE, considering it a representation of the crescent moon. In this case, he says, it means "great; night." But when it is turned the other way and is BACK CEE, then it is H-3, and represents a bow without a string, or a shield. In that case, it means "sell; price; trade." Either way, the CEE/BACK CEE has an odd predilection for standing next to an apparent numeral, especially five. But that's a story for another post as well.
In Egyptian hieroglyphs, there was a symbol that actually was a crescent moon and it meant a crescent moon (N11). However, it did not stand up on its pointy end as we might expect. Instead, it was a lazy crescent and lay on its points, rather like a low, upside-down "U." I guess the Egyptians saw the top of their crescent moons, not the side. Another slightly "U"-like glyph was two hills with a U-shaped valley between them (N26). This is dw, "mountain," representing a sand-covered mountain over the edge of the green cultivated land, the way it is in Egypt. The closest thing to a "C" shape is a fishing net (T24). But this glyph has two loops to the side and several little bits coming off the edge, plus two smaller loops at the ends of the big loops. So, it is not a particularly good parallel for the Indus sign. There is the simple upside-down "U" (minus serifs) which is a hobble for cattle (V20). But it would hardly work turned on its side to match the Indus sign. Or there is the wide, flat-topped half-circle (V30). This is a basket. But then a basket isn't much better than a hobble turned on its side, is it? I'm afraid Egyptian is not much help here.
Old Chinese has a vaguely similar sign, yi1, which means "germination." But the similarity is not close, even in the oldest versions (Wieger 1965: 34). The Chinese character once looked something like a sloopy "L" shape, which only a few of the straightest Indus variants approach.
In the rock art of Native Americans, there are similar shapes on occasion. There is a CEE shape in one panel in Texas above an incomplete horse (Newcomb 1996: 118 Pl. 78). Further west, it is easier to find similar shapes oriented horizontally, so that they are low and wide "U" shapes or upside down "U" shapes (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 137, fig. 74 b).
In southern Iraq, the symbols known as proto-cuneiform contain an almost identical CEE sign. It is called SU2, as it is the ancestor of what came to be that word in Sumerian. In that later language it meant "wisdom, knowledge." But it may not have meant quite the same thing originally.
In ancient Iran, proto-Elamite did not have quite the same symbol. Somewhat reminiscent of this is the rounded wedge, made by pressing the stylus into the clay so that the flat edge is upward and the rounded edge downward. This makes a somewhat semi-circular or "C"-like shape, though oriented like the Egyptian basket. It has the designation M344.
In Australia, two BACK CEE shapes are noted amid circles and ovals on the wall of Paroong Cave, Mount Gambier region, South Australia (Flood 1997: 91). No meaning is known for these symbols.
The CEE and BACK CEE shapes are commonly found in the Indus script surrounding other symbols. In some cases, the CEE precedes the other sign and the BACK CEE follows, so that the full combination very much resembles our use of parentheses. There are at least five of this type (KP54, KP55, KP 67, KP136a, and KP136b). There is one more example where this is done (KP53) but, in addition, a little triangular "ear" is stuck to the upper part of the BACK CEE. This little ear shows up in other signs as well, but never on any other CEE.
In another type of ligature, the BACK CEE both precedes and follows the other sign (KP10b and KP143). The third type is to precede the other sign with the BACK CEE and follow with CEE (KP247 and KP115). Thus, among the Indus symbols, we see the following combinations with CEE and BACK CEE (where "X" stands for another symbol of some kind:
What could these kinds of enclosures mean? Well, in Chinese, there's a simple, two-stroke character representing the legs of a person, ren2. When two of these are combined in a single character so that both appear to be turned to the left, the word is cong2, "a man walking after another; to follow, to obey" (Wieger 1965: 79). But if the one on the left is turned left (the normal direction), and the one on the right is turned right (opposite the first one), this is bei3, "note to follow each other, to turn one's back, disagreement" (Wieger 1965: 80). The modern character no longer looks like two of the original, but that was its origin.
The point is, simply turning a curved line one way may have suggested compliance or agreement. Turning it the other way may have suggested the opposite, disagreement or even defiance. This is one possibility in a universe of many others!