Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bisected Triangle, Spear, and More Gunification

Today's first symbol from the Indus script is the BISECTED TRIANGLE, IV11 (eleventh sign taking four strokes to write).  It is also KP208, W418, and Fs K-8.  Fairservis sees it as a variant of his K-6a, the STRIPED TRIANGLE, which he defines as "(heap of) grain," and which regularly pairs with J-6, POTTED ONE.  Wells states that the unstriped, BISECTED TRIANGLE occurs only seven times, four of those times at Mohenjo daro, three times at Lothal (three duplicate seal impressions). 

Moon god greets worshipper on seal from Susa, Iran (Collon 2005: 56).
Note roughly triangular tree (?) upper left, chevron-like legs (?) of bird
between worshipper and seated deity.

Ideally, the triangular portion is depicted with the apex upward and the bisecting line coming from that apex, descending straight to the base (e.g., M-128, L-190, and although the photo is upside-down, on the pot shard Rhd-86, not listed in Wells).  However, in some cases the base of the triangle is slanted (e.g., M-802).  In others, not only is the base slanted, but the bisecting line is off-center (M-664 and M-1633, the latter on a bangle).  Thus, there are at least three variants.

Parallels are fairly easy to find for simple triangles, less so for the bisected variety.  Egyptian hieroglyphs include a tall one with a smaller one inside representing a conical bread loaf, but no bisected variety (X8).  This glyph is common as it is a phonetic for di, meaning "give."  Luwian hieroglyphs include one that is not only bisected but also contains a crossing horizontal line, REX, "king."

Proto-Elamite contains a horizontally oriented triangle that is both bisected and striped (M107~a).  There is another that contains a single crossing stripe (M112~c).  Outside the usual source (cdli), a variant is located which contains a line which begins at what would be the apex if it were upright, but stops short before reaching the base (Damerow and Englund 1989).  This is actually a variant of a sign that is not a triangle, but what in the Indus script I termed the DUBYA, a bisected "V" shape (M072).  It denotes a female slave or low-ranking female worker, borrowed from proto-cuneiform.

In proto-cuneiform, this semi-bisected triangle is designated SAL.  It came to mean "vulva; to be narrow; to be wide" (an astonishing array of meanings).  Combined with another symbol, such as the circle within a circle used to represent a lamb in this early period, the pair becomes KIR11, "female lamb" (cdli).

Poster advertising King Tut exhibit (1979) -- note hieroglyph for "give," triangle in triangle, behind Tut's wife, Ankhesenamen, and triangular and chevron-like decorative elements, some of which are copied from original artwork.

The bisected triangle does occur among the motifs of Old Europe, in the area of Danube river (OE 161, ).  In Old Elamite, a fully developed system of writing that is incompletely deciphered, there was a triangle with a single horizontal line inside (see for the known symbols).  Its phonetic or semantic significance is unknown. 

A triangle with a line which rises from the base but does not reach the apex appears in the rock art of Texas alongside representations that are more clearly arrowheads (Newcomb 1996: 90, Pl. 50, no. 3).  The semi-bisected triangle itself, then, is most likely another arrowhead.  On another rock wall, a rounded triangle painted in red is completely bisected by a red line, while paler lines bisect each of the segment beside the central line (1996: 154, Pl. 106, no. 8).  No bisected triangle appears in the Far West, although a three-sided motif does, one with a vertical left side, the apex at the bottom, and a curving right side (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 144, fig. 81a).  This element contains four horizontal stripes.

We will move on now to the more common sign, the SPEAR, IV 12.  It takes the form of a triangle on a post.  It is also known as KP217, W241, and Fs H-5.  Some authors call this an arrow; it is Fairservis who first called it "a point or spear" meaning "be powerful."  He considers it an honorific suffix because it generally occurs at the end of inscriptions, as noted also by Korvink who more cautiously terms it a terminal, not a suffix (2007: 29).  Wells informs us that this sign occurs 157 times, 81 times at Mohenjo daro, 67 times at Harappa, five times at Lothal, and three times at Kalibangan.  This seems to leave one more occurrence unaccounted for, but I lack the diligence to hunt it down.

Mimbres designs from the American Southwest (van Dinter 2006: 127).

Though Wells does not show any variants, there are several.  The size of the triangle varies, as does the height of the post.  Sometimes the triangle is small and the post relatively long (K-25, H-148, H-789).  More often, the triangle and post are of roughly equal height (L-10, L-138, H-531, H-786).  Occasionally, the triangle is rather sloppily executed and is tilted, as if it is about to fall off its post (H-938, H-939).  In a few other cases, it is the post that is about to topple over (M-1206, the unlisted Blk-5).  And on one occasion the whole thing is leaning dangerously to one side (L-98).  One looks more like a popsickle (the unlisted Rhd-93).  As happens on occasion, Wells seems to have missed a few (Rhd-87 through Rhd-93 and Blk-5, mentioned just now).

Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs there are basically four types of objects that provide possible parallels for this Indus sign.  First, there are three arrows (T22, a double-barbed arrowhead, T23, its Old Kingdom variant, and T11, a horizontal arrow including the feathers at the back).  These are the most obvious.  But there is also an oar (P8).  This appears in real hieroglyphic inscriptions both horizontally and vertically, which is not the case with the Indus sign.  The SPEAR only appears vertically.  The Egyptians also had a mace (T1).  This could appear as a triangle on a post, although the apex was the other way around from the Indus sign.  It could also occur shaped more like a pear, which wouldn't help us at all.  Finally, there is the more peculiar and less realistic mammal tail (F33).  It is drawn with a diagonal slant (\).

Proto-cuneiform also has more than one possible parallel.  BA is a horizontal line with a flattened semi-circle on the left end.  It came to mean "share; (to give) rations."  An alternative meaning is "shelled creature; scraping tool."  A better example is a broad triangle on a horizontal post, IGI, which came to mean "eye, glance, face, looks, front." 

Somewhat surprisingly, proto-Elamite does not an exact analogy.  There is a short horizontal rectangle with a diamond attached on the right (M295).  Its meaning is unknown.  Luwian hieroglyphs also lack a precise parallel, although REL "relative" (as in the sense of kinfolk) is similar.  This is a post with a shape on top that is reminiscent of an upside-down Valentine's heart.  It isn't quite that, either, though.  Even among the later runes, there is a similar but not quite identical form.  One variant used for the "ng" sound in the Norse type was a diamond on a post.  This same rune was the Anglo-Saxon symbol for the "oe" (the two should be run together as a single letter).

Interestingly, this diamond-on-a-post version shows up in the rock art of Texas as well as the triangle-on-a-post variety (Newcomb 1996: 189, Pl. 139, no. 18-D; 196, Pl. 147, no. 26-A; 199, Pl. 148, no. 26-B; 154, Pl. 107).  All are triangular except the next to last, which is rhomboid.  In the collection from Nevada and eastern California, a relatively large triangle on a short post appears at least twice (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 105, fig. 42m; 148, fig. 85e).  This motif does not occur in Australian rock art to my knowledge.  Neither does it seem to appear in the Danube valley.

A sign which is less common, both in the Indus script and elsewhere, is the QUOTE UNDER TABLE.  In this case, the TABLE takes its enlarged form with an extended leg on the left side in all occurrences.  The sign also appears in other works as KP284(a) and W238.  It does not appear in Fairservis' list.  Wells observes only three instances: two from Harappa and one from Lothal.  In all of these the "quote" mark is vertical.  I see a possible fourth instance from Mohenjo daro (M-370), but in this one the "quote" mark is diagonal like a short backslash.

Parallels are few.  Proto-Elamite includes a horizontal form with the same contour but in which the top portion is delineated with doubled lines.  This portion also rests on a quadrangular base (a truncated cone).  Instead of a simple quote being inserted in the basic sign, there is a complex symbol resembling the letter "Y," with double lines crossing the stem (M321~d).

In Old European, there is a TABLE symbol with equilateral legs, under which there is a round dot (OE 165).  And in the Anglo-Saxon runes, one variant of the form for "y" is almost the same as the Old European form.  In other variations, one side is vertical and the other side curves up to meet it instead of making a third line across the top to join the two, as in the Indus sign.  The "quote" underneath may be either a round dot as in the Old European form or a short vertical, as in the Indus sign.

Finally, there is a single motif in the Nevada and eastern California collection of the QUOTE UNDER TABLE (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 163, fig. 100h).  It appears over a circle with nine rays, among many other lines, dots, and other simple shapes.

Another similar sign in the Indus script is the TABLE WITH TICK, IV14, also known as KP284(b) and W240 (not shown in Fairservis).  Koskenniemi and Parpola evidently saw the "tick" as a slanting line that touched the longer leg of the TABLE, while Wells shows it as not touching.  Wells states that there is only one (M-370).  That one is a slanting unattached line, essentially a quote, and I would prefer to classify it with the previous sign for that reason.  But I also see a slanting attached line in M-1325, which matches KP284(b).  This is what I mean by the "tick."

In Egyptian, there is a rope with loops at each end, bent into a backward "C" shape, used as a phonetic glyph for the t sound.  This same glyph sometimes has a small added diacritical mark, a little slash added to the bend (V14).  This indicates that its original value is unchanged.  The scribes needed to do this on occasion because later on it came to be used for the ordinary t sound most of the time (Gardiner 1976: 523).  It is Gardiner who calls this little mark a "tick," and I refer to a similar short mark added to various Indus signs with the same word.  Adding a stroke (sometimes several strokes) to modify the meaning of a basic sign is termed gunification in the field of cuneiform studies.  This is the term used in today's title.

The same sort of thing occurs in Old Chinese, as in zun4, where the trident-like hand appears with a short horizontal line to the left.  This indicates "the Chinese inch.  The dot represents the place on the wrist where the pulse is felt, which place is an inch distant from the hand; hence the meaning inch....By extension, measure, rule" (Wieger 1965: 125).  This is the 41st radical in modern writing.  The point is, whatever the small additional stroke might be called, its presence is probably significant.

The next sign actually occurs twice in my list because the list-makers disagree on its precise form.  Its first designation is EX UNDER CHEVRON, IV15 from KP244.  As such, it does not appear in either Wells' or Fairservis' lists.  It appears to be what it sounds like, something like our letter "X" under a chevron ^.  Without Wells to help out, we cannot be certain of its frequency, but it is definitely rare.

It has few parallels, too.  Something similar does appear in the rock art of the western United States, where an "X"-like shape occurs beneath a rounded curve (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 141, fig. 78c).  Old Chinese contains a chevron-like element, as in yu2, "I, me" (actually a form only used to announce oneself, not the regular pronoun) (Wieger 1965: 46).  Proto-cuneiform also includes an element like a chevron, SZU2 (or shu), which came to mean "hand, share" (although this may actually be the form that became a modal prefix and not the hand).  In both cases, the element is placed over other signs, but not, as it happens, over an "X."

The second version of the same sign is DOUBLE QUOTES UNDER CHEVRON, IV16, which lacks a KP number.  It is also W428, but still fails to appear in Fairservis' list.  In this case, it appears to be a singleton (M-954).  What I see in this case is not quite a chevron and not quite either an "X" or the BI-QUOTES.  The top portion rises to a peak but is slightly curved, unlike the true CHEVRON.  It is not quite as curved as most instances of the ROOF, either, most of which only occur on metal objects.  But I tend to think that is what this is, just a very, very rare instance of a ROOF over something peculiar.  The peculiar something is harder to discern.  There are two very clear short parallel lines, both vertical.  But in between there may be a thinner diagonal, joining them.  It looks like a reversed "N" to me, although that middle part is not clear.  There is another possible incarnation of this same sign, difficult as that is to believe for one measly singleton, namely KP340.  That is definitely a ROOF over an "H" sign (as shown in a computer-generated list).

Haida sculpin from the American Northwest Coast (van Dinter 2006: 73).  Note triangular forms with inner circles over spine.  While not script, some art forms in this style convey information on clan membership, genealogy, and some historical information (deeds of ancestors).

There is a proto-Elamite parallel of a horizontal chevron over two short strokes, at least (M069~b).  This may be related to an extremely early proto-cuneiform sign, another chevron, this time over three rather than two strokes (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 75).  This represents some type of garment or cloth.  Finally (and I do mean FINALLY), there is an Old European chevron over two slashes, with three very tiny slashes attached to the right side of the chevron.  That's getting pretty far from the original.

The last sign to be discussed today may not be a single sign, but rather two.  It is DOUBLE CHEVRONS, shown as a single sign only as KP214, not in Wells or Fairservis.  This one was hard to pin down without Wells' help.  I thought perhaps it appeared on M-1370, but finally decided that was DOUBLE MEN, in which shadows obscured the bodies so that it only appeared to be two rows of DOUBLE CHEVRONS.  I am pretty sure it appears on the B side of the copper tablet M-1548, but my reading of the tablets is always uncertain.  M-1549 is broken but is probably a duplicate.  Another possible example from Mohenjo daro is a bangle, M-1578.  But here, in the photo the tops of the signs are lost in the glare from the lighting and the bottoms are lost in shadow.  Again, my reading is uncertain.  There are several possibilities from pot shards, but they might also be examples of zigzags: Rhd-57 through Rhd-69 from Rahman Deri (DOWN EM and EM WITH TICK).

Possible parallels are likewise few and doubtful.  Old European signs include one rather like an "M" with two small slashes through the right leg (OE 111).  The Norse type of runic includes two chevrons for the "j" sound, although these are not placed side by side, as they are in the Indus sign.  Proto-cuneiform includes a sign resembling two triangles side by side, positioned horizontally, and thus two chevrons upon a base.  This is GESZTU~c3, "ear, hearing, understanding" (it may not have meant that early on).

Two chevrons appear as a motif in the rock art of Texas, although they are colored in (Newcomb 1996: 69, Pl. 31, no. 1).  These occur over an anthropoid figure and may, perhaps, be considered part of it.  Similarly, the double chevrons appear as elements within a larger and more complex character in Old Chinese.  They are in lai2, where they "represent bearded ears of corn hanging down...; the other part of the character is a primitive representing the plant.  A sort of bearded barley, which constituted the main food of the means to come" (Wieger 1965: 43).

Chevrons, at least, are so common that we might find them to be universal.  They appear among the ectopic forms that I see, although they are not nearly as tidy and sharp as the ones printed on the page.  Chevron-like shapes appear in many alphabets and syllabaries, too many to list here.  Suffice it to say that they appear in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Australia.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Gate, a Pinwheel, a Tic-Tac-Toe, and a Bowtie Sign

Today's post will cover four Indus signs, the GATEWAY, the four-blade PINWHEEL, two versions of the TIC-TAC-TOE, and the BOWTIE.  Each is comprised of four strokes and thus begins with the Roman numeral IV in my numbering system.  The first is the GATEWAY, IV6, which looks like a very square version of our capital letter "A."  It is also known as KP293(a) and W490, but does not appear in Fairservis.  Walls states that it appears three times, always at Mohenjo daro.  Of these occurrences, M-129 is straight-sided and wider than the other two.  The next instance, M-355, has sides that curve something like back to back parentheses ) ( only less so.  It is also thinner than the first example.  The last instance is in between the first two extremes (M-932).

Faces of Eshu from divination trays, showing BOWTIE symbol
 on either side, bottom right (Witte 1994: 73).

The Egyptian parallel comes from Gardiner's glyph O32 representing an open gateway.  It has a similar outline, but without the central crossbar.  Proto-cuneiform provides a somewhat better parallel with a horizontal version containing a crossbar that is quite near the "top" (ZATU626~a).  The meaning is unknown.  Proto-Elamite has the best parallel with another horizontal version, but one whose crossbar is nearer the center (M032~a).  It is positioned with its "top" to the left, the reverse of the proto-cuneiform symbol.  Another proto-Elamite symbol has double crossbars and places the "top" to the right (M029~a).

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a close parallel to the last proto-Elamite example in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb 1996: 153, Pl. 105, no. 1).  The double crossbars are further apart, but otherwise it is quite similar in orientation and form.  Another square "a" shape is more nearly vertical and has a single crossbar (1996: 188, Pl. 138, no. 20-H).  There are similar shapes in the collection from the Far West, but each has one side that is longer than the other (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 149, fig. 86c; 177, fig. 114j).  Both are tilted at an angle as well.

A final example comes from the area of Old Europe, the valley of the Danube river.  This symbol has no crossbar, substituting a dot instead ( ).  Thus, it is not quite the same symbol, but only similar.

Jewelry box made in the Near East shows motifs similar to BOWTIE
and containing six-pointed stars around a central hexagon
(which has sustained a little water damage).

The four-blade PINWHEEL is the next symbol to considered (IV7).  It is a square in which each stroke extends beyond the square itself.  Also known as KP259 and W495, it does not appear in Fairservis either.  It is a singleton, occurring only at Harappa (H-513).

This is a rather odd symbol, quite simple in shape but strangely unpopular despite that.  Nothing in Egyptian hieroglyphs quite matches it.  The glyph R24 is faintly reminiscent of it, depicting two bows tied in a package, the emblem of the goddess of Sais, Neith.  This glyph has a rounded rectangle in the center, though, with curving lines coming out both ends.  The Old Kingdom version of this, R25, is somewhat more similar since the middle portion is square.  But that part is decorated with a kind of zigzagging pattern not seen in the Indus sign.  Plus the curving lines coming out the corners are depicted with doubled lines rather than the simple straight lines of the Indus sign.  Either way, the glyph is not a particularly close match.

Old Chinese has er3, "ear" (Wieger 1965: 313).  The modern version is actually closer, a striped rectangle in which the top and bottom lines extend beyond the side on the left, and the right side extends below the bottom line.  Still, it is not a close match either.

Proto-cuneiform comes closer with IM~b, which came to mean (1) "clay, loam, mud"; (2) "storm, cloud, rain, weather" (which is to say, I'm not sure which IM this symbol represents).  This is a diamond rather than a square, and the lines project from the points of the diamond.   They are not identical on opposite sides as they are in the PINWHEEL.  The line on the right of IM extends horizontally; the line on the left points downward.  The line on the bottom of the IM extends downward also; the line on the top is diagonal -- a slash.  But this is the closest parallel yet.

In the rock art of Nevada and eastern California, there is one instance of a motif that is similar, although not identical.  There is a square with one line attached to the upper left corner, extending to the left horizontally (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 190, fig. 127f).  Another line approches the upper right corner from above but does not quite touch the square.  The bottom corners are free of attaching and approaching lines.

Now, although the Indus PINWHEEL with four blades is a singleton, there is a motif that is similar, one which occurs painted on a pot shard from Rahman Deri (Rhd-230) and elsewhere.  This is a square with a triangle attached by its apex to each corner (also seen incised on Rhd-156 and Rhd-157).  This may be the fuller version of what the PINWHEEL is intended to represent, a design that reminds me of one of my grandmother's quilt patterns.

Plains Cree thunderbird symbols resembling Indus BOWTIE (van Dinter 2006: 119).

It may even be that the PINWHEEL is intended as an abbreviated version of the swastika or fylfot, an ancient symbol found in many places around the world (and only belatedly coopted by the Nazis).  For instances, the swastika occurs on many Indus seals where there are no signs, on Old European artifacts (it is OE136), on Pictish articles, among Buddhist symbols, and in North American rock art (although I cannot give an example at present).

The TIC-TAC-TOE is our next symbol for today (IV8).  The variant shown by Koskenniemi and Parpola is upright as we draw it for the children's game (KP260), but I have not seen this one and it does not appear in Wells' list or in Fairservis.  The closest to this I have observed is on M-1349B where there is a grid of three vertical lines crossed by two horizontals.  The reverse of this piece shows a boat or ship.  But in case I have simply overlooked this one, we can consider this the "a" variant (and to any British readers, I believe this game is known in England as "noughts and crosses").

The "b" variant is tilted to make two "X" types of lines.  This version has no KP number and does not appear in Fairservis, but it is W558, where it is a singleton (M-68).

Egyptian does not provide any good parallels.  The best is N24, three horizontal lines with six or so verticals.  This represents land marked out with irrigation runnels, the determinative for irrigated land.  It appears in the word t3, "land," as in the land of Egypt versus the desert.  Old Chinese has a better parallel for the upright "a" version in jing2, although the left-hand vertical is curved outward and there is a dot in the center square.  "Primitively, it was designed to represent eight square lots of fields, divided among eight families, reserving the middle square for public use, and digging a well in it.  The well is represented by a dot....The character is now used to mean a well" (Wieger 1965: 269).

Proto-cuneiform has the upright form in the obscure ZATU630 as well as the tilted version is KASKAL, the latter coming to mean "expedition; road; journey."  There is also the interesting symbol EZINU~b which is an upright TIC-TAC-TOE in which the central square contains a tilted grid.  This symbol came to mean "grain, wheat."  Proto-Elamite only has the upright version (M026~b and M483 -- I do not perceive the distinction).  A similar sign made with doubled lines is M204~g.

Grids of various kinds appear commonly in the rock art of North America.  One that has the right number of lines to play tic-tac-toe appear in Texas, although the right-hand vertical slants a bit (Newcomb 1996: 172, Pl. 123, no. 2).  There are 113 occurrences of various types of grids in the collection from the Far West, not all of this configuration (see a circled tic-tac-toe in Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 184, fig. 121g).  A similar grid with one short leg appears in Australian rock art at the Rockholes and Panaramitee Hill, Panaramitee Station (Flood 1997: 111).

Finally, there is a similar motif in the Danube valley repertoire ( ).  The basic form is an upright tic-tac-toe grid.  A large "X" shape overlaps the grid.  Thus, the motif is similar but not identical (OE128).

We discussed sign IV9 last time (the DIAMOND).  Today's final sign is the BOWTIE, IV10.  It looks like two triangles placed with together, apex to apex.  Also known as KP224, W450, and Fs M02, it is only slightly more common than the other symbols discussed earlier.  Wells observes that it ocurs six times, thrice at Mohenjo daro, twice at Chanhujo daro, once at Lothal.  I see it at Rahman deri as well on a couple of pot shards (Rhd-151 and Rhd-153).  Fairservis thinks it is a represents a rare type of drum but gives its meaning as some sort of measure.

There is an Egyptian glyph of a butcher's block, a truncated cone with a mark inside it that somewhat resembles a vertical version of this horizontal Indus sign (T28).  The glyph is an odd one, seemingly ideographic in a word that means "under."  But it sometimes becomes confused with a rather different glyph that may be a ring-stand for jars, a completely different and round pot, and otherwise is substituted for a roundish glyph for a building.  It's hard to know what to make of this glyph and what it might have to tell us about the (probably unrelated) Indus BOWTIE sign.

Old Chinese also has a vertical version of the BOWTIE.  This is wu3, meaning "five."  Originally, this was written as a simple "X" representing "the five directions (the four sides and center....Later on, two strokes were [to the top and bottom], to represent heaven and earth" (Wieger 1965: 107).  In modern Chinese writing, this numeral does not look like an "X" at all.

Proto-cuneiform contains more than one parallel: GA'AR~b2 is yet another vertical type, one which came to mean "grated dried cheese."  A horizontal version of the BOWTIE with three stacked horizontal POSTS at the left end is KAD4~c1, which came to mean "to tie, bind together."  And two elongated horizontal versions, the one stacked on top of the other, make KISAL~a1, "temple/palace courtyard; weight measure."  Proto-Elamite is almost as rich in parallels.  The vertical example is M286; the best proportioned horizontal version M098; a horizontal version that is stretched out at the base M053~b.

The rock art of the Americas provides a number of examples of the BOWTIE in both vertical and horizontal orientation.  Ancient Texans seemed to prefer to horizontal type, or only slightly tilted (Newcomb 1996: 128, Pl. 85; 154, Pl. 107, no. 4).  Those farther to the west definitely preferred the vertical form (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 114, fig. 51f; 121, fig. 58c; 144, fig. 81h).  In the case of vertical types, at least some of the time, these represent either schematic anthropoid figures or birds.  Some have knobs on top for heads.  And some have added arms or wings.

Image from cylinder seal of goddess Lamma (on left) presenting worshipper to a deity on a throne, perhaps the moon god Nanna/Suen (note moon symbol by his head); also note vertical BOWTIE symbol lower right (Collon 1987: 126).

I include a few illustrations of the BOWTIE, as it seems the most common motif in other cultures.  It also appears in Old Europe (vertical OE58; horizontal OE59).  A similar motif borders one example of the face of the orisha Eshu (a supernatural being) on a divination tray from Nigeria (Witte 1994: 73).  In this case it may actually represent a drum, as Fairservis thought of the Indus sign.


Collon, Dominique. 1987, 2005. First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. London: The British Museum Press.

Witte, Hans. 1994.  "Ifa Trays from the Osogbo and Ijebu Regions." The Yoruba Artist: New Theoretical Perspectives on Africa Arts, ed. by Rowland Abiodun, Henry J. Drewal, and John Pemberton III. Washington and London: Smithsonian Inst. Press.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Circle, Square, and Diamond

The scholars Koskenniemi and Parpola consider as variants of a single sign the following symbols in the Indus script:  KP355(a) SMALL CIRCLE, KP355(b) SMALL SQUARE, KP355(c) DIAMOND, and KP355(d) CIRCLE (full-sized).  The fact that these authors use the same identifying number for all four symbols reveals the fact that all these are a single sign with four variations in their view. 

The RECTANGLE appears in the top seal (above);
the VEE IN DIAMOND in the seal impression in the central illustration;
and in the bottom illustration, the Egyptian egg is visible,
a tilted oval, a determinative indicating a goddess.
While I find it reasonable to consider the small and large circles variants of one sign, it seems odd to include such distinct geometrical forms as the square and diamond shapes in the same category.  The CIRCLE, as seen in the discussion of the two-stroke sign II9, also has pointed oval variants, but while these occasionally become slightly angular, perhaps to be confused occasionally with a diamond, they remain visually distinct from squares.
The square and diamond are both angular, so perhaps it is only a matter of how one tips an object as to whether it is one or the other.  On one seal (H-6), there is a slightly tilted square, and perhaps one might be inclined to conclude from this that there is no real distinction between squares and diamonds.  On the other hand, there is a rectangular sign also, so perhaps the square should be considered the small variant of the larger rectangle sign, just as the small circle is the small variant of the larger oval or circle.  But lumping rounded signs together with angular signs seems counterintuitive to me.
What do the other list-makers say?  Iravatham Mahadevan seems to agree with Koskenniemi and Parpola in considering the four symbols previously mentioned to be variants of a single sign.  That is, the small and larger circles, the square, and the diamond are again variants of a single symbol.  In a way, Mahadevan goes further in one article, including as additional variants the circle and diamond with a small “V” shape attached inside, the whole series designated Mh261 through Mh373 (2009: 5).  Since I lack access to his original list of signs, I can give no more detail.
However, not only does Wells not agree with Mahadevan’s larger grouping, he lists and enumerates the original four in this group separately as well:  the rounded version of the CIRCLE is W382; the more pointed OVAL W348; SQUARE W526; and DIAMOND W392 (Wells 1998: appendix).  For good measure, RECTANGLE is also separate, W522.  Fairservis takes the middle ground, grouping the circles together but not the others: F-15 (SMALL CIRCLE) and F-1 (CIRCLE) both mean “sun, day” for him.  But then he has K-14 (SMALL SQUARE) which he defines as “one-quarter.” Two variants of the DIAMOND are N-4 and N-5, one just slightly rounded and hence really an OVAL, while the other is quite angular and thus truly a diamond.  These, he says, are classifiers for types of settlements. 
One might assume that we could determine which signs were variants, initially by classing the signs together based on graphic similarity, then by verifying this grouping by means of positional regularities in inscriptions.  Most of the signs in the Indus script are not particularly frequent, though, a feature of the particular symbols under consideration here.  Wells provides the information that a rounded circle occurs only once, at Kalibangan.  I see the small and round variant twice in the same inscription at Kalibangan (K-11), as well as on H-479 from Harappa, and in two inscriptions from Mohenjo daro, M-157 and M-724, making five occurrences (my “d” variant of II9).  The larger but less rounded version appears seven times at Mohenjo-daro, six times at Harappa, and once each at Kalibangan, Chanhujo-daro, and Desalpur (16 times total, according to Wells).  I find one large, round occurrence at Desalpur, Dlp-2 (my “a” version); four plump and somewhat pointed ovals, three at Harappa and one at Chanhujo daro, C-22, H-842, H-841, H-668 (my “b” variant); five thin and quite pointed ovals, two at Mohenjo daro, two at Harappa, and one at Kalibangan (my “c” variant).  All of this means I missed one somewhere. 
Angular and rounded signs appear in the same inscription from Harappa.

As for the angular “variants,” SMALL SQUARE (IV4) is supposedly another singleton, like the SMALL CIRCLE, this time found only once at Harappa, according to Wells (H-682).  Once again, I see more than that: the square in the broken seal, L-80, is smaller than the post next to it, and there appears to be a badly executed one in M-412 as well.  Its right side is a bit dented.  A slightly tilted SQUARE begins the inscription on H-6, smaller than the oval-topped DUBYA to its right.  Another, more evenly positioned, begins the inscription on H-389, also smaller than the CHEVRON to its right.  Yet another begins the inscription on H-682, smaller than the TRIPLE-BELTED AITCH to its right, as well.  However, we should note that the SQUARE on L-80 is not in initial position, since a tiny piece of the preceding sign remains to its left, though not enough to identify what it was.
On one of the copper tablets, the inscription has been highlighted in white (M-1529), making it appear that there are two small squares.  However, on the duplicates without highlighting (1528-1532), these elements are more clearly grids.  Thus, I do not count these as instances of the SMALL SQUARE.  Similarly, the squarish signs on H-199 though H-202 could be SQUARES.  But close inspection reveals hints that these, too, are grids.  I do not count them as instances of this sign, either.

HOV diamond on modern (rectangular) traffic sign.

I tend to think the SMALL SQUARE is the smaller variant of RECTANGLE, IV5, which Wells considers a singleton appearing on M-331.  It is the same height as neighboring signs in this inscription.  Other signs show this type of variation also, appearing small on some seals, enlarging to fill the available space on others.  I see another RECTANGLE on H-517, beside a MAN HOLDING DOUBLE POSTS.  It, too, is the same size as its neighbor sign.  There are three RECTANGLES in a row on H-97 on the right end of the bottom row, all the same size as the LAMBDA to their right.  One more instance occurs in second position beside the PALM SQUIRREL on H-419, just before the break.  This RECTANGLE is again essentially the same size as the preceding sign, or at least not square and not substantially smaller.  Two questionable possibilities include on the seal impression M-1383, where it is in initial position and very thin, and Kd-17 on a pot shard from Kot Diji.  The latter is broken, making identification uncertain.  The sign might also be an instance of the MALLET, VEST, or BATTERY, signs I have not yet discussed.
The DIAMOND, IV9, occurs 10 times at Mohenjo-daro, once each at Harappa and Chanhujo-daro.  This makes a total of 12 occurrences, of which we should note that some are significantly smaller than other signs in the same inscription, including those on M-667, M-742, and M-1002, while others are the same size as the other signs (a characteristic I posited as separating the SQUARE and RECTANGLE as variants of a single sign).  These statistics are somewhat contradicted by the Koskenniemi and Parpola concordance, but all of the symbols appear far fewer than 100 times, by anyone’s count.  Statistics are only meaningful where there are sufficiently large amounts of data.  This is an elementary fact of statistics known as the Law of Large Numbers.
Still, if each site in the Indus Valley produced a single, distinct symbol out of the set (CIRCLE, SQUARE, DIAMOND), we might interpret this as evidence of regional variation of a single symbol, despite the relative paucity of data.  Chanhujo daro only has a DIAMOND, no SQUARE or CIRCLE.  Desalpur has a CIRCLE and no SQUARE or DIAMOND.  Lothal has only a SQUARE and no CIRCLE or DIAMOND.  So far so good.  But these three sites do not yield many seals or tablets.  The sites where most artifacts appear are Mohenjo daro and Harappa.  It so happens that at each of these two sites we find that the CIRCLE, the SQUARE, and the DIAMOND all appear.  Even the rare RECTANGLE occurs at both Mohenjo daro and Harappa.  Due to these overlaps, it is clear that geography does not explain the variation. 
Mimbres fish showing tilted grid filler (diamond shapes as artifact).

If each of these symbols always appeared in the same location within inscriptions, say, always at the beginning or always at the end, this would support the hypothesis that all are variants of a single sign, even in the absence of large numbers of occurrences (i.e., even if the distribution is not statistically significant).  This is not the case either, though, and positional frequencies are particularly unrevealing for singletons (Korvink 2007:61).  The DIAMOND occurs in initial position five times out of 12 occurrences.  But it also occurs as the second, third, fourth, and next to last or eighth of nine signs.  The CIRCLE also appears in multiple positions from initial to final.  The less common SQUARE is most often initial, but it also appears medially.  The RECTANGLE, rarest of all, occurs at the right end of two lines and at the left end of another.  That’s not much to go on, but it is enough to say that it is not standardized in a single position.
My own perusal of the Corpus suggests that, in general, signs can often be found in smaller versions at one or the other end of an inscription, especially longer ones, as the “scribe” runs out of room, or where symbols must be fitted around part of the icon, such as above the horn of the “unicorn.”  This appears to explain the small and oval variants of the CIRCLE.  Where space is cramped, signs are either thinner from side to side, or smaller over all.  This same explanation, it seems to me, would be the best explanation for the existence of both a SQUARE and a RECTANGLE.  The SQUARE is the smaller variant of the RECTANGLE.  The DIAMOND and the CIRCLE also have their smaller variants.  Thus, this phenomenon is not unexpected for the RECTANGLE/SQUARE.
We might also reason that if circles, squares, and diamonds were indeed equivalent in this script, then we would expect to see circular, square, and diamond-shaped variants of each of a variety of symbols.  For example, there is a CIRCLED VEE (in both round and oval variants), so there should also be a VEE IN DIAMOND.  And so there is.  We should also expect a VEE IN SQUARE.  This is considerably less common than the other two, but it does appear (e.g., K-85 and B-18, possibly K-122 and M-1428).  So far so good for our hypothesis. 
There is another symbol that seems to have four little vee shapes creating an outlined “X” shape, the CIRCLED FAT EX.  This, too, comes in both circular and oval forms, and there is the expected FAT EX IN DIAMOND.  Unfortunately for our thesis, there is no *FAT EX IN SQUARE, unless it appears in the third volume of the Corpus, which I have yet to see.  There is a CIRCLED TRIDENT as well as a TRIDENT IN DIAMOND.  Again, though, there is no *TRIDENT IN SQUARE.  Is this pattern telling us something?
But there is more.  While there is a six-point asterisk in a circle, the CARTWHEEL, there is no *ASTERISK IN DIAMOND, nor an *ASTERISK IN SQUARE.  This symbol only has a round version, and it is not the only one (e.g., there are only rounded versions of the CIRCLED DOT and DONUT or circled circle).  There are also signs that only appear in rhomboid form.  While there is a CIRCLED VEE and a VEE IN DIAMOND, there are several variations on a sign with VEE AND TRI-FORK IN DIAMOND.  But there is no comparable circular variant to any of these (no *CIRCLED VEE AND TRI-FORK).  Nor is there a square or rectangular variant of any of them. 
There is a DIAMOND WITH (3) SHISH KEBABS on it, but no circle or square is decked with a kebab (i.e., a vertical line crossed by three to six short horizontals).  Squares and rectangles partake of fewer variations to create new signs, but even they have their unique symbols.  There is a DOUBLE-BELTED RECTANGLE, but no *DOUBLE-BELTED DIAMOND or *DOUBLE-BELTED CIRCLE.  There is the MALLET, a square with a post on top.  But there is no diamond with a post on top.  Instead, there is a diamond with a post below it and several shorter ones on top, the HAIRY DIAMOND LOLLIPOP, a rather different sort of symbol.  The dotted circle appears with a post above and another below as the SKEWERED DONUT, but again, that is rather different.  It does not seem that these basic geometric shapes – CIRCLE, DIAMOND, SQUARE – are fully equivalent to one another.  A circle is not always the same as a diamond or square.
Again, there might be some social reason for one “scribe” to prefer rounded “variants” and another to prefer angular “variants,” perhaps based on social class, ethnicity, religion, etc.  If this were so, then we would not expect both rounded signs and angular signs to occur in the same inscription.  That is, even if the basic geometric shapes are variants in only some cases, we should be able to describe the context in which each occurs, whether we know the precise reason for it or not.  But the Corpus reveals a number of examples where both rounded and angular signs are, in fact, found in the same inscription.  It is therefore preferable, for the time being, to assume that the different shapes represent different concepts.
In addition to such internal evidence, one may examine other ancient scripts for external parallels to determine whether it is likely that particular symbols are variants of one another.  In Egyptian hieroglyphs, there are a number of circular glyphs.  These include, from smallest to largest N33 (grain of sand), D12 ( pupil of an eye), S21 (a circle in a circle, a ring), N5 (a dotted circle, the sun), N9 (a circle bisected horizontally, the moon), Aa1 (a striped circle, perhaps a placenta), O50 (a dotted circle, a threshing floor), O48 (two short vertical strokes in a circle representing a building at Hierakonpolis), O49 (a circle containing a “fat ex” depicting an encircled crossroads), X6 (a small square resting on the inside bottom of the circle depicting a type of bread loaf) (Gardiner 1976: 546-548)..  In hieratic writing, the fine distinctions among many of these circular glyphs often fail to appear.  Several are simply dark circles, so that the reader must rely on context to distinguish them.  Even so, their continued existence on stone monuments in fully detailed form and their distinct uses reveal a series of distinct signs. 
Not only are size and internal details significant in Egyptian, so are details of shape.  Ovals are not the same as circles and these are not to be confused with quadrilaterals.  Among the ovals, two have pointed ends as among the Indus symbols (specifically D21 and V38, the first a horizontal oval representing a mouth, the second a vertical oval representing a bandage).  Among quadrilateral forms, squares and rectangles, there are again a number of distinct glyphs.  The smallest is a square, Q3, depicting a mat.  A horizontal rectangle, O39, is a stone slab or brick.  Other rectangular symbols are distinguished by internal or external markings (N37, a garden pool of water, N38 the pool showing the sides, N39 the pool showing the water, O6 a rectangular enclosure representing a mansion, temple, or tomb, O36 a wall, S32, a fringed piece of cloth).  There is no diamond in Gardiner’s list, although one does appear in the older dictionary published by E.A.W. Budge, which includes symbols from the whole range of periods, not just Middle Egyptian (1978, Vol. II, p. 947, in the name of Auhep, sanctuary of the god Ahi; possibly a variant of Gardiner’s Aa5, a kind of stacked double chevron, part of the steering gear of ships).
If we rely on an Egyptian parallel, then, we would conclude that size may be significant and meaningful in Harappan symbols.  Small signs may not indicate the same thing as larger ones, even where other details are the same.  Details (whether internal or external) should also be considered significant until there is unequivocal evidence that they are not meaningful.  Thus, we would be quite hesitant to group together the simple DIAMOND and the one with internal detail, VEE IN DIAMOND.  We would not group together the SMALL SQUARE and the RECTANGLE.  We would not even group together the CIRCLE which is rounded and the OVAL which is pointed at both ends.
The earliest script found in southern Iraq is termed proto-cuneiform.  In this symbol system, circles also come in more than one size and this distinction has meaning.  Both types of circle most frequently function as numerical symbols, indicating measures or quantities.  A small circle can represent either 10 measures of grain or 10 head of cattle, while the larger circle indicates 3,600 measures of grain but does not figure in measure of cattle (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 119).  Context may or may not make the distinction clear to a modern reader, but presumably the ancient scribes knew what they were counting or measuring in all cases.
Small and large circles represent these same two numbers, 10 and 3600 respectively, in the proto-Elamite sexagesimal enumeration system, which was used to count discrete inanimate objects (Englund 2001).  The smaller circle also appears in other proto-Elamite numerical systems.  It has the value of 10 in the decimal system used to count discrete animate objects, and 10 as well in both bisexagesimal systems, one of which enumerates grain, the other rations (larger and smaller measures differ in each enumeration system). 
In the capacity system used for barley, the small circle has a slightly different role.  Ten barley measures indicated with the smaller circle are the equivalent of a single measure indicated by the larger circle.  Neither circle, in simple and unmodified form, appears among the capacities for emmer wheat, so these are not abstract numerals.  In proto-Elamite area measures, six of the smallest area (each represented by a horizontally positioned wedge) make up the second measure (represented by a similar wedge with an impressed circle inside), of which three make up the measure represented by the small circle.  Ten small circles make up a single measure represented by a large circle.  Thus, while a given symbol may have more than one specific meaning, in context its distinct uses become clear.  In each case, size is significant, while shape often is, though not invariably.  Thus, the proto-cuneiform scripts used in Sumer and Elam suggest that size and shape may prove significant among Indus symbols as well.
However, the evidence from the Near East is somewhat equivocal on this matter.  Among non-numerical symbols, proto-cuneiform makes use of a symbol termed LAGAB.  The variant LAGAB~a is a circle which came to mean “block (of wood), slab (of stone), trunk (of a tree).”  However, early on, this symbol was often used to represent a head of small cattle, especially a type of sheep.  Internal markings might indicate something about the specifics of age or gender.  A pointed oval, vertically positioned is KI@n, which came to mean “earth, place, area, ground.”  A diamond shape is HI, which came to mean “to mix; mixed.”  Variants of the latter include HI@g~a with internal striping and HI@g~b, which is a horizontal oval, pointed at the ends, also with internal striping.  The variant of the first symbol, LAGAB~b is a square.  Thus, the circle and square are variants of one another, to a certain extent, though the square variant contains other symbols less often.  And the diamond and oval shapes are variants of each other, although once again the oval variant seems less common.  And this oval variant is invariably horizontally positioned, in contrast to KI, which is normally oval but vertically positioned.  So, it would seem that some distinctions are more important than others and context helps to make the difference.
In the earliest Chinese writing, found on so-called oracle bones, and in the somewhat later system called Old Seal writing, there is a circular symbol once again.  This is now pronounced wei2, “a round, a circumference, an enclosure; to contain” (Wieger 1965: 188).  In later calligraphic writing, this circle becomes a square.  As a radical (part of a compound sign or character), the circle most often holds another symbol inside it.  We may thus consider it the Chinese version of the large circle.  For example, with the pictograph of a pig inside, it becomes hun4, “sty.”  A circle of the same size as the enclosure, but with a dot or short horizontal line inside, is ri4, “sun, day” (Wieger 1965: 311).   
These and other circular characters found in early Chinese become squares in later calligraphy.  Thus, while a square and a circle are equivalent in Chinese, each symbol has its own place.  A circle and a square do not normally appear together in an inscription or passage, although one might see Old Seal style in a “chop” or signature seal, or in other special circumstances alongside normal calligraphic characters.  There is no diamond in this symbol system.  Since the Indus script does not seem to change its character over time, the Chinese model suggests that the contemporary shapes of angular and rounded signs of varying sizes may represent different ideas and should not be conflated.
In conclusion, I tend to think a CIRCLE may be either a real circle or an oval, but not a square or a diamond (II9).  A SQUARE may be either a real square or a RECTANGLE, but not a circle or a diamond (IV4 AND IV5).  Finally, a DIAMOND may be small or full sized, but it is not a circle, not an oval, not a square, and not a rectangle.  It is, quite simply, a diamond.  And while it is the basis of the some of the most common Indus signs, it is surprisingly rare elsewhere.  Except for the one instance in the older dictionary, it does not seem to occur in Egyptian.  Nor does it seem to appear in Old Chinese.  As an individual symbol, it does not appear in the rock art of North America.  It only shows up in multiples, where it is essentially an artifact of either strings of “XXXXX,” or else a grid that is angled (Newcomb 1996: 188, Pl. 138, no. 19-B, string of X’s; 196, Pl. 147, no. 23-G, chain of X’s; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 176, fig. 113b, tilted grid; 196, fig. 133e).
It is present in Luwian hieroglyphs, where it represents the syllable mi.  I mentioned earlier the appearance of the diamond in proto-cuneiform, as HI.  A diamond also appears in the Old European markings of the Danube Valley, often with a central dot (OE 218).  In Hopi art, in the American Southwest, a diamond shape can represent the world (Kabotie 1982: 35).  It also occurs in proto-Elamite (M218).


Budge, E.A.Wallis. 1978. An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary in Two Volumes. Vol. II. New York: Dover. (orig. 1920)

Hesselt van Dinter, Maarten. 2006. Tribal Tattoo Designs from the Americas. Mundurucu Publishers.

Kabotie, Fred. 1982. Designs from the Ancient Mimbrenos with a Hopi Interpretation. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press.

Old European:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fortunate Fours

The apparent numeral “four” appears in three different forms in the Indus script.  The first form I term FOUR QUOTES as it has the appearance of four short vertical strokes.  I number this sign IV1 as it is the first of the four-stroke signs in my list.  It appears also as KP124(a), W200, and although Fairservis does not show it separately in his list of symbols, he notes that it occurs 70 times (1992: 62).  This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Wells gives the frequency of FOUR QUOTES as 34, rather less than Fairservis’ figure.  Wells’ information notes 23 occurrences at Mohenjo daro, seven at Harappa, and one each at Lothal, Kalibangan, Banawali, and Surkotada.
 Tablet H-982 from Harappa, showing CUP and FOUR POSTS,
plus DOTTED DONUT motif (Shah and Parpola 1991: 343)
“Four” also takes the form of FOUR POSTS or four long vertical strokes, IV2.  This is also KP124c and KP150, W209, and Fs O-4.  Fairservis considers this both a numeral, in its adjectival form, and the semi-homophonous words “good; day; time” (in Dravidian).  He states that this form occurs 64 times while Wells notes its occurrence only four times (once at Mohenjo daro, three times at Lothal).

Four short strokes appear in Luwian hieroglyphs not as a numeral but to represent the syllable mi (Halet 1999: 90).  This is a bit puzzling since the word for “four” in Luwian is mawa.  Given this fact, one would expect the symbol to represent ma instead.  It does not.  Note that four short strokes or dots are also non-enumerative in Old Chinese, where they represent the feet of the horse in ma3 and the tail feathers of the bird in niao3.  Of course, these characters looked more like the critters in Old Chinese (see, e.g., Wieger 1965: 307 for the horse).
Luwian hieroglyphic inscription; note
four-stroke symbol in upper left of second register

Proto-Elamite has two signs comprised of four marks.  One of these is made with four parallel lines (M012).  The other is made with four overlapping wedges (M379~c).  Both are likely to be numerals.  A similar sign is a combination of one long horizontal line alongside the four overlapping wedges (M001 + M379~c).  This is also likely to represent a numeral.  Proto-cuneiform also has various ways of representing the numeral “four,” one of which is with four parallel lines (N57).

There appear to be sets of tally marks in the rock art of North America and among these sets there are some containing four lines.  In Texas, for example, there is a set of four between two sets of five shorts on the left and three sets of three shorts each on the right, all of which together form an arc over a horned anthropoid (Newcomb 1996: 39, Pl. 9, no. 1).  In the collection from the Far West, there are four very short marks between two considerably longer lines, or four “quotes” between two “posts” (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 170, fig. 107e).  In the same grouping, there is also a second set of four marks above a larger group of twelve and a group of thirteen marks. 

Instances of “four” are considerably easier to find than other numbers (e.g., also see 1996: 39, Pl. 9, no. 2; 107, Pl. 68, 27-A; 116, Pl. 73 and Pl. 74; 1984: 170, fig. 107f).  In my posts on the number three, I noted that many Native American groups consider the number four to be especially significant.  This is typically based on the four cardinal directions as among the Navaho, or the solstice points as among the Lakota.  But this reverence for “four” is not universal in the Western Hemisphere, since at least one California tribe considers “five” to be the cosmically significant number instead.

The third form in which Indus “four” appears is the STACKED FOUR, two strokes over two strokes, IV3.  This appears as KP124b, where it is shown with the upper row symmetrically placed over the lower row.  It also occurs as W218 where the upper row is offset.  Only one instance is cited here (M-260).  Fairservis also notes this form, numbering it O-5, with the same remarks as the previous form (FOUR POSTS).  He does not seem to give its frequency.  But I see a symmetrically grouped STACKED FOUR on H-472, a less symmetrically grouped set on B-3, another asymmetrical group on Skh-3 (a pot shard from Sarai Khola), others on pot shard from Rahman-Dheri, including Rhd-20, Rhd-21, and Rhd-22.  The last of these resembles the points of a diamond, the way it is made.  
Proto-cuneiform wedge-shaped numerals (Schmandt-Besserat 1992: 192);
Tablet shows accounts of sheep, Uruk, Iraq, from Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

On the other hand, M-260, the single instance which Wells cites, is actually 2 x 2 x 2 and thus a peculiar STACKED SIX or else BI-QUOTES directly over STACKED FOUR.  Since there is a CARTWHEEL to the left, it may well be the latter.  There is another odd instance like this, on Sktd-1 from Surkotada.  Here it is more clearly BI-QUOTES directly over FOUR QUOTES because the “quotes” are lined up horizontally so that they extend beyond the BI-QUOTES.  One final possible instance is H-348A, a tablet which seems to be a STACKED THREE, but also seems to be broken off right where the bottom right “quote” would be if it were, instead, a STACKED FOUR.  So it is hard to say for certain that it was not intended to be the latter.  We may also note, among the more doubtful instances, the dice-like arrangement of the motif of “four dotted donuts” on M-1259 and M-1260.

We may note that in Luwian hieroglyphs, there are four symmetrically stacked quotes inside bent verticals in the syllabic sign ki.  And in Old Chinese, two strings of two circles joined by a very short vertical line, with an additional short vertical on top makes the character yu1.  “It is the meaning of [yao1 from the Old Chinese single string of two joined circles] reinforced.  Very slender, almost invisible” (Wieger 1965: 226).  These are circles rather than quote-like marks, but there are four, symmetrically arranged as in one version of the Indus sign.  Both the Luwian and Chinese examples suggest that a symbol that appears numerical need not be so.

Quotation-like marks appear in Texas, stacked symmetrically in a group of four, to the right of a long horizontal line and below another long horizontal line that has two prongs (Newcomb 1996: 183, Pl. 130, 9-D).  All this stands above a schematic anthropoid figure.  When I wrote of the TRI-FORK, I noted that some scholars think it may represent a bird track.  It is possible that some instances of a “stacked four” may be intended as a representation of a scorpion track, in a like manner.  The track of a scorpion is a somewhat different set of stacked marks.  It is almost as though the stack were tilted to make dots at the corners of a diamond shape ( 2010).
Four quote marks appear often in ligatures in the Indus script, most frequently in a standardized position that Wells terms “caging.”  In this position one quote mark is placed in each corner around the central symbol, one in the upper right, one in the upper left, one in the lower right, and one in the lower left.  Only one sign has the FOUR QUOTES as a ligature in its horizontal row as it appears independently in IV1.  That ligature is KP30, the MAN HOLDING FOUR QUOTES, a ten-stroke sign.  It is possible that KP328 also does, the POTTED FOUR, in which a “U” shaped symbol with “F” shaped projections on either side (the POT) contains four short strokes.  However, although all lists show a POTTED ONE, POTTED TWO, and POTTED THREE, only the KP list has a POTTED FOUR.  This suggests that its existence is not agreed upon.

Indus signs containing caging include the following, identified by KP numbers:

Ears and More Boats: The Last of the Threes

This post will contain a discussion of the last few three-stroke signs of the Indus script.  Each of these is a bit peculiar, one way or the other.  None is particularly common.  The first is CEE WITH EAR / BACK CEE WITH EAR, III34.  There are two variants, as is typical for signs based on the "C"-like curve, which I am only tentatively grouping together here.  They are not mirror images of each other this time, however, even though the name makes it sound like it.  And the precise form of each variant seems to be a bit of a mystery.

Replica of Indus tablet with PRAWN WITH ATTACHED FINLESS FISH symbol

The "a" variant was formerly KP158, in which list it appears as a backward "C" shape with a small "v" or triangle affixed to the upper part of the outside.  It does not appear in Fairservis' list.  Wells' W579 has DOUBLE BACK CEES WITH EAR (although, of course, he only shows the symbol and does not name it), giving its frequency as two occurrences (M-1274 and M-1277).  The reason he has grouped two "cees" together is clear from these two occurrences, where the CEE WITH EAR is followed by a simple CEE both times.  In one instance, this pair is preceded by TWO POSTS (in M-2377).  In the second instance, the pair is followed by the TWO POSTS (in M-1274).  Thus, although the "posts" seem to travel with the "cees," the position of the posts wanders while the relative position of the two cees does not.  If one wishes to be very precise, the location and form of the "ear" also vary slightly between these two instances.  The "ear" is lower and more rounded in M-1274, higher and more angular in M-1277 (perhaps to be coded "ai" and "aii" for the very precise).

The "b" variant was formerly KP164, in which list it appears as a "C" shape with the little "v" in the upper inside rather than outside.  Again the sign is not in Fairservis' list.  Wells' W581 also makes this a CEE form, stating that it is a singleton (H-5).  On the actual seal, it like the previous forms proves to have been reversed in both lists.  It is a backward "C" with a high, angular "ear," appearing in initial position before seven other signs.  Hence, it is distinctively different from the previous sign but is made by combining the same two elements.  This recalls the rather ad hoc nature of gunification in proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite, where scribes would modify basic signs with a few strokes in a variety of non-standardized ways, to modify meaning.  The precise rules governing this system are not fully understood, nor are the modified meanings always fully understood.  But apparently several different types of modification could be made to indicate similar meanings.

There are two proto-Elamite signs with an apparent "ear" that one may examine for parallels to this element.  The first is a triangle with an "ear" (M106~b).  The second is a diamond shape with an added "ear," a form which has two variants which differ in the placement and angle of the appended "ear" (M265).

The tear-shaped element with an "X" may represent a cowrie shell,
offerings to ancestors (Wieger 1965: 372).

Old Chinese lacks an exact parallel.  But there is a similar instance where a small element made with two strokes is added to change the meaning of a basic sign.  This is zheng1, the basic meaning of which is given as "immutability, constancy, perseverance" (Wieger 1965: 150).  It represents the cowrie shell, originally an oval with two horizontal stripes, standing upon two short vertical strokes.  This object was a form of currency in ancient China and this is what the symbol represents in the character, or did originally.  On top of the cowrie symbol is added a small vertical line to which is affixed a shorter horizontal on the right.  This is essential part of the character that means "above," and which implies one of the two possible answers heaven could give to a question when an oracle was consulted.  Thus, the derivation of the character, "the salary of a fortune-teller; a sun of cowries given to the man who singes the [tortoise] shell....The answer received was considered as most certain, most firm, and most immutable, hence the derived meanings: immutability...." (op. cit.).  The "above" sign added to the top of cowrie is unlike the Indus "ear" graphically, but is added to the basic character to change the meaning in what might be a similar manner functionally.

The next sign is extremely problematic because I have not actually seen it and none of the sources I have at hand list it.  It appears only on a list prepared by Wells for a PhD dissertation, a list that appeared in another online source.  But I lack access to the dissertation itself.  I term it DEE ON POST as its form is a very small "D" shape which is tilted back at an angle, on a long vertical.  I number it III35.  It is probably a rare variant of the SPEAR, a four-stroke sign to be discussed later.

In the rock art of Nevada and eastern California, there a similar motif with a less tilted top portion to the left of a dotted circle (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 153, fig. 90p).  Old Chinese has a very remote parallel in nan4, "stiff slope of a high mountain" (Wieger 1965: 155).  This does not have a vertical stroke at the bottom, but something like a backward "7" with its stem pulled outward.  On top is a "U" shaped element with an upside-down "Y" inside.

I mentioned the CEE BOAT WITH PADDLE in passing before, but now I include it as a three-stroke sign, since that is the way Wells shows it (W123).  In his representation, it is a "less than" sign with a shorter backward "cee" overlapping on the right side.  The KP166 version is two curved strokes.  It does not appear in Fairservis in either form.  Wells states that it occurs six times: M-159 (attached to STRIPED BATTERY), M-281, M-390, M-1638, H-7, and C-8 (attached to STRIPED BATTERY).  As noted, I see it as part of a ligature in two of these instances, one of which I show in a replica which is every bit as obscure as the original.  Only one instance, M-1638, which appears on a bangle, actually takes the form that Wells shows.  All others are reversed.  One of these, M-390, is actually a four-stroke sign since the lower "cee" portion is as angular as the taller part.

The closest parallel to this Indus sign is the proto-cuneiform BU~a in its wavy-stemmed form.  It too has a long segment and an attached short segment.  These cross over at the far end, leaving a bulging element.  The effect is to make the symbol resemble a bulb or bud.  There are a number of BU syllables in later Sumerian, one of which later means "to sprout."  Perhaps that is what this symbol means (and maybe not since there are quite a few other possibilities).

Sign III37 is FAT LEG LAMBDA, a backslash which appears to be leaning against, and resting upon, a triangular leg.  This is another sign which I have not seen myself but found in the fuller list prepared by Wells for his doctoral dissertation.  I do have a sign I call FAT LEG LAMBDA, but all the versions I observe have at least one stripe.  We will discuss these when we come to them.

The last of the three-stroke signs is BOAT WITH PADDLE & HIGH PROW, III38.  This is a dreadful name, especially since the symbol appears only once, on seal M-331.  I include it here because of its prior appearance as KP167 where it is depicted with curving lines.  On the seal it is made with angular lines and takes five strokes.  It is properly a "less than" sign with a smaller, low "greater than" sign attached and overlapping.  The overlap, which occurs at the bottom, creates the "paddle."  At the top, resting on the sign, is a backslash, the "high prow."  Perhaps we could rename this character "SEATED WOMAN" in reference to its faint resemblance to the modern Chinese character, nu3, "woman."  This character has no head but the legs seem to be crossed in the same way as in the Indus sign.  Maybe this could be a "WOMAN WITH HAT."  Weigh in with suggestions.