Friday, September 17, 2010

Bird Tracks

The next Indus sign is III10, QUOTE UNDER CHEVRON.  It looks like the letter "I" with a chevron over it, but I call it "quote" because the "I" portion is generally short.  It has also been KP138 and W243 but Fairservis does not list it.  Wells states that it only occurs doubled.  If that were true, it should be included in the 6-stroke signs.  On seals, it does appear followed by another QUOTE UNDER CHEVRON.  But on pots, it appears singly. 
Three-toed bird tracks ("Local Tracks of North America:
Quick-Guide to Commonly Seen Animal Tracks & Scats")

At first I thought it might be a variant of the more common SPEAR, a triangle on a post.  However, it appears along with the SPEAR in at least two instances (L-98 and M-650).  So it is not a variant of that sign.  It may be related to the next sign, SKEWERED CHEVRON, the sign I call the ARROW which is essentially a chevron on a post, and perhaps even the ANKH.  But all this is highly speculative.  Wells states that it occurs 6 times, ignoring the pots such as Hd-7.

There is nothing quite so simple as this in Egyptian hieroglyphs, but Luwian has a hieroglyph almost exactly like it.  The arrow, a chevron on a post, is the Luwian symbol for the syllable zi.  Although this is not listed as a sign in the Indus script to my knowledge, I seem to see it among those identified as the SKEWERED CHEVRON in Wells' list (K-9, H-597c impression).  Another Luwian sign appears to take similar elements and turn them about.  Recalling the tendency for the QUOTE UNDER CHEVRON to be doubled in inscriptions, note that Luwian mi is represented by | ( over the same two symbols.  In fact, the curve is more pronounced than in the parenthesis.
"Skewered Chevron" below Zigzag on pot

In the rock art of North America in both Texas and the far west, a bisected "V" or "U" shape appears often, sometimes ending with the base of the apparent letter, sometimes ending early and not attaching, sometimes penetrating and passing through (Newcomb 1996: 131, Pl. 87; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984; 143, fig. 79h; 151, fig. 98j).  These may be bird tracks.  In the Australian collection, the prints are shown in the opposite orientation, as a "V" shape rather than a chevron, with a dot at the bottom, two strokes at diagonals from this making a "V" shape, and a taller vertical (Flood 1997: 107, M section).  The dot and these lines are not attached and these are described as engraved bird tracks, at Red Gorge (or Deception Creek), Flinders Ranges, South Australia. 

The fact that the QUOTE UNDER CHEVRON generally appears in pairs may also indicate a possibility of it representing footprints.  The tracks of a variety of birds do present a three-pronged shape, or three toes forward and a fourth pointing backward, with many leaving an open space or a small dot at the join ( 2010, PioneerCA).  Examples in North America include the heron, eagle, hawk, raven, and wild turkey.  The track of the great horned owl shows a different sort of pattern.

But I would not want to press this too far.  In Old Chinese there is a reasonably close parallel as well, go4, "A twig of bamboo, with a knot, and the whorl of pending branches inserted in the knot....By extension, an article.  Specificative of unities" (Wieger 1965: 198).  So, if the Indus symbol is not a footprint, perhaps it is a twig with a knot in it!

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