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.


  1. Do you as a rule solely for this domain or you do this for other online or offline networks?

    1. This is my only active blog, if that's what you're asking. I am not part of any offline network concerned with symbols.