One of the most common symbols in the Indus script looks like our double quotation marks: " though only a single pair appears in any one inscription. This pair of short vertical marks may appear up high, even with the tops of other signs, or it may appear down further, about midway between the tops and the bottoms of the other symbols.
I call this sign the BI-QUOTES and assign it the number II1. The Roman numeral indicates that it takes two strokes to draw it and the Arabic numeral indicates that it is the first of the two-stroke signs in my list. Because of the positional distinction, it has two KP designations, KP122a when high and KP122b when low. I add the same "a" and "b" designations for the positional distinctions to II1 as well. Wells gives it the number 193, noting that it occurs 481 times, though he considers it to have no variants. Fairservis designates it P-2 and suggests that it is a marker of the locative case and the homophonous prefix il, meaning "house." It regularly pairs with a number of signs, including those I call CIRCLED VEE, VEE IN DIAMOND, and CARTWHEEL, among others.
Michael Korvink did a statistical study of the more frequent Indus signs, including this one (2007). He concluded from this study that particular signs functioned in such a way as to cause others to precede them in an inscription. Three symbols functioned in this "pushing forward" manner, one which resembles a single quotation mark (my SINGLE QUOTE, discussed in a previous post), another which need not concern us at the moment but which I call the PINCH, and the BI-QUOTES. Korvink calls these three signs "prefixes," a somewhat unfortunate term since the signs themselves do not precede but cause other signs to become prefixes, in effect. One might think of them, rather, as prefix-makers rather than as the prefixes themselves. In any case, the BI-QUOTES appears to have this function, causing one or more signs to move to the forward position of an inscription.
There are similar symbols in the early writing systems of other places. For example, in Egyptian hieroglyphs, a glyph resembling a Roman numeral II, but leaning to the left, represents an irrigation canal (N23). It appears in the word t3, "land." Another glyph is simply two strokes (Z4). These are most often backslashes, but less often two vertical strokes. They represent dual number. That's something we don't have in English. We have singular, as in dog, man, horse, machine. Then we have plural, as in dogs, men, horses, machines. The -s on the end of most plural words tells us that something is plural, although some words are irregular in the way they form plurals, and "men" is an example. But in ancient Egyptian there was a dual number for instances of just two of something, in between singular and plural. When they wrote the dual, they wrote the word for the object or being and then added the two strokes (Gardiner 1975: 536-7). If it was plural, they added three strokes.
They also sometimes used those two strokes to replace two human figures in certain hieroglyphs when they thought the real thing was magically dangerous. By the time of Middle Egyptian, they even used the two strokes when they just wanted the sound usually associated with the dual and the meaning had nothing to do with twoness -- which confuses students of hieroglyphics to this day!
In Chinese, two strokes that were once more or less vertical (something like a slash and backslash nowadays) carry the meaning of the number 8. This is ba1 "etymological sense, to divide, to partake," according to Wieger (1965: 57). And, of course, two horizontal strokes, stacked one on top of the other, is the number 2, erh4.
It is relatively easy to find examples of two short strokes in the rock art of North America (Newcomb 1996: 211, Pl. 156 no. 15; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 142, fig. 79c). The same appears in the rock art of Australia also (Flood 1997: 233). The latter sometimes have still shorter marks attached, so that instead of double quotation marks, the symbol resembles the letter "L" on the right beside a backward version of the same letter on the left. This paired set of marks is likely a representation of an animal's footprint, just as a common mark resembling a trident is likely a representation of a bird's footprint. What is not so clear is whether the simple BI-QUOTES, whether in Australia or elsewhere, is meant to represent such a print.
In the proto-cuneiform symbol system of ancient Iraq, a sign similar to the BI-QUOTES is designated TAR~a. It evolved into a word that meant "to cut (off), separate, smoke, destroy." The number 2 also involved two simple marks, but this time two short wedges pressed into the clay, one on top of the other.
Centuries later, in western Anatolia (western Turkey), Luwian hieroglyphic writing included symbols that resembled double quotation marks also, but in this case doubled double quotation marks. That is to say, they look like four little vertical marks, quadruple quotation marks. This is the symbol for the syllable mi, which might possibly have some distant connection to the Luwian word for "four," namely mawa.
My symbol II2 is TWO POSTS, two tall vertical strokes (KP 122b and KP145 for some reason, and W195). Fairservis designates this sign O-2, defining it as the number 2 in adjectival form and a prefix in proper names, as well as the homophonous word "to pull, draw (a plow)."
In Old Chinese, there were two characters written with two horizontal lines besides the number two. The old form of shang4, "high," had a short horizontal above and a long horizontal below. The reverse, with the long horizontal on top and the short horizontal below, was xia4, "low" (Wieger 1965: 28-29). The modern characters now have a vertical in them, joining the two horizontals and passing beyond the shorter one. In addition, "low" has lost the horizontal position of its shorter stroke. It's now diagonal.
In Egyptian, the numerals from one to ten could be written simply as vertical strokes, so "two" could be indicated as in Roman numerals: II. This is much the same in proto-cuneiform, although the strokes are horizontal rather than vertical (as in Chinese). Proto-Elamite also has two horizontal strokes (M009). Similar marks which appear to be tally marks appear in the rock art of North America (Newcomb 1996: 211, Pl. 156, no. 1; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 162, fig. 99 a). In Australia, there are two nearly parallel grooves at Nackara Springs in the Olary region in South Australia (Flood 1997: 105). These are fairly deep amid many other engraved lines that run in many directions, often criss-crossing one another, often shallow. Two almost parallel lines form an engraved motif at Sundown Point in northwest Tasmania, too (Flood 1997: 233).
Wells indicates that TWO POSTS are less common than the BI-QUOTES. The first of these appears 115 times versus 481 occurrences of the second. As noted earlier, the second is most likely not a numeral but functions as a prefix creator. TWO POSTS may be a numeral and certainly looks like one. I will dedicate a post to the apparent numerals of the Indus script later, as this is not a simple point. Suffice it to say for now that, at the very least, the inscriptions that occur on seals and "tablets" are completely unlike the types of clay tablets of Mesopotamia. A great many of the Sumerian and Babylonian tablets deal with economic activities and are, in effect, accounting records. But the Indus script does not seem to have been used for that purpose. People would not bother to carve their daily receipts in stone or cast them in metal. And these are the main sorts of materials on which inscriptions appear in the Indus script. So they are hardly likely to be economic records like those found in Sumer, Babylon, and Elam. Thus we shall have to do a bit of detective work to discover what function the numerals serve in the Indus script. It probably won't be as simple as "three pots of beer" and "ten acres of land."
The last point about quotes and posts concerns ligatures. A ligature is a combination of two signs to make a third sign. For example, there is a sign that is a stick figure of a person, which I call MAN. We have just seen TWO POSTS. Combining these in a ligature creates a third sign: MAN BETWEEN DOUBLE POSTS. It is just what it sounds like, the same stick figure of a person between two vertical lines. There are about five different signs which involve placing an otherwise independent sign between DOUBLE POSTS in this way. In a similar fashion, three ligatures involve placing a sign between leaning lines, that is between a slash and backslash.
The CEE and BACK CEE (or parentheses) that I discussed in the previous post are also ligatured. Six different signs include the use of these in the same manner as our parentheses (one with an additional feature which I call the EAR). Two use paired BACK CEES and two reverse the positions of the usual parentheses.
The SINGLE POST is attached to another sign in eight ligatures. Either a short vertical or a short diagonal line is added even more often, which may be considered ligatures of SINGLE QUOTE -- about 19 or 20 of these, depending on how one looks at it. The SINGLE QUOTE is also multiplied into four and distributed around the four corners of a number of signs in what Wells termed "caging." This was a popular form of ligature, a method doubled in some cases. There are about 19 instances of caging with four quotes, four cases of caging with eight quotes, and two more peculiar ligatures where the four or eight quotes aren't quite the same. That all adds up to 25 "cages," more or less, which makes it the most popular form of ligature so far.
The Harappans also like to add other features to certain signs, including little tridents, occasionally a little fish, an element I call the TABLE, and the more prosaic CHEVRON. We will discuss each of these in turn when its turn comes in the list. The last of the single-stroke signs was passed over as hardly worth mentioning, but I'll throw it in now. It is the ESS or BACK ESS, I4. It resembles the letter "S," but is much less curved and rarely shows up. It is probably a smoothed out variant of the zigzag, in my opinion, and we can leave discussion of it until we reach the more interesting zigzag.
The most interesting thing about BI-QUOTES and DOUBLE POSTS is that there are two of each. And 2 is the first number that little children really seem to understand in a concrete fashion. They discover that people have two eyes, two ears, and two nostrils on their faces, that they have two arms and two legs on their bodies. So they comes to expect many more things to come in twoes. A certain little girl of whom I am very fond discovered at the age of 12 months that she had a birthmark on the side of one leg. She promptly turned the other leg over to see the marks on that leg. She was very upset when she did not see anything there and kept looking from the one leg to the other, squawking with more and more distress and the mismatch. Up to that point everything had come in twoes, in her experience. She wasn't prepared for this flaw in design! A certain little boy of whom I am also very fond learned the word for two long before any other number word. When I gave the kiddoes a cookie each, he would hold out his empty hand and say, "two." Two hands means little boys should have two cookies, too! Well, why not!