Friday, September 24, 2010

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.

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