Friday, September 10, 2010

The Finless Fish or Looped Cord

One of the more familiar looking symbols in the Indus script is a little loop (KP49, W131, Fairservis L-3).  Parpola considers it a version of a fish, as do most would-be decipherers, but Fairservis disagrees.  If it's a fish, it's standing on its tail fins, something most fish don't do very often.  So Fairservis has recourse to Egyptian hieroglyphs, where Gardiner's V7 looks the same, a loop of cord with ends downward, the biliteral sh-n (in other words a symbol representing two consonant sounds).  The same little looped cord but with the ends pointing upward also appears in Egyptian, numbered V6 in Gardiner's list, representing a somewhat different biliteral, sh-s.

ICHTHYS (Carroll's Roofing)
Because of these Egyptian cords, Fairservis also identifies his L-3 as a loop or twist (in weaving).  Oddly enough, he doesn't think it occurs as an independent grapheme, but considers it a regular affix.  It appears on top of a sign which Korvink identifies as a banyan tree and which I term the DUBYA.  It is basically "U" shaped but has an additional vertical line rising from its center.  Each of the upright prongs has a small loop perched on top.  If this "banyan" indeed represents a plant, these can't be fish.  They are much more likely to represent leaves or flowers (see KP117a and 118; the first of these is L-6 in Fairservis' list).  There is also a sign that resembles a net or quilt with lines crossing each other in a grid-like fashion, although the whole thing is slanted.  At the bottom of this slanted net, there are three of these loops or "fishes."  This sign does not appear in the KP list.  It is L-7 in Fairservis' list.  I would point out in addition the small loop attached beside what I term the STRIPED BATTERY (KP291).

ICHTHYS (Gideon's House Cleaning)

Whatever the loop represents, I number it II10, as it takes two strokes to draw and it is the tenth in my list of two-strokes signs.  Wells finds two independent occurrences of this symbol, despite Fairservis, both at Kalibangan.  Each appears alone on a pot shard.  Wells states that there is only one variant but that depends on how one looks at it.  I see it a bit differently.  K-110 holds a long and thin FINLESS FISH.  K-111 is lop-sided, with the left side fairly straight like its sister, but the right side bulging outward.  Since each of these instances is all alone on its bit of a pot, one could actually turn it any which way.  We only know the sign is standing on its back fins because of its orientation in ligatures.  One could conceivably argue that the independent sign is swimming along horizontally as most fish do.

Be that as it may, There are other loop-shaped parallels in Egyptian hieroglyphs besides V6 and V7 (previously mentioned).  There is the rolled up herdsman's shelter of papyrus (V17) and its Old Kingdom variant (V18), the papyrus stem (M13), and perhaps even the Dynasty XII variant of the lotus rhizome (M32).  The last of these is the least likely since it adds four or five vertical prongs to the top of the loop.

In proto-cuneiform, the shape of the beer container shown by Denise Schmandt-Besserat is vaguely reminiscent of the looped cord (1996: 73).  The Cuneiform Digital Library also provides parallels, including DU8~c (probably a type of vessel), DUG~b (probably a standard siz of earthen vessel), GESHTIN~c x X (probably a variant of the symbol for wine if we ignore the other tidbit), and GIR2~b (probably a knife or dagger, ignoring a rounded "A" shape at one end).

A shape similar to the beer jug is used in Luwian for ANNUS, "year," the outline of which is reminiscent of the Indus FINLESS FISH.  Proto-Elamite provides a number of broadly similar signs, including M260, M270~c, M277~ha, M278, and M312.  Some of these add a third vertical line between the back "fins" (although in proto-Elamite it is actually horizontal because of the orientation of all signs in that direction).  Some add a line in the other direction, joining the bottoms of these "back fins."  These may be more beer jugs.  And some are more angular than the Indus sign, another typical feature of proto-Elamite.

II10 CORD page 1

There is a shape much like the FINLESS FISH, head downward, that appears in the Old Chinese character zhi4.  "It represents a bird that, bending up its wings, darts down straight towards the ___ earth....By extension, to go to, to arrive, to reach, etc." (Wieger, 1965: 303).  The fish-like element is inside a "U" shape, this element itself resting on an upside-down "T" shape.  The whole character is the 133rd radical.

II10 CORD page 2
The loop is not common in rock art, but does appear both in North America and Australia (Newcomb 1996: 154 Pl. 107 no. 4; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 152 fig. 89a; Flood 1997: 112).  In the Land Down Under the image appears associated with giant engraved bird tracks at Eucolo Creek, South Australia.

In the accompanying illustrations, I have included two images from the local paper, the Greenville Herald Banner, dated August 19, 2010.  Two ICHTHYS images come from ads, the more slender variant from Carroll Roofing, the plump variant from Gideon's House Cleaning Service.  In Texas the fish is relatively common in advertising as well as on bumper stickers, in jewelry, and on personal items. 

FINLESS FISH is associated with Christianity here, although I have yet to encounter anyone, Christian or otherwise, who can fully explain that association.  I have been told that the letters represent the name of Jesus and his titles epithets in Greek, but no one appears capable of reciting all of these.  The most ample recitation is as follows:  "Iesys Christos Thanatos....(much head scratching here)....Savior!" 

This last word doesn't sound terribly Greek to my ears, I must say.  Besides that, we seem to have missed a letter.  But one mustn't quibble about symbol interpretation when it involves sensitive matters such as religion.  If we were to quibble, we might also suppose that somebody or other once turned over some tables once upon a time over an issue having to do with the making of a holy place into a den of thieves.  One might suggest that mixing commercial operations with holy images could be a related issue.  But one might upset the wrong people if one did that, so we shan't get into that. 

We will simply note that ICHTHYS always swims horizontally in commercial ads, on necklaces, in store windows, on biscuit boxes, etc.  He never stands on his tail fins or on his head, even when he is running out of room.  When cramped for space, he simply gets smaller and squatter.


Cambel, Halet. 1999. Corpus of Hieroglyphic Inscriptions. Vol. II. Karatepe-Aslantas. New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Damerow, Peter and Robert Englund. 1989. The Proto-Elamite Texts from Tepe Yahya. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University.

Fairservis, Walter. 1992. The Harappan Civilization and Its Writing: A Moderl for the Decipherment of the Indus Script. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Flood, Josephine. 1997. Rock Art of the Dreamtime: Images of Ancient Austrlia. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Gardiner, Sir Alan. 1976. Egyptian Grammar. Oxford: Griffith Institute and Ashmolean Museum.

Heizer, Robert and Martin Baumhoff. 1984. Prehistoric Rock Art of Nevada and Eastern California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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

Keightley, David. 1985. Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Korvink, Michael Pieter. 2007. The Indus Script: A Positional-Statistical Approach. Gilund Press (Amazon).

Koskenniemi, Kimmo and Asko Parpola. 1982. A Concordance to the Texts in the Indus Script. Helsinki: Department of Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki.

Newcomb, Franc and Gladys A. Reichard. 1975. Sandpaintings of the Navajo Shooting Chant. New York: Dover.

Newcomb Jr., W.W. 1996. The Rock Art of Texas Indians. Austin: University of Texas.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. 1996. How Writing Came About. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Wells, Bryan. 1998. An Introduction to Indus Writing: A Thesis. Calgary: The University of Calgary.

No comments:

Post a Comment