The apparent numeral “four” appears in three different forms in the Indus script. The first form I term FOUR QUOTES as it has the appearance of four short vertical strokes. I number this sign IV1 as it is the first of the four-stroke signs in my list. It appears also as KP124(a), W200, and although Fairservis does not show it separately in his list of symbols, he notes that it occurs 70 times (1992: 62). This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Wells gives the frequency of FOUR QUOTES as 34, rather less than Fairservis’ figure. Wells’ information notes 23 occurrences at Mohenjo daro, seven at Harappa, and one each at Lothal, Kalibangan, Banawali, and Surkotada.
Tablet H-982 from Harappa, showing CUP and FOUR POSTS,
plus DOTTED DONUT motif (Shah and Parpola 1991: 343)
“Four” also takes the form of FOUR POSTS or four long vertical strokes, IV2. This is also KP124c and KP150, W209, and Fs O-4. Fairservis considers this both a numeral, in its adjectival form, and the semi-homophonous words “good; day; time” (in Dravidian). He states that this form occurs 64 times while Wells notes its occurrence only four times (once at Mohenjo daro, three times at Lothal).
Four short strokes appear in Luwian hieroglyphs not as a numeral but to represent the syllable mi (Halet 1999: 90). This is a bit puzzling since the word for “four” in Luwian is mawa. Given this fact, one would expect the symbol to represent ma instead. It does not. Note that four short strokes or dots are also non-enumerative in Old Chinese, where they represent the feet of the horse in ma3 and the tail feathers of the bird in niao3. Of course, these characters looked more like the critters in Old Chinese (see, e.g., Wieger 1965: 307 for the horse).
Luwian hieroglyphic inscription; note
four-stroke symbol in upper left of second register
Proto-Elamite has two signs comprised of four marks. One of these is made with four parallel lines (M012). The other is made with four overlapping wedges (M379~c). Both are likely to be numerals. A similar sign is a combination of one long horizontal line alongside the four overlapping wedges (M001 + M379~c). This is also likely to represent a numeral. Proto-cuneiform also has various ways of representing the numeral “four,” one of which is with four parallel lines (N57).
There appear to be sets of tally marks in the rock art of North America and among these sets there are some containing four lines. In Texas, for example, there is a set of four between two sets of five shorts on the left and three sets of three shorts each on the right, all of which together form an arc over a horned anthropoid (Newcomb 1996: 39, Pl. 9, no. 1). In the collection from the Far West, there are four very short marks between two considerably longer lines, or four “quotes” between two “posts” (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 170, fig. 107e). In the same grouping, there is also a second set of four marks above a larger group of twelve and a group of thirteen marks.
Instances of “four” are considerably easier to find than other numbers (e.g., also see 1996: 39, Pl. 9, no. 2; 107, Pl. 68, 27-A; 116, Pl. 73 and Pl. 74; 1984: 170, fig. 107f). In my posts on the number three, I noted that many Native American groups consider the number four to be especially significant. This is typically based on the four cardinal directions as among the Navaho, or the solstice points as among the Lakota. But this reverence for “four” is not universal in the Western Hemisphere, since at least one California tribe considers “five” to be the cosmically significant number instead.
The third form in which Indus “four” appears is the STACKED FOUR, two strokes over two strokes, IV3. This appears as KP124b, where it is shown with the upper row symmetrically placed over the lower row. It also occurs as W218 where the upper row is offset. Only one instance is cited here (M-260). Fairservis also notes this form, numbering it O-5, with the same remarks as the previous form (FOUR POSTS). He does not seem to give its frequency. But I see a symmetrically grouped STACKED FOUR on H-472, a less symmetrically grouped set on B-3, another asymmetrical group on Skh-3 (a pot shard from Sarai Khola), others on pot shard from Rahman-Dheri, including Rhd-20, Rhd-21, and Rhd-22. The last of these resembles the points of a diamond, the way it is made.
Proto-cuneiform wedge-shaped numerals (Schmandt-Besserat 1992: 192);
Tablet shows accounts of sheep, Uruk, Iraq, from Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
On the other hand, M-260, the single instance which Wells cites, is actually 2 x 2 x 2 and thus a peculiar STACKED SIX or else BI-QUOTES directly over STACKED FOUR. Since there is a CARTWHEEL to the left, it may well be the latter. There is another odd instance like this, on Sktd-1 from Surkotada. Here it is more clearly BI-QUOTES directly over FOUR QUOTES because the “quotes” are lined up horizontally so that they extend beyond the BI-QUOTES. One final possible instance is H-348A, a tablet which seems to be a STACKED THREE, but also seems to be broken off right where the bottom right “quote” would be if it were, instead, a STACKED FOUR. So it is hard to say for certain that it was not intended to be the latter. We may also note, among the more doubtful instances, the dice-like arrangement of the motif of “four dotted donuts” on M-1259 and M-1260.
We may note that in Luwian hieroglyphs, there are four symmetrically stacked quotes inside bent verticals in the syllabic sign ki. And in Old Chinese, two strings of two circles joined by a very short vertical line, with an additional short vertical on top makes the character yu1. “It is the meaning of [yao1 from the Old Chinese single string of two joined circles] reinforced. Very slender, almost invisible” (Wieger 1965: 226). These are circles rather than quote-like marks, but there are four, symmetrically arranged as in one version of the Indus sign. Both the Luwian and Chinese examples suggest that a symbol that appears numerical need not be so.
Quotation-like marks appear in Texas, stacked symmetrically in a group of four, to the right of a long horizontal line and below another long horizontal line that has two prongs (Newcomb 1996: 183, Pl. 130, 9-D). All this stands above a schematic anthropoid figure. When I wrote of the TRI-FORK, I noted that some scholars think it may represent a bird track. It is possible that some instances of a “stacked four” may be intended as a representation of a scorpion track, in a like manner. The track of a scorpion is a somewhat different set of stacked marks. It is almost as though the stack were tilted to make dots at the corners of a diamond shape (localbirds.com 2010).
Four quote marks appear often in ligatures in the Indus script, most frequently in a standardized position that Wells terms “caging.” In this position one quote mark is placed in each corner around the central symbol, one in the upper right, one in the upper left, one in the lower right, and one in the lower left. Only one sign has the FOUR QUOTES as a ligature in its horizontal row as it appears independently in IV1. That ligature is KP30, the MAN HOLDING FOUR QUOTES, a ten-stroke sign. It is possible that KP328 also does, the POTTED FOUR, in which a “U” shaped symbol with “F” shaped projections on either side (the POT) contains four short strokes. However, although all lists show a POTTED ONE, POTTED TWO, and POTTED THREE, only the KP list has a POTTED FOUR. This suggests that its existence is not agreed upon.
Indus signs containing caging include the following, identified by KP numbers:
KP32 CAGED MAN HOLDING POST
KP51 CAGED FISH
KP52 CAGED FISH & BATTERY
KP57 CAGED DOT IN FISH
KP59 CAGED BELTED FISH
KP61 CAGED FISH UNDER CHEVRON
KP63 CAGED WHISKERED FISH
KP109 CAGED SKEWERED DONUT & CIRCLED DOT
KP146 CAGED DOUBLE POSTS
KP171 CAGED TETRAPOD
KP212 CAGED STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER TABLE
KP233 CAGED FOOTED STOOL WITH TWO EARS
KP241 CAGED EX
KP277 CAGED MALLET
KP350 CAGED OVERLAPPING CIRCLES
KP365 CAGED CIRCLED TRI-FORK
KP379 CAGED DOUBLE POSTS & CARTWHEEL
KP383 CAGED FAT EX IN DIAMOND
KP391 CAGED DOUBLE VEES & TRI-FORK IN DIAMOND