Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Gate, a Pinwheel, a Tic-Tac-Toe, and a Bowtie Sign

Today's post will cover four Indus signs, the GATEWAY, the four-blade PINWHEEL, two versions of the TIC-TAC-TOE, and the BOWTIE.  Each is comprised of four strokes and thus begins with the Roman numeral IV in my numbering system.  The first is the GATEWAY, IV6, which looks like a very square version of our capital letter "A."  It is also known as KP293(a) and W490, but does not appear in Fairservis.  Walls states that it appears three times, always at Mohenjo daro.  Of these occurrences, M-129 is straight-sided and wider than the other two.  The next instance, M-355, has sides that curve something like back to back parentheses ) ( only less so.  It is also thinner than the first example.  The last instance is in between the first two extremes (M-932).

Faces of Eshu from divination trays, showing BOWTIE symbol
 on either side, bottom right (Witte 1994: 73).

The Egyptian parallel comes from Gardiner's glyph O32 representing an open gateway.  It has a similar outline, but without the central crossbar.  Proto-cuneiform provides a somewhat better parallel with a horizontal version containing a crossbar that is quite near the "top" (ZATU626~a).  The meaning is unknown.  Proto-Elamite has the best parallel with another horizontal version, but one whose crossbar is nearer the center (M032~a).  It is positioned with its "top" to the left, the reverse of the proto-cuneiform symbol.  Another proto-Elamite symbol has double crossbars and places the "top" to the right (M029~a).

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a close parallel to the last proto-Elamite example in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb 1996: 153, Pl. 105, no. 1).  The double crossbars are further apart, but otherwise it is quite similar in orientation and form.  Another square "a" shape is more nearly vertical and has a single crossbar (1996: 188, Pl. 138, no. 20-H).  There are similar shapes in the collection from the Far West, but each has one side that is longer than the other (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 149, fig. 86c; 177, fig. 114j).  Both are tilted at an angle as well.

A final example comes from the area of Old Europe, the valley of the Danube river.  This symbol has no crossbar, substituting a dot instead (http://www.prehistory.it/mappadeisegni8i.htm ).  Thus, it is not quite the same symbol, but only similar.

Jewelry box made in the Near East shows motifs similar to BOWTIE
and containing six-pointed stars around a central hexagon
(which has sustained a little water damage).

The four-blade PINWHEEL is the next symbol to considered (IV7).  It is a square in which each stroke extends beyond the square itself.  Also known as KP259 and W495, it does not appear in Fairservis either.  It is a singleton, occurring only at Harappa (H-513).

This is a rather odd symbol, quite simple in shape but strangely unpopular despite that.  Nothing in Egyptian hieroglyphs quite matches it.  The glyph R24 is faintly reminiscent of it, depicting two bows tied in a package, the emblem of the goddess of Sais, Neith.  This glyph has a rounded rectangle in the center, though, with curving lines coming out both ends.  The Old Kingdom version of this, R25, is somewhat more similar since the middle portion is square.  But that part is decorated with a kind of zigzagging pattern not seen in the Indus sign.  Plus the curving lines coming out the corners are depicted with doubled lines rather than the simple straight lines of the Indus sign.  Either way, the glyph is not a particularly close match.

Old Chinese has er3, "ear" (Wieger 1965: 313).  The modern version is actually closer, a striped rectangle in which the top and bottom lines extend beyond the side on the left, and the right side extends below the bottom line.  Still, it is not a close match either.

Proto-cuneiform comes closer with IM~b, which came to mean (1) "clay, loam, mud"; (2) "storm, cloud, rain, weather" (which is to say, I'm not sure which IM this symbol represents).  This is a diamond rather than a square, and the lines project from the points of the diamond.   They are not identical on opposite sides as they are in the PINWHEEL.  The line on the right of IM extends horizontally; the line on the left points downward.  The line on the bottom of the IM extends downward also; the line on the top is diagonal -- a slash.  But this is the closest parallel yet.

In the rock art of Nevada and eastern California, there is one instance of a motif that is similar, although not identical.  There is a square with one line attached to the upper left corner, extending to the left horizontally (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 190, fig. 127f).  Another line approches the upper right corner from above but does not quite touch the square.  The bottom corners are free of attaching and approaching lines.

Now, although the Indus PINWHEEL with four blades is a singleton, there is a motif that is similar, one which occurs painted on a pot shard from Rahman Deri (Rhd-230) and elsewhere.  This is a square with a triangle attached by its apex to each corner (also seen incised on Rhd-156 and Rhd-157).  This may be the fuller version of what the PINWHEEL is intended to represent, a design that reminds me of one of my grandmother's quilt patterns.

Plains Cree thunderbird symbols resembling Indus BOWTIE (van Dinter 2006: 119).

It may even be that the PINWHEEL is intended as an abbreviated version of the swastika or fylfot, an ancient symbol found in many places around the world (and only belatedly coopted by the Nazis).  For instances, the swastika occurs on many Indus seals where there are no signs, on Old European artifacts (it is OE136), on Pictish articles, among Buddhist symbols, and in North American rock art (although I cannot give an example at present).

The TIC-TAC-TOE is our next symbol for today (IV8).  The variant shown by Koskenniemi and Parpola is upright as we draw it for the children's game (KP260), but I have not seen this one and it does not appear in Wells' list or in Fairservis.  The closest to this I have observed is on M-1349B where there is a grid of three vertical lines crossed by two horizontals.  The reverse of this piece shows a boat or ship.  But in case I have simply overlooked this one, we can consider this the "a" variant (and to any British readers, I believe this game is known in England as "noughts and crosses").

The "b" variant is tilted to make two "X" types of lines.  This version has no KP number and does not appear in Fairservis, but it is W558, where it is a singleton (M-68).

Egyptian does not provide any good parallels.  The best is N24, three horizontal lines with six or so verticals.  This represents land marked out with irrigation runnels, the determinative for irrigated land.  It appears in the word t3, "land," as in the land of Egypt versus the desert.  Old Chinese has a better parallel for the upright "a" version in jing2, although the left-hand vertical is curved outward and there is a dot in the center square.  "Primitively, it was designed to represent eight square lots of fields, divided among eight families, reserving the middle square for public use, and digging a well in it.  The well is represented by a dot....The character is now used to mean a well" (Wieger 1965: 269).

Proto-cuneiform has the upright form in the obscure ZATU630 as well as the tilted version is KASKAL, the latter coming to mean "expedition; road; journey."  There is also the interesting symbol EZINU~b which is an upright TIC-TAC-TOE in which the central square contains a tilted grid.  This symbol came to mean "grain, wheat."  Proto-Elamite only has the upright version (M026~b and M483 -- I do not perceive the distinction).  A similar sign made with doubled lines is M204~g.

Grids of various kinds appear commonly in the rock art of North America.  One that has the right number of lines to play tic-tac-toe appear in Texas, although the right-hand vertical slants a bit (Newcomb 1996: 172, Pl. 123, no. 2).  There are 113 occurrences of various types of grids in the collection from the Far West, not all of this configuration (see a circled tic-tac-toe in Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 184, fig. 121g).  A similar grid with one short leg appears in Australian rock art at the Rockholes and Panaramitee Hill, Panaramitee Station (Flood 1997: 111).

Finally, there is a similar motif in the Danube valley repertoire (www.prehistory.it/mappadeisegni8i.htm ).  The basic form is an upright tic-tac-toe grid.  A large "X" shape overlaps the grid.  Thus, the motif is similar but not identical (OE128).

We discussed sign IV9 last time (the DIAMOND).  Today's final sign is the BOWTIE, IV10.  It looks like two triangles placed with together, apex to apex.  Also known as KP224, W450, and Fs M02, it is only slightly more common than the other symbols discussed earlier.  Wells observes that it ocurs six times, thrice at Mohenjo daro, twice at Chanhujo daro, once at Lothal.  I see it at Rahman deri as well on a couple of pot shards (Rhd-151 and Rhd-153).  Fairservis thinks it is a represents a rare type of drum but gives its meaning as some sort of measure.

There is an Egyptian glyph of a butcher's block, a truncated cone with a mark inside it that somewhat resembles a vertical version of this horizontal Indus sign (T28).  The glyph is an odd one, seemingly ideographic in a word that means "under."  But it sometimes becomes confused with a rather different glyph that may be a ring-stand for jars, a completely different and round pot, and otherwise is substituted for a roundish glyph for a building.  It's hard to know what to make of this glyph and what it might have to tell us about the (probably unrelated) Indus BOWTIE sign.

Old Chinese also has a vertical version of the BOWTIE.  This is wu3, meaning "five."  Originally, this was written as a simple "X" representing "the five directions (the four sides and center....Later on, two strokes were [to the top and bottom], to represent heaven and earth" (Wieger 1965: 107).  In modern Chinese writing, this numeral does not look like an "X" at all.

Proto-cuneiform contains more than one parallel: GA'AR~b2 is yet another vertical type, one which came to mean "grated dried cheese."  A horizontal version of the BOWTIE with three stacked horizontal POSTS at the left end is KAD4~c1, which came to mean "to tie, bind together."  And two elongated horizontal versions, the one stacked on top of the other, make KISAL~a1, "temple/palace courtyard; weight measure."  Proto-Elamite is almost as rich in parallels.  The vertical example is M286; the best proportioned horizontal version M098; a horizontal version that is stretched out at the base M053~b.

The rock art of the Americas provides a number of examples of the BOWTIE in both vertical and horizontal orientation.  Ancient Texans seemed to prefer to horizontal type, or only slightly tilted (Newcomb 1996: 128, Pl. 85; 154, Pl. 107, no. 4).  Those farther to the west definitely preferred the vertical form (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 114, fig. 51f; 121, fig. 58c; 144, fig. 81h).  In the case of vertical types, at least some of the time, these represent either schematic anthropoid figures or birds.  Some have knobs on top for heads.  And some have added arms or wings.

Image from cylinder seal of goddess Lamma (on left) presenting worshipper to a deity on a throne, perhaps the moon god Nanna/Suen (note moon symbol by his head); also note vertical BOWTIE symbol lower right (Collon 1987: 126).

I include a few illustrations of the BOWTIE, as it seems the most common motif in other cultures.  It also appears in Old Europe (vertical OE58; horizontal OE59).  A similar motif borders one example of the face of the orisha Eshu (a supernatural being) on a divination tray from Nigeria (Witte 1994: 73).  In this case it may actually represent a drum, as Fairservis thought of the Indus sign.


Collon, Dominique. 1987, 2005. First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. London: The British Museum Press.

Witte, Hans. 1994.  "Ifa Trays from the Osogbo and Ijebu Regions." The Yoruba Artist: New Theoretical Perspectives on Africa Arts, ed. by Rowland Abiodun, Henry J. Drewal, and John Pemberton III. Washington and London: Smithsonian Inst. Press.

1 comment:

  1. Im (Im/Iw Mesopotamian storm god [maybe either mayim/mem, or Yam(m)?]) is found in Mayan as Imix water glyph.

    Crowley's "unicursal hexagram" is found althrough mid east / world (India, Jewish, Algeria, etc).