Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Indus Boat Sign

Sign II16 in my list is the BOAT, a name given somewhat arbitrarily.  It happens to remind me of an Egyptian glyph, P4, which resembles an outlined letter "C" resting on its back or curved side, with an additional curve inside (and it all rests on a very long and thin rectangle, the water).  This represents a fisherman's boat with a net (Gardiner 1976).  The Indus sign is not oriented horizontally as the Egyptian glyph is.  The Indus sign is simply two-strokes while the Egyptian glyph takes at least seven.  And it is at least as likely that the Indus sign represents the sun or moon as a boat.  However, the names I assign the symbols are not intended to represent meaning.  They are only convenient handles, ways to reference the signs in addition to the numerical designations in a more mnemonically sound manner.  It is also much easier to proofread a text with names than one with numbers.

NaXi "BOAT" (negative) upper right

In any case, the BOAT sign appears in at least two versions which are mirror images of each other.  There is a basic CEE shape and a BACK CEE shape, to each of which a smaller backward version is added in the center.  If it were laid down, it might resemble a hat as much as it resembles a boat.  In my transcriptions of the inscriptions I called the two variants BOAT and CEE BOAT but letters might be used more economically to distinguish them.  They are also KP160 (BACK CEE) and KP 165 (CEE); W571 (BACK CEE) and W575 (CEE); while Fairservis shows only F-6 (BACK CEE).  The last author describes the sign as representing the sun on the horizon, as in Sumerian, meaning "dawn or day; sun as lineage" (1992).

My examination of the Corpus shows BACK CEE to be the less common form, which seems to be the reverse of what Wells found.  But he usually reversed the form shown on the seals.  K-8, H-161, H-380, and M-245 are BACK CEE BOATS (or simply BOATS in my terminology).  The rest all seem to be CEE BOATS.  Interestingly, M-1272 has both the BOAT and the BACK CEE BOAT in the same inscription (CEE BOAT / GRID / POTTED TWO / BOAT / SKEWERED CHEVRON / SPEAR).  Wells sees 65 instances of the BACK CEE and 7 of the CEE variant.  He and I both also see a third variant, one which I grouped with the three-stroke signs as HAT since the "cabin" of the "boat" is pointed rather than curved.  This variant does not appear in the KP list.  It appears only once according to Wells, in M-136.  When I checked this seal I saw why it failed to appear in the KP list.  It is because KP have a sign not in Wells' list, namely five CEES.  I see four, not five CEES on this seal, the last being the HAT.

Greek goddesses from Mycenaean Age
(Note "BOAT" shaped wings on left)

As far as parallels from other symbol systems go, Egyptian provides the fisherman's boat mentioned earlier, but also the crescent moon, N12.  In this case the curved crescent is on top and the smaller portion underneath, not quite the way we think of crescent moons today in the West.  There is a less clear similarity to N27, two hills with the round sun between them, the sun rising over the mountains.  This appears in the word for "horizon."  There is also a half circle with the flat side down which has another curved band over the top, N28.  This represents the rays of the sun rising over a hill, an ideograph in a word meaning "hill of the sunrise" and a similar one meaning "to appear in glory."  In my opinion the boat and the moon are the closest matches.

Old Chinese has a moon symbol drawn with two lines, xi4, "evening" (Wieger 1965: 164).  However, although the outside line resembles the crescent, the inner line parallels it rather than curving in the other direction.  This is not a close match in form.  Even so, the slight difference in meaning assigned to the drawing of the moon may give us pause.  Just because we can identify a pictograph as a representation does not always mean that we know precisely what it means in linguistic terms.  In addition, there is the character chen2, "minister, attendant on a prince" (Wieger 1965: 214).  This crescent-like curve rests on its back like the Egyptian boat and it, too, has a smaller rounded curve on the inside.  This Chinese character also has small lines attaching the little curve to the sides of the larger curve.  But this has nothing to do with either boats or heavenly bodies.  It is supposed to represent a minister as he bows down to the ground before his prince.  I have to admit I don't see it.  For those who wish to stare at the modern character to try seeing what I cannot, it is the 131st radical.

Luwian hieroglyphs contain a symbol that is rather like a half circle turned on its side.  It is thus a kind of "D" shape, which an additional vertical.  In addition, there is a little rounded bump in the middle of the vertical on the left.  It makes me think of a child's toy top lying on its side.  This is VIR, "man."  A very similar sign which may have two additional verticals represents the syllable zi.

Proto-cuneiform has another boat, MAGUR~b, also roughly "C" shaped (or rather BACK CEE shaped) with a smaller curve inside.  There is also a "C" with inner small curve, SIG, which means "evening" as in Chinese.  The reverse, a backward "C" with smaller curve inside, is U4, "sun, day," which seems to be the opposite meaning as well.  Like the Egyptian moon, the latter can be turned in a direction that seems upside down to me, like the Indus ROOF symbol (upside down "U" shape) with a curve inside that.  This is U4 @ t, still with the same meaning.  Proto-Elamite also has this ROOF shaped symbol although it is outlined (M447).  A variant is more angular, so that it is a chevron.  Inside, rather than a curve, the first seems to be pointed and the second squared off.  In rock art, a rather out of shape BOAT appears rarely (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 154, fig. 91 m; 99, fig. 36 f).

Another proto-writing system one rarely sees mentioned is that of the NaXi people, a minority group in China.  They have a symbol that closely resembles the BOAT.  It appears to be a negative of some sort, although I have been unable to determine precisely what.  Many of their symbols are not specific but serve more as mnemonic devices.  So it may be that it has no specific linguistic form behind it and that is why I am having such trouble determining the precise linguistic form!  I include an illustration showing one variant of it alongside an animal head and an anthropoid wearing a hat.  More of this fascinating proto-writing system can be seen on the World Digital Library on the internet.  The other illustration shows three Mycenaean-style goddesses.  The one on the far left is winged.  Her general shape is faintly reminiscent of the "BOAT" if we ignore her body.  The curve of the wings and the curve of the CEE is similar.  The head of the goddess and the "cabin" of the "boat" are faintly similar.  This is another suggestion of what the sign may represent.  That is to say, it is obviously not a Mycenaean goddess, but may represent a being's wide-spread arms or wings and head.

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