Saturday, September 11, 2010

An Indus Lambda

Indus Lady (replica)

Originally I thought of the next Indus symbol as a “T” shape that was tilted at various angles. I ended up calling it LAMBDA, though, after the letter in the Greek alphabet. Sometimes it looks like the Greek letter, sometimes it appears to be a backward lambda, at other times the long stroke is perfectly vertical and the short stroke nearly horizontal, and at still other times there is a chevron surmounted by a vertical stroke, creating a three-stroke sign. Of course, one cannot be certain that all of these are indeed variants of a single sign. In fact, I rather doubt that they all are the same.  For my purposes, three of these are LAMBDA and one is a DOWN WY (and note that in the illustration, the Indus Lady's hair is full of vague marks that may be some or all of these).  But other authors have classified them differently.

There is KP204, a backward lambda shape in which the two strokes are not quite attached, and KP201, essentially the same sign except that the short stroke is shorter, does not rest on the same ground line as the long stroke, and is attached to the long line (1982: 20). Thus, Koskenniemi and Parpola see two signs amid this variety. Wells sees more than this, with W232 a backward lambda shape with unattached lines, W236 a lambda with unattached lines, W233 the upright vertical with attached shorter stroke, and W234 a fourth version with two variants, (a) being the three-stroke version (chevron topped by a vertical stroke, otherwise considered an upside-down “Y” shape), and (b) the backward lambda with attached strokes (1998). Fairservis does not list any of the lambda-like signs (1992). The three-stroke variant will be considered separately in another post as I consider it a separate sign (DOWN WY).

In my list, LAMBDA / BACK LAMBDA is one sign, II14, with three basic variants, "a," "b," and "c." I have not systematically gone through the Corpus, however, and base this on Wells’ listed variants so far. I am assuming that there are two main variants, one resembling the Greek letter (LAMBDA), or "a," and one facing the opposite direction (BACK LAMBDA) or "b."  The third one has a vertical long stroke and a shorter oblique stroke attached, the "c" version.

This last variant is only included here tentatively. It may be more properly considered a variant (or abbreviation) of the POT LID, which will be considered in a later post. I think that the upside-down “Y” shape is also a separate symbol, as previously noted. My opinions are based on very little beyond the basic shape. Others are free to disagree. The point of designating each sign clearly by number (in this case II14), name (LAMBDA), and an additional suffix to indicate variant (e.g., “a, b, c”) should allow readers to determine which variant an author is citing in a given instance. If the reader considers a “variant” to be improperly classified, that can be the topic of a future article, comment, or post. Signs can be reclassified if there is sufficient reason and agreement in the community.  But we must begin somewhere and we should begin by identifying each sign and variant.

Egyptian hieroglyphs present a few vaguely similar glyphs. Gardiner’s P10 is a steering oar, a sign with one long line slanted at an angle somewhat like our backslash. Attached to the left end is a shorter curved line something like the front parenthesis, representing the connection between the oar and the ship or boat. At the right end of the long line is a pointed oval, the paddle part of the oar. There is the flagellum (S45) as well, a glyph with a long line bearing the slant of a slash and two shorter lines on the top right hanging down from this. These two shorter lines are joined together at their distal ends. Neither the oar nor the flagellum is particularly close in shape to the Indus LAMBDA.

In Old Chinese, bing1 resembles two chevrons, one hovering over the other. This means “ice; to freeze” (Wieger 1965: 54). Each chevron has a very short vertical rising from its peak as well. A better parallel is ren2, “a man, represented by his legs,” the ninth radical (Wieger 1965: 73). Note that this means “man” in the sense of a person, not in the sense of a male human. This character was formerly made with more curving lines than the LAMBDA but originally tended to face in that same direction. Nowadays the longer line is on the opposite side, more closely resembling a slightly curved version of the BACK LAMBDA. This brings to mind the Egyptian glyph D54. This too represents two little stick-like legs walking, only in this case there are two little flat feet attached. It functions as a determinative of movement.  In Egyptian, these little legs and feet are sometimes added below other glyphs, e.g. the reed, the rope, and the pot (Gardiner 1976: 51). In these cases, the feet retain their usual role as determinative and their partner (i.e., reed, rope, pot) retains its usual role as a phonetic sign.

In protocuneiform, the closest parallel is PAP~a or PAP~b, a horizontal long line with an attached oblique line that is shorter (cdli). The “a” variant has the short line attached on top, the “b” variant attaching this underneath. There is a third variant as well, PAP~a @ t, which is based on a long vertical line. To this a short slash is attached on the right. This makes it unlike the “c” version of the Indus sign in that the Indus variant attaches a backslash on the right. Thus, the protocuneiform version has a rising short stroke, the Indus version a falling short stroke. PAP came to mean “eldest; father; brother; man; leader.” Proto-Elamite has a similar horizontal sign (M003 with short stroke on top; M003~b with short stroke below; M003~c with crossing short stroke).

A paired long and short stroke combination is not typical in North American rock art, but it does appear (Newcomb 1996: 53 Pl. 18 no. 5 “lambda”; 103 Pl. 61 “back lambda”; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 142 fig. 79i “pot lid”; 143b “lambda” and f “lambda”). I have not seen any of these particular symbols in Australian art. However, a vaguely similar motif occurs which pairs a long and short in a different manner. The long stroke is vertical and the short stroke attaches at the bottom. It is thus an “L” shape or nearly so. There are normally two of these paired, one which is like our “L” and one which is backward, with the short strokes facing outward. This pair forms a single animal or bird track found engraved on rock surfaces in the central desert area of Australia (Flood 1997: 158).

In the Indus script, the variants of LAMBDA are found at varying rates.  Wells systematically reverses the form seen on seals so that it sometimes matches and sometimes reverses the form found on tablets, an unfortunate choice.  His figures indicate that LAMBDA appears only once, at Mohnejo daro (M-664) while the unattached type of BACK LAMBDA occurs 31 times (22 times at Mohenjo daro, eight times at Harappa, eight times at Banawali).  The "pot lid" variant of BACK LAMBDA (my "c" variant) occurs 10 times, only at Mohenjo daro.  He groups together my DOWN WY and the attached BACK LAMBDA, giving frequencies of five times at Mohenjo daro, twice at Harappa, and twice at Lothal.  When I have a bit more free time I will check these data against my own transcribed database to see whether my observations agree with his.  We often see things differently.  I have great difficulty seeing the signs on tablets.  He seems not to consider many of the signs on pot shards.

Since this is a relatively short post, I will mention the issue of entoptic forms once again.  Some authors distinguish forms seen in different stages of trance or "altered states."  Some distinguish forms which seem to arise from the eye itself on one hand from forms which arise further back in the optic system.  Personally, I think there is little to be gained from this sort of division.  It seems useful to divide forms derived from the optic system in general on one hand from full-blown hallucinations, dreams, and visions (what such researchers like to call Stage 3) on the other hand.  Both of these self-generated forms are usefully distinguished from observations derived from the natural world.  But even there, some overlap occurs.

I see "floaters" whenever I look at the sky, small roundish forms and long, line-like forms.  As a child, I thought these were germs because I had heard about germs being everywhere and I had heard that one could see germs under a microscope.  I imagined that these germs were on the surface of my eye and that I was seeing them because in effect they were very close up.  Looking at the sky made them visible because there was nothing in the way then.  They appear translucent.  I do not see them when I am looking at anything with obvious texture or color, because they are too faint.  When looking at the pale sky, these "floaters" appear in the center of my field of vision at first, but gradually sink down, as if they are floating in the liquid on my eye and that liquid is falling due to the force of gravity.  This is what I imagined what happening, as a child.  I have since been told that the "floaters" are due to nearsightedness.

Indus signs that I think might possibly be based on such "floaters" include the following: 

Among the additional signs which appear during the first of the three so-called universal stages of trance the following Indus symbols may be included:

I shall have more to say on this topic in later posts, but this is sufficient for now.  I consider the LAMBDA to be a possible entoptic form although I have never seen it in the published lists.  My opinion is based upon forms I have seen myself during severe migraines.  It appears to be related to the FLAIL and CHEVRON shapes, the most common shapes that I see during migraine attacks.  Readers who see "visual disturbances" associated with migraines, epileptic seizures, or other neurological troubles are welcome to report their own entoptic experiences.

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