|Replica of Indus seal B-9 from Banawali with TRI-FORK (or QUAD-FORK)|
That would have been all right, but I was noticing that there were not simply two-pronged forks like this one, but also three-pronged forks (which I was calling "tridents"), four-pronged forks, and five-pronged forks. It seemed better to use some basic word to describe all of these with an adjectival prefix to distinguish them. Hence, "bi-fork" for the two-pronged variety here. The three-pronged version is now no longer a "trident," but has become a "tri-fork," in the name of consistency, while there are also a "quad-fork" and "quint-fork."
Coming back to the BI-FORK, it was previously KP85, W277, and Fairservis' I-16. Wells observes it only once, at Lohumjo-Daro (Lh-1), where it is tall and thin, and where the forking is small and reduced. However, I also see it on M-932, where it more closely resembles our usual letter, perhaps on the broken M-1293, and on L-50 in front of the bird motif (where the forking is spread wide). On the bangle M-1633 it seems to be present again, although the stem is bent to the right. And while the symbol seems upside-down to our view, it would also appear to be present on the pots Rhd-23 and Rhd-24. That makes seven occurrences, still not very common.
There is a "Y" in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Gardiner's O-30. It is a supporting pole, of which there were supposed to be four according to the Egyptian notion of the cosmos, one at each corner of the earth. They were holding Mrs. Sky up off Mr. Earth, so this pole was the ideograph or determinative for the word shnt (with a little scoop below the "h"), "support of heaven." But there were a few other glyphs that were similar to this one. A horizontally oriented "Y"-like sign had an additional slash added to each edge of its top, so that instead of being a "V" on a post it was an "M" on a post. This was an instrument employed in baking, or so Gardiner guesses (U-31). He was uncertain, leaving a question mark. But the sign was employed in the word for baking and bakers, so he was probably not too far off. Then there is the strange off-kilter Aa-26. This is a vertical with a bent line coming out near the top on the left. It often replaced the throwstick, which looks like a "7" that's about to fall over.
In Old Chinese, there is another "Y" shape that has a bit of a curve to the upper part. This is ya1, "a fork, crooked" (Wieger 1965: 255). Another horizontal "Y" is found in proto-cuneiform where it is called BAD after the sign it develops into in later cuneiform, where it means "to open, let out, drive away." In this sign, the forking is on the right. In proto-Elamite, a very similar horizontal sign also appears but the forking is now on the left (M074~g). In addition, there is a little wedge-shaped impression at the base of the post. Another "Y"-like horizontal form adds a vertical line to the top of each of the lines of the "V" at the top of the first "Y" part, making it even longer (M291).
This simple forked sign appears in rock art also. A shape much like our letter appears in the Texas collection (Newcomb 1996: 121, Pl. 87). In the collection from the far west, I see three different types of "bi-fork," none of which is quite the same as this. The first is most like the Old Chinese character, being curved, a "U" on a post in effect (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 182, fig. 119i). The second is extremely tall and thin, with a tiny "v" shape at the very top (1984: 172, fig. 109a). The last is most like the final Egyptian example, a vertical with a bent line attached, though on the right (1984: 171, fig. 108a).
The basic fork occurs in Australia in the curved form as a pecked engraving at Early Man Rock-Shelter, near Laura, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland (Flood 1997: 209). Another curved "U" on a post "bi-fork" is the basis of a more complex engraving at Eucolo Creek in South Australia (1997: 112). Here there are short horizontal lines added on the sides of the "U" at the top, about four on either side. Down the length of the post there are crossing lines as well, about seven of them. At the bottom of the figure, there is also an upside-down "U" shape attached to the post, considerably smaller than the large forking at the top. The bottom "U" is unadorned.
The next sign is the TRI-FORK, III 13. Formerly known as KP86b, W262, and Fs E-3, it is among the more common symbols both among Indus signs and elsewhere in the world. Wells states that it occurs 116 times, 73 times at Mohenjo daro, 23 times at Harappa, 7 times at Lothal, twice at Kalibangan, 6 times at Chanhujo daro, 2 times at Allahdino, and once each at Surkotada, Nausharo, and Balakot. Fairservis considers it an abbreviated form of a stalk of grain, but then gives its meaning as "lunar month; order, line, row."
Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs, there are none quite like this. But there is a small circle on a post that has three almost triangular objects sticking out of it, which is vaguely reminiscent of the TRI-FORK (Aa-27). In Middle Egyptian, this unknown object is usually accompanied by W-24, a little round pot often pronounced nw.
A three-pronged element is quite common in Old Chinese. It takes a variety of positions and has more than one meaning. One example where it occurs alone, leaning to the left, is yu4, the right hand (Wieger 1965: 120). This is the 29th radical which now looks more like a folding stool than a trident. Another example where it occurs alone but stands upright, is zhe4, "a sprout" (Wieger 1965: 696). By this, he means a plant and he is speaking of the 45th radical which, although far more square than the older version, still has three prongs. This radical appears doubled, at the top, in the complex character meng2, "to bud, germinate, open, appear in the light" (1965: 110). As in so many complex Chinese characters, the bottom portion hints at the sound of this word, being the word for "bright," ming2, written as the sun and moon side by side (or in Wieger a window and moon).
|Hittite Queen Taruisa with Luwian hieroglyphs|
Luwian hieroglyphs contain a syllabic sign, nu, in the form of a trident with a little circle at the distal end of each prong (Halet 1999: 90). Proto-cuneiform GAL~b resembles a horizontal fork with three tines, which is to say the letter E placed with its back against a post. This came to mean "large metal cup; chief; oldest son; big, large, great." In proto-Elamite, another horizontal trident occurs, this one based on the "Y" shape, with a wedge-shaped impression at its base (M074~a).
There are various trident-like forms in the rock art of Texas. One based on the "Y" shape with a rounded base occurs near a zigzag and lollipop (Newcomb 1996: 102, Pl. 59, no. 1). The rounded version emerges from the sleeve of an anthropoid figure and represents a hand, as in Old Chinese (1996: 118, Pl. 78). Another rounded trident emerges from a complex meander, on a long stem (1996: 127, Pl. 84, no. 3). The schematic anthropoid figure shaped like an upside-down "U" has arms drawn as one long crossing line, at each end of which is a trident-shaped hand (1996: 127, Pl. 84, no. 4).
Heizer and Baumhoff suggest that trident shapes in Nevada and eastern California may often be representations of bird tracks and this may be the case with the upside-down, short tri-fork (1984: 165, fig. 102a on right). It is less clearly the case where the form is a "Y" shape with the extra stroke added to the stem rather than at the top (1984: 158, fig. 95i). Another odd example is a long, curving, upside-down "L" shape with the "v" form near the base (1984: 151, fig. 88m). Finally, there is a horizontal "F" with three prongs instead of two (1984: 127, fig. 64j). The last is surely not a bird track, whatever the others are.
Australian rock art of an early period often represents animal or bird tracks and this may be the case with some of the trident-shaped engravings at Panramitee Hill, Panramitee Station, South Australia (Flood 1997: 111). There are rounded forms similar to the "U" shaped bi-fork mentioned earlier -- except that it is bisected by a vertical line in addition. There are also forms that resemble a trident based on a "Y" shape but with an additional short horizontal across the base, the significance of which I do not comprehend. I have also seen a motif that closely resembles the letter "E" with a somewhat longer stem, all at this same site. The last, at least, is probably not an animal track.
The Indus TRI-FORK occurs in at least four variants, more if one counts mirror images. There is the basic form which begins with the "Y" shape but has the additional short vertical inside the upper portion. A second type is similar but, like the Old Chinese character, has a curved upper portion. A third type begins, like the first, with a "V" on a post. But instead of making the extra short stroke line up with the post, the short stroke is placed parallel to one of the sides of the "V" at the top. There are then two versions of this, where the short stroke is one the right, or on the left. The final type is where there is essentially a small letter "E" perched at an angle on top of the post. It differs from the previous version in that the two branches of the "Y" are not equal. One is long and one is short, thus giving the impression that it is an "E" on top, with its prongs sticking upward.
Various types of little TRI-FORKS are added to other Indus signs in ligatures. Using KP numbers to identify them, they include:
KP25 (MAN HOLDING TRI-FORK)
KP106 (TRI-FORK & BUD TOPPED POT)
KP107 (BUD, SKEWERED DONUT & TRI-FORK TOPPED DUBYA)
KP148 (THREE POSTS WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP223 (SPACESHIP WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP235 (STOOL WITH BENT FOOT & ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP236 (FOOTED STOOL WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP238 (FOOTED STOOL WITH HAIRY LEGS & ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP258 (FAT EX WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP279 (TRI-FORK ON SQUARE)
KP292 (TRI-FORK TOPPED BATTERY)
KP323 (CUPPED TRI-FORK)
KP331 (POT WITH TRI-FORK TOP RIGHT)
KP332A (TRI-FORK TOPPED POT) (KP333-337)
KP351 (OVERLAPPING CIRCLES WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP356 (CIRCLE WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP357 (CIRCLE WITH DOUBLE LASHES & ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP364 (CIRCLED TRI-FORK)
KP365 (CAGED CIRCLED TRI-FORK)
KP390a (TRI-FORK & DOUBLE VEES IN DIAMOND)
KP390b (E TRI-FORK & VEE IN DIAMOND)
KP390c (TRI-FORK & VEE IN DIAMOND)
KP391 (CAGED TRI-FORK & VEE IN DIAMOND)
KP392 (VEE IN DIAMOND WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK)
KP395 (VEE IN DIAMOND WITH ATTACHED E & BACK E TRI-FORKS)
Thus, this sign was one of the most popular signs, if all of its occurrences in ligatures are added to its independent occurrences. But was it a plant, as Fairservis suggests? It may have been an animal tail, since a goat has a trident tail on a seal from Banawali (B-9, homemade replica shown in the first illustration, above). Then again, a trident is more than one thing in Old Chinese writing, so maybe it means more than one thing here too....