Monday, September 6, 2010

On with Two: Stacked Two, Double Cees, Double Esses

This time we're going to take a quick look at four symbols in the Indus script, each of which involves two strokes.  The first of these receives the enumerative designation II3 in my list as it takes two strokes to write it and it is the third of the two-stroke signs.  The first two (BI-QUOTES and DOUBLE POSTS) were covered in the previous post.  I call this sign STACKED TWO because it comprises two short vertical strokes, one over the other.  It is similar to our colon (:) though our symbol is two points instead of two strokes.

STACKED TWO is KP140 but does not appear in Wells' list.  Fairservis designates it P-14, considering it a prefix to the sign to which he assigns the designation I-4 (which he calls a "ploughshare" and which I call AY).  In any case, this is an extremely rare sign in the Indus script, one which I found only on a pot shard, Rhd-19 from Rahman Deri.  There are two similar strokes on another pot shard, Rhd-18, but in this case, one stroke is on the bottom of the pot and the other stroke is nearby on the side of the pot.  Do they belong together or not?  It is difficult to say.

As noted in the previous post, the Egyptians used two strokes to indicate dual number, but these strokes normally appeared side by side rather than one atop the other.  In the case of the plural, where three strokes appear, the usual configuration is also side by side placement but stacking does occasionally occur.  So, although I am not aware of stacking for the dual, such a case may have occurred somewhere.  In Proto-Elamite proto-writing, the symbol M002 is written with two marks placed one upon the other so that they are touching.  In effect, then a long line is made by joining two short ones.  This is not quite the same as the Indus sign.

In the rock art of North America, there are instances of stacked short strokes (e.g., Newcomb 1996: 189, Pl. 139 no. 18 B between stacked triple diamons and stacked quadruple chevrons; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 143 fig. 80 b, in the lower right quadrant).  A similar element also appears in the rock art of Australia, (Flood 1997: 107, at Red Gorge, Flinders Ranges, South Australia, M section).  However, here the top stroke is definitely longer than the bottom stroke and the bottom one may often be a rounded shape rather than a vertical mark.  In addition, the STACKED TWO almost always occurs in pairs.  For that reason, Flood considers this symbol to be a representation of an animal track, probably of a kangaroo or similar animal.

The Indus symbol DOUBLE CEES or DOUBLE BACK CEES is KP172a and W574 (my II4).  Fairservis does not consider it separate from the individual CEE (or BACK CEE), sign H-3.  Wells observes that this doubled sign occurs a total of 17 times, twelve times at Mohenjo daro, four times at Harappa, and once at Lothal. 

I see nothing similar in Egyptian hieroglyphs, but in Luwian hieroglyphs doubled back parentheses form the glyph designated VIA (221), which means "road" (Halet 1999: 90-93).  A similar symbol appears in proto-cuneiform but it contains not two but three backward "C" shapes, given the designation ZATU 637.  All signs called ZATU have unknown meaning.  In proto-Elamite, sign M009~a is made with two parallel straight lines, each of which ends with a wedge.  This is quite different from DOUBLE CEES, resembling it only in the fact that it involves doubling.

In the rock art of North America, a common motif is the "U" or "C" shape which is doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled.  These are turned in various directions and curved to varying degrees, so that it is a matter of judgement as to whether they are CEES or CUPS (i.e., "U" shapes).  In my judgment, some doubled CEES include the following (Newcomb 1996: 53, Pl. 18 no. 8; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 162 fig. 99 c).  Doubled CEES appear in Australian rock art also, at the Rockholes and Panaramitee Hill, Panaramitee Station (Flood 1997: 111, c section).  A tripled variant appears associated with giant, engraved bird tracks at Eucolor Creek in South Australia (Flood 1997: 112).

My symbol II5 is BACK CEE & CEE )(.  That is, it appears to reverse the usual positions of our parentheses.  In other lists it has the designations KP174, W576 and in Fairservis' list F-16, where it is described as two crescent moons back to back, meaning "dark period in the lunar month, night, winter."  The form ( ), which resembles our usual parentheses, Fairservis describes as F-17, two crescent moons facing one another, used in bracketing other symbols, and meaning "day, light, summer, spring."

There is no symbol in Egyptian hieroglyphs quite like either the BACK & CEE or our parentheses, but in Luwian hieroglyphs, BACK CEE & CEE act as quotes (Halet 1999: 90-93).  In Old Chinese, there is no symbol that only uses the CEE symbols that I know of.  But ) | ( was how the word xiao3 "small" was once written (Wieger 1965: 32).  This same character with a horizontal across the middle vertical, and another horizontal above that, is shi4, "influx coming from heaven; auspicious or inauspicious signs, by which the will of heaven is known to mankind" (Wieger 1965: 29).

Proto-Elamite provides a parallel only insofar as two wedges are considered similar to "C" shapes.  Two of these with the flat sides of the wedges together are symbol M348.  Two of these with the rounded sides together are symbol M347.  The meanings of these remain unknown.  In North America, curves with resemble the BACK CEE & CEE appear twice (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 175, fig. 112 a and 183, fig. 120 m).  In neither case is the CEE exactly the same shape and size as the BACK CEE.  This is an atypical pattern, in contrast to the very common doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled CEES (or BACK CEES).  I saw only one example of the BACK CEE AND CEE with another symbol between them, in this case what appears to be a short arrow (Newcomb 1996: 118, Pl. 78).

Tut and Ankhesenamen

In Australia, the symbol ) | ( is a regularly used one, shown among pencil drawings by the Pintubi people from central Australia collected in the 1920's (Flood 1997: 167).  It represents a man with two wives.  The straight line is the man, the curved lines (i.e., the CEE and the BACK CEE) his wives.

While we do not know the meaning of the Indus symbols, I observe that various animals do make tracks that resemble either parentheses or something similar.  The American bison, the elk, and the caribou all make a track that has this type of curve (though the caribou's track also has two additional small points below this).  The moose, deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat also make a track that has two parts, though not curved in this manner ( 2010).  It is thus possible that either the American symbols involving two strokes or some of the two-stroke Indus signs represent animal tracks.  This may lie behind the significance of the BI-QUOTES, DOUBLE POSTS, DOUBLE CEES, or BACK CEE & CEE.  This is only a suggestion, a possibility among many others.

The last of the symbols to be discussed in this post is II6, DOUBLE ESSES (or DOUBLE BACK ESSES).  Its other designations are KP172b, W577 and Fairservis' N-3.  The latter scholar defines it as "river, stream," stating that it occurs as a motif on painted pottery in pre-Harappan sites of the borderlands.

It is true that a lazy-S symbol (backward, though) in Old Chinese is zhuan3, "small water course, rivulet," a doubled version being guai4, "river, larger stream" (Wieger 1965: 39).  If we revert to the single lazy-S (still backward) and add two broken lazy-S marks, one on either side of this original, then we have the old character shui3, "water, small river" (Wieger 1965: 40).

In proto-cuneiform, too, the doubled lazy-S is A when vertical, A @ t when horizontal, both meaning "water" and eventually also "offspring, father, tears, flood."  Proto-Elamite has a similar but more angular form, M057.  I would call this a doubled zee (horizontal).

The watery significance of this wiggly symbol is not universal though, despite the fact that this claim has been made here and there.  "Water" is a very pointy horizontal zigzag in Egyptian hieroglyphs and it takes three of them stacked up to designate it properly, too.  That may be quibbling.  In Luwian hieroglyphs, though, two vertical zigzags are quite definitely not water.  They are SOLIUM (299) which means "seat."  That's not the least bit soggy.

Luwian glyphs
The double wiggly line, more "M" like than "S" like this time, appears in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 53, Pl. 18 no. 8).  The simpler ESS or BACK ESS is common enough elsewhere as a single motif, appearing an astonishing eight in a row one time (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 162e).  I have not seen this motif in Australian rock art, but my sources are far from voluminous in this area.

This sign is rare in the Indus script, occurring three times according to Wells.  He observes it only at Mohenjo daro and only on pots shards (M-890, M-1179, M-1181).  I note also two possible examples at Rahman Deri, though these are angular, thus more properly designated double ZEES (Rhd-140, Rhd-141).  The DOUBLE ESSES occasionally appear bracketing another symbol, in ligatures, in addition.

I provide a couple of photos of examples of strokes from various scripts.  One is from Luwian hieroglyphs, showing the four short vertical, the syllable mi.  It appears in the second row down, on the left, above other symbols.  As can be seen in this excerpt from an old postcard, people in ancient times did not necessarily feel they had to write their symbols neatly in a straight line, as we do with the letters in our words.  That makes reading ancient scripts quite a lot harder than reading modern writing. 

Another photo is of a plaque I bought at the King Tut exhibit last year (2009).  It is a modern reproduction of a panel from the small gold sarcophagus or shrine in the boy king's tomb.  On the left, near the queen's elbow, one can see two examples of the single vertical stroke, used to indicate that a glyph is an ideograph.  On the right, by Tut's head, in one of the cartouches, you can see the three vertical strokes of the plural, below the kheper bug.  You can also see a longer vertical stroke that is not to be read.  It divides two columns of writing on the left.


  1. The phonetic value of stacked two is 'na', it is a form of a glyph that looks like a plow, and the sound value comes from the first syllable of Tamil 'nangal' (plow).

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  2. Thank you for your comment. But I must point out an inconvenient fact for your hypothesis. Tamil is a modern language, its earliest written form post-dating the time of disappearance of the Indus script by hundreds of years. No linguist would accept a direct relationship between the two at face value. It remains to be demonstrated.