Sunday, September 19, 2010

Some Symbols Perched on Posts

There are two signs listed for the Indus script that I have not seen but which I include among the three-stroke symbols.  The first of these is EX ON POST, numbered III 14 in my system, previously KP250, W58, and Fs I-14.  Fairservis considers it a wind pole, noting that only a few doubtful examples are known.  Wells does not attempt to define it but gives its frequency as even more rare than that, stating that it is a singleton.  He has it appearing only on one tablet, H-847 from Harappa.  This copper tablet is too dim for my weak eyes.  I just have to assume it really looks like the letter "X" perched on top of a vertical line, hence my term for it.

Plant motifs
from Egyptian jar
In Egyptian hieroglyphs there is a post surmounted by seven spokes that do not quite meet in the middle, perhaps a conventionalized representation of a flower (R20).  On top of this are the upside-down bull horns, also not quite touching but surrounding the spokes.  All this is the emblem of the goddess of writing whose name is Romanized as Seshat.  Of course, it would make a better parallel without the bull horns, but the flower portion does not occur without them. 

A less convincing parallel is glyph U34, a spindle.  This has a post at the bottom and there is more of a "+" sign at the top, with more things in between.  But the whole thing looks more like a street light, with a triangular portion poised on its apex, capped with a half-circle, and that plus sign perching on top of all that.  It hardly seems likely that the Indus sign is depicting the same sort of thing as this.

Old Chinese has only the most distant of parallels in kua4, "to overcome an obstacle" (Wieger 1965: 90).  Here, there is a post again, with two short horizontal lines crossing it near the top.  These two short crossing lines are joined by a straight line in the modern character.  In the older version, the lower line itself curves upward to cross the upper horizontal.  Again, this is so different it hardly seems likely that the Indus sign represents the same notion and the notion in this case is pretty abstract anyway.

Luwian hieroglyphs also contain a spindle, FUSUS.  This glyph is delineated with an outlined form but again it begins with a post.  This widens near the top in a small swelling.  Then there is a much wider portion, rather reminiscent of the letter "t."  Yet again, this is only the most distant of parallels.  I do not really think the Indus sign represents a spindle.  It would be a most inconvenient shape for a spindle.

Replica of Indus tablet with HAIRY HUNCHBACK / POT / COMB
Rock art presents various motifs combining a vertical line and an "X"-like element.  But the result is typically somewhat different from the precise form of the Indus sign.  In Texas, the motif is upside-down compared to the Indus sign, the post above and the "X" at the bottom (Newcomb 1996: 196, Pl. 147, no. 26-A).  In western North America, there is an instance of a tilted "X" shape where one leg is extremely long, so long that it becomes the post itself, in effect (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 152, fig. 89g).  In another instance, the post is crossed by a short horizontal that ends in a small circle (1984: 148, fig. 85e).  In both cases, as in Texas, the "X" portion is at the bottom and the post at the top.

In Australia, one instance includes a long post to which three different "X" forms have been added at intervals (Flood 1997: 112, at Eucolo Creek, South Australia).  The topmost is not a true "X" but a "V" on a long horizontal, perched at the top of the post.  About a third of the way down there is a true "X."  Another third of the way down, there is a form with three prongs on the right and four prongs on the left, more of an asterisk than a true "X."  There are a number of what the author terms "star-like forms" engraved near Laura, one of which includes a bisected "V" on a horizontal, all perched on a short post, on Cape York peninsula, Queensland (1997: 208).

There may also be what I term a SKEWERED EX, numbered III 15, based on KP252.  This does not appear in Wells' list and Fairservis does not mention it.  It is the same as the previous sign except that the vertical stroke of the post continues through the "X."  The existence of this sign in the list may be due to efforts to read the same dim tablets on which the previous sign occurs, for all I know.  Since I cannot see either one, I cannot judge the matter.  If any reader wishes to comment, feel free.

The only additional parallel to be mentioned is proto-Elamite M248~g.  This is a horizontal long stroke crossed by two "X" marks.  That's not quite the same since the Indus sign includes only one "X."  But it is closer than anything else we have seen.

Another rare sign that looks quite different is the DOWN WY, numbered III 16.  This is an abysmal name but I have not thought of a better name yet.  It was previously KP203, W234, Fs D-2a and D-2b, a rather astonishing division.  Wells combines two signs that I separate.  This one looks like our capital "Y" turned upside-down, hence my clumsy name for it.  Wells combines this one with one of the signs that looks like the Greek lambda, stating that together they occur a total of nine times.  If we check the occurrences which he flags, they all seem to LAMBDA of one type of another but one, as far as I can see.  The only DOWN WY that I am sure of is L-88 from Lothal.  One from Mohenjo daro is a BACK LAMBDA (M-403) and the others are simply LAMBDA.

Fairservis, though, must have seen something else because he thinks there are two of the upside-down "Y."  His "a" version represents two legs and the body of a man, which he thinks is a proper name.  His "b" version represents part of a plow and means "to seize."  How he tells the one from the other, I have no idea.

There is an identical Egyptian hieroglyph, which is almost a shame considering this is such a rare sign (O-30).  It is a pitchfork.  Then there is another that includes two of the same shape on a horizontal line (S-27).  That's a horizontal strip of cloth with two strands of a fringe.  It serves as an ideograph or determinative in the word d3iw, "loincloth."  There is a special type of sceptre, the w3s-sceptre, that ends in a rounded "Y" shape, also, and then there's a glyph of the sky with a zigzagging line coming down that ends with this w3s-sceptre's type of curved "Y."  That is N2, the determinative for "night."  Finally, there is a distant parallel in the bird claw (H7).  It is only vaguely "Y" like at the bottom.  But I bring this up because some of the less realistic bovine icons on the Indus seals have feet that resemble this DOWN WY.  It's just possible that this sign represents some sort of foot.

Most of the other parallels are the same as for the upright BI-FORK: e.g., the "Y"-like Old Chinese ya1, "fork, crooked" (Wieger 1965: 255).  But there is also the character for ru4, "to enter" (1965: 50).  This is drawn with two strokes that begin together at the top and curve away from one another as they descend.  The result, especially in the old style of writing, is somewhat similar to the DOWN WY.

Proto-cuneiform BAD is a horizontal "Y" shape with the fork at the right.  It came to mean "to open, let out, drive away, separate."  The proto-Elamite signs M074~g and M291 are also horizontal but they fork to the left. 

Rock art in North America also evinces horizontal "Y" shapes in the far west (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 128, fig. 65e; 146, fig. 83b).  The first is angular, the second rounded.  Both fork to the left.  But there is an upside-down "Y" shape in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 101, Pl. 57).  Australian rock art shows "Y" shapes engraved by pecking at Early Man Rock-Shelter near Laura, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland (Flood 1997: 209).

The final sign considered here is a little more common.  I call it DUBYA, not perhaps the best term, numbering it III 17.  There are two variants, a rounded form "a" and a vee form "b."  The vee form only is KP315, the rounded form not being listed.  Wells includes the rounded form as a variant of the CUPPED POST.  He does not show the vee form.  Fairservis does not list either form.  I see the vee form "b" on pot shards Rhd-97 through Rhd-104, although the photos in the Corpus often show the sign upside-down.  I will discuss the rounded form again when we get to the CUPPED POST.

There are no Egyptian parallels, but Luwian hieroglyphs provide the syllable nu.  This is a bisected "V" shape on a post, or a skewered "V" in my terms.  There are little circles at the distal ends of the "V" and the post.  The symbol TONITRUS, "thunder" also resembles a "W" somewhat, with the outer lines bent outward a bit more, the inside portion made into a squarish lump.

Proto-cuneiform once had a form like an upside-down version of the curved DUBYA (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 75).  This represented a type of garment or cloth.  At a somewhat later stage, there are two similar horizontal signs (cdli).  One is of the vee type (ZATU644~a).  The other is more curved, but the central bisecting line goes all the way through (ZATU644~b).  The meaning is unknown.  Signs similar to the vee variant exist in proto-Elamite, although turned in the opposite direction (M072, M072~a).  Another type takes this basic sign and adds long horizontal lines to the ends of the vee and post (M290~c, M290~d).  If these were vertical instead of horizontal, they would resemble little huts.

In Old Chinese there is an upside-down "a" form, jin1 "a small piece of cloth resembling the European handkerchief, that was worn in ancient times, hanging from the girdle, and used for cleaning and dusting" (Wieger 1965: 98).  There is a very similar character in which the post goes through the upside-down "U" shape and that "U" has extended ends that curve slightly outward, liang3.  "It represents scales in equilibrium" (Wieger 1965: 90).

Both the curved and vee types appear in rock art also, in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 109, Pl. 69), in the west (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 143, fig. 80d), and in Australia (at the Rockholes and Panaramitee Hill, Panaramitee Station, South Australia; Flood 1997: 101, L section).  These may be among the engravings that represent bird tracks.  See the post on the TRI-FORK for more information on this notion.

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