Friday, September 17, 2010

Three Bits

I have three quick Indus signs to discuss in this post.  The first is III7, DOUBLE POSTS & SLASH, which I can actually type in: ||/.  This sign does not appear in Wells' list and Fairservis does not mention it either.  No doubt they took it to be either two signs or THREE POSTS where the third was poorly executed and tilted accidently.  It occurs only once as far as I can tell, on M-326, where I see it as a backslash: ||\.  The discrepancy between what I see and KP152 is partly because Koskenniemi and Parpola systematically reverse the signs on the seals, viewing them the way they would appear as impressions.  However, the reader will note that while this would explain the reversal of the slash, becoming a backslash, it would not explain why the two posts remain in the same spot.  There are many oddities of this sort in the various lists.  I think it best not to do all this reversing of seal signs and not reversing of tablet signs because someone ends up confused.  And it's not always just me.  Let's just show the signs the way they actually are.

Brazilian pot -- symbols that are not writing
The only parallels I find to this sign come from the rock art of North America.  Even here, they are not identical.  There are a variety of grouped strokes at varied angles, including two that are not quite parallel, with a third which is not either a slash or a backslash but more of a quote higher up (Newcomb 1996: 156, Pl. 109, no. 6).  In the Nevada and California collection, I do see two parallel verticals beside a backslash, but these are run through by a very long long that isn't quite horizontal (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 143, fig. 80d).

The next sign is virtually the reverse of the previous one, SLASH & DOUBLE POSTS, III8.  Again, it appears in one list only, KP153b (no Wells, no Fairservis numbers).  It may be the sign in K-40 (an impression) which certainly has a slash followed by two verticals.  But the two verticals seem quite short, so I would term them quotes, not posts.  Still, all of the signs in this inscription seem a bit odd.  From the right it reads, FIVE-TOE FOOT / TABLE / DOUBLE CIRCLES / VEE IN DIAMOND / DOUBLE QUOTES / SLASH / TRI-FORK TOPPED POT.  I think most experts would agree that the two short strokes must be the BI-QUOTES since this sign very often pairs with the VEE IN DIAMOND.  It would be very unusual for it to be paired with the SLASH.  And in fact that may not be a "slash" at all, but a SINGLE POST which is bent over to accommodate the big TRI-FORK TOPPED POT.  In other words, I'm not at all sure I've found this sign, unless the occurrence of the previous one was actually this one.

Various grouped strokes in Texas rock art include three that are more or less upright and one angled like a backslash (Newcomb 1996: 156, Pl. 109, no. 6).  In the rock art of Nevada and California, there are often vertical strokes similar to tally marks, among which there are sometimes one or more angled strokes.  In one instance there seem to be four in a group angled together, three together, a roundish spot, then one at a slightly different angle.  That's as close as I see to this sign (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 150, fig. 87j). 

The third Indus symbol is POST & DOUBLE SLASHES HIGH, III9.  Once more, it is KP153a but without a listing in Wells' or Fairservis' accounts.  Either this or the previous sign appears in H-301 where there is a SINGLE POST that is the full height of the other symbols followed by two SLASHES which are a little smaller.  This is on an incised tablet where other signs are leaning, including a BLANKET sign.  As in many other instances, one cannot be completely certain that these apparent slashes are intended to be different from vertical posts, that they are intended to be meaningfully shorter.

In Texas rock art, I see a tall vertical with two short diagonals almost attached to make a motif resembling the letter "F" (Newcomb 1996: 156, Pl. 109, no. 6).  This isn't quite the same arrangement as the Indus sign but it's a close as anything in the collection.  In the far western collection, a more comb-like arrangement with a vertical and four short horizontals alongside appears (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 151, fig. 88k).  In Australian rock art, another very roughly similar motif occurs, a long horizontal line with two short verticals attached.  In each case in rock art, the basic elements are the same -- a long line and two short lines -- but they are arranged differently from the Indus symbol.

Are these enigmatic collections of lines to be considered signs or not?  When scholars disagree it is difficult to decide.  My inclination at this point is to include everyone's intuition, to put everything possible into this list.  Later, we can eliminate things that seem dubious.  But begin by being inclusive.

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