The first Harappan sign to discuss is the CUPPED DOWN BI-FORK, V35 (an awkward name that needs changing). This sign looks like an upside-down letter “Y” inside a “U,” all of which takes too long to describe. But that is what the name is intended to convey more briefly. It appears only in Wells, as W333, where it is noted to be a singleton (M-232).
The CUPPED DOWN BI-FORK has few parallels outside the Indus Valley. In proto-Elamite, there is an angular, horizontal sign resembling the Indus CUP, inside of which there is a small “V” bisected by a longer central line (M291~f). The element inside this angular “cup” is unlike that in the Indus sign, but there is the broad similarity of a cupped motif.
Inscription M-8: BLANKET / MAN WITH DEE-SLASH / CUPPED SPOON
(Joshi and Parpola 1987: 7; hand copy, detail).
Still less similar is the proto-cuneiform sign transcribed |DUG~b x TI|. This resembles a small pot with a motif like the letter “Y” inside. But this inner motif also has a triangle on the central stem. DUG is indeed a type of earthen vessel, while TI represents an arrow. The meaning of the combination is obscure to me.
In Old Chinese, there is a character something like the Indus sign turned upside-down. That is, it looks like a roof over an upside-down “Y.” The character is nei4, “to enter, interior, into” (Wieger 1965: 50). If we add a dot on either side of the “down Y” inside, plus a dot on top of the roof, the character becomes bing3, “fire, calamity” (1965: 114). However, this makes for quite a few differences from the original Indus sign.
Inscription M-1355: CIRCLED POST / CUPPED POST / THREE POSTS / CUP ON TRIPLE PRONGS / FAT CEE (Shah and Parpola 1991: 175; hand copy of bar seal, corner restored).
The second Indus sign is the CUPPED SPOON, V36. It is also KP316(a), W302, and Fs I-6. Fairservis sees this as a representation of a mortar and pestle used to mean “many, innumerable.” He apparently considers this sign a variant of the CUPPED POST, or the other way around. Wells notes 46 occurrences of this sign, in four variants. These differ according to the treatment of what I term the “spoon,” a post on a circle. Wells’ “a” spoon is simply the post on a circle, with no additions. In his “b” variant, the post bisects the circle. The “c” variant appears dark in the version of Wells’ thesis that I printed, but this must represent a striped spoon. The “d” variant appears to contain either a single partial stripe or a dot. Wells notes 30 occurrences at Mohenjo daro (variants abcd), 15 at Harappa (variants ab), and one at Khirsara (variant “a” only).
I note differences in the “cup” as well, with the height of this element sometimes matching that of the post of the “spoon,” while at other times the “spoon” is taller (shorter “cups” observed on M314, M64, M65). Some “cups” are relatively wide, others narrow (M-10, M-1323, H-5, H-8, Krs-1 are thin). Some are “U” shaped, while at least one is “V” shaped (M-1359 is a “V”). As for striping in the circular portion of the “spoon,” I see a single diagonal stripe in two instances (M-236, H-417); two diagonal stripes in two instances (M-1203, M-1269), four horizontal stripes in perhaps three or four instances (certainly M-1103, M-64, M-65, perhaps H-456). I find one instance in which the post bisects the circular portion of the “spoon” (M-781). One “spoon” may have a triangular bowl rather than a circle (M-1359). One appears to have a flaw in the area of the bowl of the “spoon” (M-1270). And on a bangle, the “post” of the “spoon” is somewhat curved (M-1633).
Inscription M-954: SQUARE AY / PRAWN / POT / AITCH UNDER ROOF
(Shah and Parpola 1991: 92; hand copy, detail with horn and ear of unicorn bull shown).
In Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is an elongated teardrop shape over an indented block, representing a fire-drill (U28). This is the form of the glyph from the 18th Dynasty, only slightly resembling the Indus sign. Luwian hieroglyphs include a somewhat better match with OCCIDENS, “west.” This is a “U” shape with an element resembling a shepherd’s crook inside. The inner element does not resemble the Indus “spoon,” but the fact that a “U” shape contains another element is similar. There is alsoa glyph with a squared off base and wavy sides, containing an inner element that I term a “lollipop” (274, meaning undetermined). This inner element is the reverse of the “spoon,” i.e., a circle atop a post.
In proto-Elamite, there is a sign resembling an angular “cup,” horizontally positioned. Inside this, there is a horizontal line ending in a wedge shape. The overall impression that this sign makes is of close similarity to the Indus CUPPED SPOON, although in several particulars it is different (M294~a). In proto-cuneiform there is no equivalent sign, though there is a parallel to the “spoon” (ZATU696). This occurs independently, as does a sign representing an earthen vessel, DUG, which bears no resemblance to the Indus CUP. The proto-cuneiform “spoon” does not occur inside DUG.
Inscription M-27: THREE POSTS / CEE BY CUPPED TWO / POTTED ONE / CIRCLED TRI-FORK / FISH UNDER CHEVRON / FOOTED STOOL WITH HAIRY LEGS & ATTACHED TRI-FORK (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 16, hand copy, detail).
In Linear B of the later Bronze Age, there is a reversed CUPPED POST, representing the syllable ti. But, again, there is no parallel to the CUPPED SPOON. Similarly, in the repertoire of Old European symbols, there is a “V” shape with a backslash inside which also crosses the right side and passes through it (OE83). But there is no spoon-like element in a similar “V.” With Old Chinese, too, a “U” shape contains a horizontal and vertical in xin4, “the hairy head” (Wieger 1965: 111). Thus, the CUPPED POST has many parallels where the CUPPED SPOON lacks them.
In the rock art of Nevada, there are some reversed motifs that resemble the Indus sign (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 143, fig. 80b and d). In the first instance, the “cup” is a “U” with a somewhat square outline. In the second instance, the “cup” is more round, but is not quite a circle. In both cases, the bowl of the “spoon” is at the top.
Variants of 7th celestial stem in Old Chinese, found on oracle bones (Keightley 1978: 219).
Cf. Indus ROOF OVER BI-FORK or ANKH.
The following sign in my list is CUP ON TRIPLE PRONGS, V37. It occurs elsewhere as KP313(b) and W316 (not in Fairservis). Wells notes its occurrence twice, both times at Mohenjo daro (M-308, M-1355). Although it appears in the published lists as a type of “cup,” on the seals it has a relatively small “cup” element set on a long stem. The other two prongs nearly come out from the sides of the cup’s base. They are much shorter than the base upon which the “cup” stands. Thus, rather than another “cup,” this may be a floral motif.
The closest parallel is with Old Chinese, where there is a “U” shape set upon two posts. These, in turn rest upon a horizontal line, which has no equivalent in the Indus sign, of course. On either side of the two central posts, there is a short stroke. This character is min3, “vessel, porringer, plate” (Wieger 1965: 322). Today, the character is a horizontal rectangle with two stripes, the 108th radical. It bears no resemblance to its ancient form.
If we consider more distant parallels, basic shapes to which prongs are added, proto-cuneiform has a “C” shape with multiple prongs on the left side, UMBIN~b1. It came to mean “nail, claw, tail, hoof, finger, toe,” and so on. In a still more distant parallel, Linear B has a square or rectangle with three prongs at the bottom, an ideograph representing cloth.
In the rock art of North America, a similar motif occurs. In Nevada, this is a low and open curve with three verticals attached beneath (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 168, fig. 105d). In Texas this is a “U” shape with a bit of a bend at the top and four strokes at the bottom, at various angles (Newcomb 1996: 154, Pl. 106, no. 2).
The name for the next sign is based on its appearance in the list published by Koskenniemi and Parpola: AITCH UNDER ROOF, V38, also known as KP340. In this form it does not appear in Wells (he sees TWO QUOTES UNDER CHEVRON, W428, my IV16). Fairservis defines the ROOF element as “covered bazaar,” but does not include this ligatured sign. So we don’t know what he would have seen under this particular “roof” (or chevron).
In any case, it appears to be a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-954). I see neither the neatly rounded “roof” element of KP340 nor the elegantly steep-sided chevron presented in W428. I see something in between, a somewhat curved ROOF that comes to a point. Beneath this, there are two very clear, short strokes, similar to the quotes shown in W428. However, between them, there is another line that is fainter. It is not horizontal as shown in KP340, but diagonal, making the symbol beneath this ROOF a backward “N,” not an “H.” Whether this faint stroke was intentional or not is another matter.
Proto-cuneiform contains a very early symbol resembling the form of KP340. It is a very curved “roof” with a “T” shape beneath, which stands for a type of garment or cloth (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 75). Here, the resemblance is to the composition of the two types of elements, not so much to the specific elements themselves. Proto-Elamite has the “backward N” element combined with a very different element (M278~ab). In this case, the small motif is inside another that resembles a round Indus CORD (or FINLESS FISH), II10.
Luwian hieroglyphs include a symbol with a more complex outline over two short strokes. This is IUDEX / IUSTITIA, “ruler / justice.” In Old Europe, a chevron with three short prongs on the right side covers two angled strokes (OE107).
In an earlier post (on the Indus ANKH) I mentioned the next sign, ROOF ON BI-FORK, V39. It appears only in Wells, as W66. He notes it as a singleton (M-769). As noted in the previous discussion, I see this as a variant of the ANKH (V30) rather than an independent sign. If it looked as roof-like as Wells shows it, a good parallel would be the Old Chinese geng1, the seventh celestial stem used in dating (Keightley 1978: 217). In this character the central post rises all the way to the roof, and there is a small “v” shape on top. Otherwise, it is fairly close to Wells’ presentation of the Indus sign.
Another sign that appears only in Wells’ list is CEE BY CUPPED TWO, V40, also W334. Wells notes this as another singleton (M-27). In this crowded inscription, a CEE does touch a CUPPED TWO. Presumably, Koskenniemi and Parpola saw these two elements as two separate signs, as both normally occur independently. In other cases, independent signs do touch one another in crowded inscriptions. Is that the case here? Or were the two elements meant as a ligature? I am inclined to side with the KP listing here.
Inscription M-232: CUPPED DOWN BI-FORK / TRI-FORK / BI-QUOTES /
CAGED FISH UNDER CHEVRON (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 57; hand copy).
In Old Chinese, the writing of the character for the moon somewhat resembles the Indus CUPPED TWO, rotated 90 degrees. The Chinese moon, yue4, is more of a parenthesis than a “U” and the two strokes inside are often vertical, rather than horizontal as they are now. This character occurs in combination with the window (a rounded square with three curving strokes inside) or the sun (a circle bisected by a horizontal line) to form ming2, “brightness, to illustrate. The moon shining through the window....Li-ssu read [sun] instead of [window]; hence...sun and moon, light” (Wieger 1965: 110). Thus, the combination of two otherwise independent signs can and does occur in other writing systems and may have occurred with the Indus CEE and CUPPED TWO as well.