Saturday, October 30, 2010

Four New Indus Cups and Two Roofs

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.

(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).

(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.


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). 

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.
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.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Skewered Donut and a Pair of Unusual Cups

The SKEWERED DONUT is an Indus sign comprising a dotted circle with a vertical line both rising and descending from it.  It also appears as KP108, W248, and Fs L-12.  Fairservis sees this as a special bead on a necklace worn by married women.  Wells cites a total of only five occurrences of this sign, all at Mohenjo daro (M-1 and M-663, in which the “donut” is quite round, M-12 in which the “donut” is more oval, and M-1350 in which the oval “donut” has a visible vertical bisecting it).  To these, I would add an instance of the simpler SKEWERED CIRCLE of four strokes (M-436A and B).  The latter appears on both sides of a round tablet in bas-relief.  Inscriptions on such tablets often lack the fine details of the seals, so it may be that the SKEWERED DONUT is what the tablet maker intended.

SKEWERED DONUT / TRI-FORK (Shah and Parpola 1991: 174; hand copy of bar seal).

The simpler SKEWERED CIRCLE is quite similar to an Egyptian hieroglyph representing a cord wound on a stick (V24).  For reasons not well understood, this is a biliteral phonetic glyph, wd, used in words such as “to command” and “to turn” (wedj and wedjeb).
In proto-cuneiform, similarly, an oval is bisected by a line that both crosses it and continues some distance beyond it.  This sign is SZIR~a, among whose meanings is “bulb,” perhaps what it originally depicted.  Another variant of this same sign is a skewered diamond (“b” variant).  Proto-Elamite, with its penchant for angular signs, only has skewered diamonds.  All of these contain either striping or cross-hatching, never a simple dot (M254, three variants).  Thus, they make for poorer parallels to the Indus sign than either Egyptian or proto-cuneiform.
Anglo-Saxon runes include a small circle bisected by a long line as one variant for the “j” sound (FUTHORC).  Other variants include a small diamond with the line through it and a small “X” skewered in the same manner.  One sign in the Yi syllabary is similar to the Indus SKEWERED CIRCLE as well, with a circle between a rising and a descending post.  In addition though, there is a slash attached to the base of the descending post and a backslash attached to the ascending post.  This more complex “circle skewered by a backward zee” represents the syllable transliterated ie (see reference below).

(Shah and Parpola 1991: 125; hand copy, detail, showing ears of rhino).

The rock art of North America also contains examples of a skewered circle (Newcomb 1996: 117, Pl. 75; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 169, fig. 106k).  The dotted circle occurs on a post, i.e., as a “lollipop” in my terms.  In one instance in Texas it also occurs skewered, but only as part of a more complex motif, with additional prongs coming from the “donut” and a chevron at the base of the post (Newcomb 1996: 102, Pl. 69, no. 7).
The next Indus sign considered here is the CUPPED THREE, V33.  It appears elsewhere as KP312, W294 (as a “U” shape) and W300 (as a “V” shape), plus Fs Q-16.  Fairservis considers this a combination of his J-1 and O-3, in other words a measure of quantity plus "three" as an adjective.  This would seem to add up to "three measures" of some quantity.  However, he defines the sign as “a proper name (?) MunaL; foremost in quantity or a quantity” (the capital letter in the name represents a retroflex sound usually denoted with a dot beneath the letter).
Detail from "Newspaper Rock," a rock face engraved with petroglyphs in Indian Creek State Park between Monticello and Moab, Utah.  Note the apparent representations of tracks or footprints with four to six toes (from a postcard at least 30 years old).

To my mind, this is one sign with two variants, the “A” variant being basically “U” shaped with three quote marks inside and the “B” variant being “V” shaped with the same three quotes.  Wells notes six occurrences of my A variant (one at Mohenjo daro, three at Harappa, one at Lothal, and one at Kalibangan), and just at one occurrence of my B variant (at Mohenjo daro, which he identifies as MacKay no. 560).  It seems to me that all of the various Indus signs that are essentially “U” shaped also have “V” variants, with many occurrences being somewhere in between these extremes.  The distinction is similar to that between the circle and oval as variants of what I have termed the CIRCLE.  There are occurrences that are very round, some that are quite pointed at each end, and others that are in between these extremes.  Thus, it seems logical to consider these two "signs," W294 and W300, a single sign with two variants.

(Shah and Parpola 1991: 65; hand copy, ear of unicorn bull shown and FAT
 LAMBDA restored to presumed original condition.  Corner is actually broken off.)

There is no equivalent to the “A” variant in proto-cuneiform, although there is a semi-circle with three internal stripes (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 76).  These stripes are diagonal, unlike the Indus “quotes.”  The Near Eastern symbol represents metal, perhaps copper at this very early period.  At a later time, Luwian hieroglyphs include another semi-circle, CAELUM, “sky.”  Beneath the flat side there is a straight line and between these two, four short lines connecting them.  All in all, the early proto-cuneiform sign and the Luwian glyph are rather different from the Indus sign in being closed half circles. 
The “B” variant does occur a little later in proto-cuneiform (ZATU662).  It is rotated 90 degrees, with the “quotes” on the right.  In proto-Elamite another “V” shaped type occurs, but with only two “quote” marks (M069~b).  In this case, the quotes are on the left.  The meaning is unknown in both types of proto-writing.  Among the motifs of Old Europe, there are two “V” shaped symbols, one with four internal “quotes” (OE92a) and another with two (OE92b).
Note that CUPPED TWO (IV36) and CUPPED FOUR also appear among the Indus signs, at least in the KP list.  I have not yet discussed the POT, a “U” shape with two short horizontals on each side.  This, too, occurs with quote marks inside, POTTED ONE, POTTED TWO, and so on.  One instance of CUPPED THREE cited by Wells may actually be a POTTED THREE (H-745B), as it occurs in a seal impression that is difficult to make out, with a crack across one side, and where one edge is obscure.  But the other edge appears to have the two short horizontal prongs characteristic of the POT rather than the smooth side of the CUP. 

While it is possible that Fairservis is correct about inferring a measurement of quantity in such symbols as the CUPPED THREE, it is also conceivable that this is a representation of a footprint.  It bears a resemblance to the bear track found in North American rock art, cited in previous posts (Newcomb 1996: 63, Pl. 24; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 108, fig. 45; 114, fig. 51).  Similar engraved animal tracks appear in Australia at Panaramitee North (Flood 1997: 122).  Less “U” shaped tracks have also been engraved in rocks at Twyfelfontein, Namibia in Africa (see the site report at the Bradshaw Foundation, fig. 89, reference below).
There are also motifs that resemble the Indus sign that are unlikely to be tracks, located in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 149, Pl. 100, no. 7; Pl. 99, no. 10; 207, Pl. 151, no. 3).  The first is a “U” shape containing a single quote; the second a “V” shape containing two quotes.  The third shows two instances of double quotes, each with a small “roof” curve over it.  In the Nevada collection, there are three similar motifs, all of “roofs” containing marks (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 143, fig. 80b).  In the center of the grouping of elements, the “roof” contains a post.  On the right is another “roof,” this one containing a single dot.  On the left, a third “roof” contains three stacked dots (one over two), these three over a short post.
Old Chinese has such an element only as part of a more complex character.  It does occur, twice, but rotated 90 degrees, beneath a “roof” that contains two strokes resembling the “equals” sign.  All this -- roof with "equals sign" over sideways and doubled "cupped three" -- combined together makes the character ta4, “birds of passage flying in flock; swarm of wings covering the sky” (Wieger 1965: 97).  Thus, the element that is the equivalent of the Indus sign represents a bird’s wing.  This "cupped three" element, doubled, is now a radical.
The CUPPED TRI-FORK is the third Indus sign for this post, V34.  As such it does not occur with a KP number, although a cupped QUINT-FORK does (KP323).  Wells distinguishes this sign (W314) in which the stem of the fork appears on the right, from one in which the stem appears on the left (W335).  I would combine the two into one sign with these two variants, with Wells’ two variants of the first as additional variants.  In each case, as is usual, Wells has reversed the sign as it actually appears.  Thus, in M-316, the CUP is short and the stem arises from the left side, curving upward above the rim, with two prongs arising from the right side of this stem.  In M-784, the stem arises from nearer the bottom of the CUP, but again from the left side, curving again, but this time to lean backward.  Three prongs arise from its right side whereas in the previous example, the top of the stem itself served as the third prong of the tri-fork.  In M-760, the cup is taller and the stem straighter, arising from the center bottom.  This tri-fork is based upon a “Y” shape, with a third prong arising from the right side of the top of the “Y.”  The top of the “Y” is above the top of the cup.  Thus, each of these three instances is its own variant, respectively “a,” “b,” and “c.”
Luwian hieroglyphs include a “U” shaped cup with a central post that coils at the top, forming the ideograph OCCIDENS, “west.”  In addition, one of the syllabic signs includes an essentially “U” shaped element, although curved, with a central post topped by another curve.  This glyph represents the syllable su.
Although this Indus “cup” has no “V” variant, others do.  In proto-Elamite there is a similar “V” type, rotated 90 degrees, as is typical.  Inside, an unattached post bears two diagonal posts (the vee cups a bi-fork in my terms), M501.  This is the closest parallel to the Indus sign that I have seen in any script.  Among other, less similar signs, a completely enclosed element may have been intended to represent a container such as a jug.  Inside, there is a diagonal trident or a shish kebab (M292~d and M292~a, respectively).
Proto-cuneiform has no close parallels, but has the type last described for the neighboring proto-writing system.  In other words, DUG represents an earthen jar or jug.  In later times it represented a standard measure of approximately 30 liters, except in pre-Sargonic Girsu.  In that city, it stoof for a smaller amount.  Inside the jug symbol, other signs occur, including SZE, which represents barley (|DUG~b x SZE~a|).  Together, the combination indicates beer, a popular beverage in ancient Iraq, as elsewhere.  This is not a close parallel to the Indus sign graphically.  But it hints at a possible meaning for such a combination of elements.
A quite different example comes from Old Chinese writing, with she2, “the tongue stretched out of the mouth” (Wieger 1965: 247).  In this case, the cup-like element is “U”-shaped, but also has a horizontal line crossing it, and there is a “Y”-shaped element resting on this horizontal.  This upper element also has a crossing horizontal which is a “U”-shaped curve in some variants.  The base element represents the mouth, the upper element the tongue.
Yet another possible meaning for the Indus sign comes from the rock art of North America, a rare motif in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 106, Pl. 67, no 20; 170, Pl. 121, no. 6).  The first occurrence is on a painted pebble where it appears between and above other lines.  Thus, the “cupped trident” per se may not be a true motif.  In the second appearance, the stem of the “trident” penetrates the “cup” and descends a short distance beneath it.  In addition, there are two rather prongs than one inside the “V” at the top of this fork, making it a “quad-fork” in my terms.  This motif may have been intended to represent a bird, or it may be an accidental overlap of two independently occurring motifs.
In Nevada, the motif occurs with a true tri-fork (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 129, fig. 66a).  Again the stem penetrates the cup, in this case the whole motif being rotated 90 degrees as are the examples from the Near East.  Here, it is likely a representation of a bird, with the “cup” denoting the outstretched wings and the forking element the tail (cf. the more elaborate birds in a panel from Texas shown in the previous post).  A roughly similar motif appears in South America that is usually more angular, as noted in the post mentioning the Indus MAN (in Peru, see reference below).
African rock art at:
Ouzman, Sven. 2010. Rock Art of Twyfelfontein, Namibia, Africa: A Survey into the Relationship between Animal Engravings and Cupules Including the Site Report on Twyfelfontein. At
South American rock art at:  (under Zonas or “areas,” note article on Macusani Corani Cordillera, Peru).
Yi script at:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Signs with Diacritics, a Harappan Ankh, and a Corn Holder

The first sign under consideration here appears in two varieties in Wells’ list, there enumerated W34 (KP253, not shown in Fairservis).  Based on Wells’ “a” version, I termed it SKEWERED EX UNDER UNDER CHEVRON, and his “b” version SKEWERED EX UNDER ROOF.  Wells states that there are two instances of this sign, both occurring at Mohenjo daro.  The first one that he lists, M-92, is his “b” variant, in form an “X” with a vertical line through it and descending some way past it.  It might also be considered a six-stroke asterisk in which the central stroke is lengthened.  This is then further modified by the addition of an upside-down “U” shape, or ROOF element of the size of the “X.”  The other occurrence Wells cites is “Marshall No. 320” rather than one of those in the published corpus by Parpola and colleagues.  I have not seen the “a” version, although there are other signs beneath a chevron such as the striped loop (M-928).  I enumerate this sign V27 as the twenty-seventh of the five-stroke signs in my list.

Inscription M-1014: FOOT (?) / CUPPED SPOON / PANTS / TRI-FORK UNDER CHEVRON / CAGED OVERLAPPING CIRCLES (Shah and Parpola 1991: 100; hand copy, broken seal).

This is similar to the Egyptian glyph of a conventionalized flower surmounted by ox horns, the emblem of the goddess Seshat (R20).  This schematic flower takes the form of a post with seven strokes arranged symmetrically around an empty space, describing a circular arrangement.  The horns form a shape similar to the Indus ROOF, but with a few more curves.  The glyph is thus an inexact parallel, as is usual.
In Old Chinese, a considerably more distant similarity may be found in the character nan1, “good order, peace....women are well enclosed in the house” (Wieger 1965: 169).  That is to say, the character is a composite of the character for “woman” beneath the upside-down “U” shape with a small mark on top that represents a house.  Together, these mean “peace.”

(Shah and Parpola 1991: 29; hand copy, detail over horn and ear of unicorn bull).

Proto-cuneiform includes a sign resembling the Indus chevron rotated 90 degrees, with the addition of a wedge-shaped impression at the joint.  This is SILA3.  This sign frequently combines with others, although not with an “X” or “skewered ex” shape.  The closest equivalent in this proto-writing system is the ligature with an elongated cross: |SILA3~a x MASZ|.  This may indicate a male kid, i.e., a young billy goat (though I may be reading the wrong SILA).  SILA3 also combines with an element resembling the Indus SHISH KEBAB, which may be considered more similar to the SKEWERED EX: |SILA3~a x NUN~b|.  If I misread the first SILA, perhaps this one refers to a street or market place, with NUN a qualifier, meaning “great, noble.”
A closer resemblance is with a symbol in the Yi script, which is used by one of the minority groups of China.  The sign itself is much like an asterisk, but it has no horizontal and thus is much like the Indus "skewered ex."  Over this there is a cuved line rather than an angular chevron.  The Yi sign represents a syllable transliterated as bbix (the final consonant indicating tone).
The Indus chevron occurs again in a ligature with a trident-like element in TRI-FORK UNDER CHEVRON, V28.  Elsewhere, this is KP89 and W276 (not in Fairservis).  Wells notes it as a singleton (M-1014).  The closest parallel is in Old Chinese, where the character wen2 takes the form of a chevron-like element resting on a somewhat curved “X,” “lines that intercross, veins, wrinkles, ripples; sketch, literary, genteel, elegant” (Wieger 1965: 161).  This is the modern 67th radical, still roughly “X”-shaped, but with a horizontal line above it and a dot.

Inscription M-769: PINCH / TWO POSTS / FISH / FISH UNDER CHEVRON / ANKH (or ROOF OVER BI-FORK) / SPEAR (Shah and Parpola 1991: 62; hand copy, detail of broken seal).

The proto-cuneiform SILA3 again provides a loose analogy, this time |SILA3~a x SZE~a|.  In this combination, the sign to the left of the “chevron + wedge” is an ear of barley.  If SILA represents livestock, this may represent food for the animal(s).  If SILA indicates a marketplace, the ligature may have to do with a place where the commodity is sold.  But I'm just guessing.
An early Greek sign slightly resembles the Indus symbol as well.  The Linear B syllabic sign za looks like our conventional arrow symbol, a chevron capping a post, with the addition of a short horizontal across the center of the post.
Another singleton that Fairservis did not mention is SKEWERED CHEVRON BETWEEN BACKED CEES, V29.  Formerly, this was KP115 and W64.  So far as I can tell, this only occurs once, at Mohenjo daro (M-331).  It appears in initial position, as a back parenthesis, a post piercing a very flattened chevron, plus a front parenthesis.  Along with these three elements, in this inscription there are: BOAT WITH PADDLE AND STEERING OAR / RECTANGLE (top row) // (lower row) STACKED FIVE / HORN / FOUR QUOTES.  This sign never occurs elsewhere, although the elements of which it is composed have parallels, discussed in previous posts (BACK CEE & CEE, II5; SKEWERED CHEVRON III 11).


The closest parallel to this that I have found is in Old Chinese, the character xiao3, “small....This idea is represented by partition [shown as two apostrophes at mid height] of an object [shown as a post] already small by its nature” (Wieger 1965: 59).  In the older writing, the dots on either side of the central post are long and curved, thus making the character similar to the Indus sign.  However, the central post has no crossing mark.
The final sign discussed here is the ANKH, so termed after its resemblance to an Egyptian glyph.  I enumerate it V30, while it has also been numbered KP114(a), W12, and Fs L-5.  Fairservis considers it a twist or loop on a pole, assigning it the meaning “yarn, thread.”  He tentatively groups it with SKEWERED CHEVRON, since it looks the same with a loop added on top.  Wells notes eight occurrences, three at Mohenjo daro, four at Harappa, and one at Allahdino.  He further observes two variants: “a” with a small, round loop at the top, long “arms,” and a long stem; and “b” with a relatively large, oval loop at the top, shorter “arms,” and a short stem.  Both variants occur at Harappa, only “a” at Mohenjo daro, and only “b” at Allahdino.  There is a highly abraded seal from Mohenjo daro that is difficult to place as well (M-1141).  In addition, I would place M-769 with these as a third variant (“c”), whereas Wells sees this as a ROOF resting on a BI-FORK.  I have provisionally given it that name and enumerated it V39.  Others may make their own determination on its proper classification.

Inscription H-506: CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES / CARTWHEEL / STRIPED MALLET / CORN HOLDER / PANTS (Shah and Parpola 1991: 285; hand copy, detail of seal).

The Egyptian glyph from which I derived the name ANKH is described as a tie or strap from a sandal (S34).  It is ideographic in the word “sandal strap,” but is most often used for the similar-sounding word (in Egyptian) “life.”  It commonly appears in funerary texts with this second meaning, sometimes grasped in the hands of deities.  In depictions from the reign of the so-called heretic king, Akhenaten, the sun’s rays are sometimes shown ending in hands offering this same glyph to the pharaoh and to Queen Nefertiti.  As great believers in magic, the ancient Egyptians made objects for daily use in the shape of this glyph, including mirrors and boxes.  It would be interesting to know whether there was any contact between Egypt and the Indus Valley, even if indirect, that would explain the presence of a similar symbol in Mohenjo daro and Harappa.
In proto-cuneiform, there are two quite similar signs, although neither is identical.  Both are positioned horizontally, as expected, and they are more angular than the Indus sign.  GU has an inverted triangle for a “head” and “arms” that angle toward the “head” rather than away from it.  This sign came to mean “string, wool, flax; hemp, rope; needle.”  It may be that this influenced Fairservis in his interpretation of the Indus sign.  The other sign has a diamond-shaped “head” and straight “arms,” namely, MASZ2.  This came to mean “rent; profit, income; produce, yield (of a field).”  Interestingly, GU has its “head” on the left while MASZ has its “head” on the right. 
Anthropomorphic figures -- perhaps shamans -- at bottom and birds above, in rock art from Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 11, Pl. 2; photographed, then considerably reworked in PhotoShop to simplify and bring out just the elements similar to ANKH). 

Proto-Elamite has no less than five similar signs, all with diamond-shaped “heads” on the right: M246, M247~a, M248~a, M249~c, and M250~a.  The first has a small rectangle for “arms” while the last has the same chevron-like type as the Indus sign.  The second has “arms” that come right from a “head” which does not quite close, while the third and fourth signs have double “arms.”  The second and the last have a dot inside the “head.”  The fourth has a cross inside the “head” as well as double “arms,” making it the least like the Indus sign.  Meanings are unknown.
The modern astrological symbol for Venus is a circle upon a cross (and an almost identical sign is the Linear B syllable za).  It is sometimes described as being a mirror, but modern mirrors lack the little crosspiece on the handle.  Most ancient mirrors that I have seen also lack this crosspiece, except those from Egypt, consciously designed to imitate the ankh glyph.  Thus the story of the astrological symbol being a mirror may ultimately derive from the Egyptian custom of making objects shaped like their lucky ankh glyph.

Two variants of Old Chinese character representing small child, zi3 (Keightley 1985: 219; photographed, extensively reworked in PhotoShop to give the feel of how characters look on old bronzes).

Surprisingly, almost the same motif appears in the rock art of North America, in the area of Nevada and eastern California (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 110, fig. 47a; 125, fig. 62a; 153, fig. 90t).  In the first instance, the "head" is quite round and large, with an arrow-shaped element attached at what would be four o’clock on a clock face.  The second instance is upright, with a smaller “head.”  The final occurrence is again circular and large, with the “head” downward and a curving stem on top.
I do not find the same motif in the Texas collection, but some rock paintings of birds are similar in form (Newcomb 1996: 11, Pl. 2; 74).  In these, the birds’ heads are round, the body straight, and the wings either straight or chevron-shaped.  But there are additional details, making the paintings less like the Indus sign.  Such details include short, thin lines along the top or bottom edge of the wings, presumably feathers, and sometimes peg-like legs, occasionally with three trident-like lines delineating the birds’ feet.
Old Chinese includes a similar, though not identical character in zi3, “a new-born child, swathed up; it is the reason why the legs are not visible....By extension, disciple” (Wieger 1965: 233).  The head is indeed a head here, but it is not a complete circle in all cases.  The arms are raised rather than lowered, at least in the old style.  Today, this is the 39th radical and the character often serves a purely grammatical function.
More popular in the Indus Valley than the ANKH is the CORN HOLDER, V31.  In form it is somewhat similar, but upside-down: a circle or semi-circle with a horizontal line above it, and three or four vertical lines rising from this.  This unusual sign is also KP91(a) and Fs J-8, while Wells divides it into two different signs, W188 for the semi-circle type and W189 for the one based on the circle.  He observes that there are 16 occurrences of the former, 15 of the latter.  If we lump these together, there are a total of 31, with 20 from Mohenjo daro, seven from Harappa, one from Lothal, two from Kalibangan, and one from Chanhujo daro.  To be very precise, not only is the base sometimes a circle, other times a semi-circle, at still other times it is elongated, once a triangle (M-51), and in one peculiar case the horizontal is missing (C-23).  Most of these appear in medial position.
Fairservis identifies the sign as an oil lamp, but oddly enough, gives the meaning as “to weave, weaving.”  If turned upside down, those variants with outward slanting legs (such as M-800) would be quite similar to the Egyptian glyph of the sun with three rays, always and only downward (N8).  This represents sunshine.
Old Chinese has the character zeng4, an upside down “U” shape with two internal horizontals and a single central vertical that only rises as far as the first crossing horizontal.  “It represents the cover of the Chinese cauldron, used to stew bread etc.” (Wieger 1965: 320).  That sounds odd since most of us bake bread rather than “stewing” it.  But in China, bao is the name for a type of roll that is steamed, not baked.  This is the food and the cooking procedure spoken of here.
Proto-cuneiform contains another roughly similar sign, NA2~a, a semi-circle with two or four prongs attached to its flat side.  These two elements, semi-circle and prongs, are separated either by a simple line or else by a thin rectangle, making this sign the closest parallel of any.  The main difference is that the semi-circle is either striped or filled with cross-hatching.  It came to mean “bed, couch; to lie down, sleep.”
A close parallel exists in the rock art of North America.  In one instance, a circle sits on a horizontal line which, in turn, rests on two short verticals (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 182, fig. 119i).  It is possible that this is an anthropomorph.  A similar motif appears in Argentina with two apparent eye spots inside the circle, in Inca Cave (see reference below).  A second occurrence of a motif more closely resembling the Indus CORN HOLDER is positioned horizontally, with a circle on the right, a slightly curved line to its left, and a “U” shaped element with the “legs” pointed to the left.  The whole thing is bisected by a horizontal line, thus giving the “U” an additional, third “leg.”  One more shorter “leg” also occurs inside the “U,” making four in all (1984: 155, fig. 92j). 
Texas lacks such a close parallel, but has a circle with three rays as is found in Egypt (Newcomb 1996: 51, Pl. 15).  In this case, the “rays” appear on the upper surface.  There is also a semi-circle with six curved and elongated prongs descending from the curved side (1996: 50, Pl. 14).  This most likely represents an animal track such as that of a bear or badger.

South American example is Figura 3 at:

A Fat Lambda, Ex under the Table, and an Indus Foot

The first sign in today's post resembles the earlier, two-stroke LAMBDA in that it has one long diagonal line and another short element adjoining this.  The adjoining element is not a simple stroke this time, but a striped triangle, with its base resting against the tall diagonal.  This short segment is the “fat” part in my term, FAT LAMBDA.  I enumerate this V24.  It is also KP202 and W242, not appearing in Fairservis.
Inscription Blk-2: BLANKET / FAT LAMBDA / BI-QUOTES / LAMBDA / FOOT / TRI-FORK with horn and ear of unicorn bull shown (Shah and Parpola: 1991: 391; detail, hand copy).

Wells notes 43 occurrences of his sign, with seven variants.  Of these, the first variant, “a,” is a four-stroke sign (H-155, possibly also C-1 and Q-3).  Two variants are five-stroke signs, having two stripes in the short segment: “c” and “f.”  Twelve are from Mohenjo daro (M-12, M-36, M-48, M-99, M-123, M-226, M-331, M-824, M-836, M-944, M-976, M-1141), two from Harappa (H-96, H-139), one from Lothal (L-29), one from Banawali, (B-1), one from Bala-kot (Blk-4), and one from Allahdino (Ad-2).  Wells distinguishes these two variants based on the angle of the long stroke. 

Three of Wells' variants are six-stroke signs, containing three stripes in the short “leg” (variants “b,” “d,” and “e”).  In this list the last variant is a ten-stroke sign (“g”).  However, while I actually see twelve six-stroke signs, as noted by Wells, I also see at least one sign of seven strokes (H-40 and possibly M-210), not noted by Wells.  One does have ten strokes or so, but its long stroke is vertical, not leaning backward as he shows it (M-796).  This is typical for those who catalog the Indus signs.  No two lists are identical, either in the number of signs or in the specific signs listed.  The particular forms of the signs differ from list to list as well, as do the readings of obscure inscriptions in the published concordances.  There remains plenty of room for scholarly disagreement and argument --and both exist in spades!

The closest Egyptian parallel to the FAT LAMDA is the hieroglyph that represents a conical bread loaf on a mat (R4).  It is commonly found in both a horizontal and vertical position, but not the diagonal position of the Indus LAMDA.  The Egyptian glyph is ideographic in the word htp, “altar,” as found in the pharaonic name Amenhotep.  The same things can be said of the similar papyrus scroll, also a thin rectangle, this one adorned with a small semi-circle in its Old Kingdom form (Y2).  It occurs horizontally and vertically, but not diagonally, the typical position of the Indus FAT LAMBDA.
In proto-cuneiform, there is a sign of unknown meaning that is less symmetrical than the Egyptian glyphs and thus, a better parallel for the Indus sign.  ZATU718 is horizontally positioned like most signs in this script.  The main part of this sign is not quite a thin rectangle, the left end being thicker than the right.  Near the center, a striped rectangle descends a short distance.  There are three stripes inside, as is true of three of the FAT LAMBDA variants in Wells’ list.  Again though, the parallel is inexact since the proto-cuneiform sign does not occur in the diagonal position characteristic of the Indus sign.
Seal M267 with inscription: EX UNDER TABLE / BI-QUOTES / POT-HATTED BEARER / BLANKET / POT (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 65; hand copy).

The second Indus sign discussed here is EX UNDER TABLE, number V25.  Not found in Fairservis, it is also KP243 and W545.  Wells notes nine occurrences, seven of them at Mohenjo daro and two at Harappa.  Both of the elements of which this sign is composed have been covered previously.  The EX is quite simply a sign which looks like our letter “X” (II 12).  The TABLE element resembles a square bracket rotated 90 degrees so that it serves as a cover.  As noted in a previous post, it may be an abbreviated JAY, to use my earlier terminology (III6).
The Egyptian glyph for the sky resembles the TABLE in its outer outline (N1).  By the Middle Kingdom, the sky hieroglyph has a rectangular middle section with triangular “feet” on the ends, though it is simpler in hieratic.  Another difference is that the sky glyph generally is not found in compounds above others.  It does occur with four descending vertical lines, representing moisture falling from the sky (N4).  The glyph for “night” similarly combines with a type of scepter (N2).  But the glyph for a table with bread loaves and a vase on it more closely resembles the Indus TABLE (minus the bread and vase, of course), R3.  There is also the combination "house" plus "mace" (O2 or O1 + T3), literally "white house," which means "treasury."  The mace does not look anything like an "X" but the Egyptian "house" (pronounced pr) is much closer to the Indus TABLE than is the "sky" in my opinion.
Inscription K-11: CEE / CIRCLE / RAKE / FOOT / POT
(Joshi and Parpola 1987: 301; hand copy, detail, with horn and ear of unicorn bull shown).

Old Chinese has a close parallel in wang3, “a net; to throw down the net, to entangle, to catch.  It is derived from [“roof” element] covering..., and XX representing the net” (Wieger 1965: 108).  Thus, the TABLE in this case is curved, an upside-down “U” shape, and there are two “X” elements rather than just one.  In the modern, angular style of writing, the Chinese character more closely resembles the Indus EX UNDER TABLE, except for the fact that there are still two exes.

Luwian hieroglyphs include a sign mentioned previously in connection with the GRAIN EAR.  This appears to be an ear of grain, a vertical post with two “V” shapes superposed on it.  The TABLE is above all this.  This glyph stands for SCRIBA, “scribe,” and essentially the same glyph is the syllable tu.  As with the Egyptian writing of "treasury," this is a pretty good parallel for the Indus TABLE element over another element, but not a combination with EX.
In the rock art of Texas, an element resembling a square bracket appears, both alone and in combination with other motifs (Newcomb 1996: 155, Pl. 108, no. 7 and no. 9; 168, no. 2).  It occurs with the “legs” turned to the left, upwards, and other directions.  But it does not seem to appear in combination with “X” – though this motif does occur.  Similarly, the “X” appears in Nevada beneath a slightly curved line (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 141, fig. 78c).  And a motif like the TABLE occurs over other motifs, although it is rare (1984: 196, fig. 133c and d).  These two elements, EX and TABLE, do not appear together.
Seal H-103: CIRCLED TRI-FORK / RAKE / FISH / FOOT / POT // CUPPED POST / THREE POSTS / SPEAR // MAN BETWEEN POSTS / CHEVRON-HATTED BEARER (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 192; hand copy).  Note the unusual inscription seems to be in three segments, across one side, then down another side, then -- upside-down from the origina side -- across a third side.  The POT and SPEAR are usually terminal signs.

The TABLE (square bracket with “legs” down) appears in the Libyco-Berber alphabet as one form of the letter “D” (Dougga type, of North Africa, see reference below).  Similarly, the EX appears in the same alphabet as a form of the letter “T.”  But the combined form, TABLE OVER EX or EX UNDER TABLE does not occur.
The third Indus sign for today’s post is the FOOT (with two stripes), V26.  Also known as KP320, W304, and Fs I-8, it represents a crucible according to Fairservis, meaning “copper.”  To my eyes, it resembles the front end of a human foot seen from above, with only three toes in this case.  As Wells shows in his list, there are many variants with different numbers of “toes.”  The amount of curvature of this “foot” also varies considerably.  Wells notes 27 occurrences, 13 at Mohenjo daro (one more than I found, so I must have missed one), eight at Harappa, one at Lothal, three at Kalibangan, one at Chanhujo daro, and one at Balakot.  To this list I would add one at Lohumjo-Daro (Lh-1).
Wells gives seven variants based on the number of stripes in the base, and whether one or both sides are curved or straight.  If we lump some of these together for discussion purposes, we can designate those with two curving sides as A, those with two straight sides as B, and those with one straight side and one curving side as C.  Within each of these larger categories, there are at least two variants that differ according to striping, which controls the number of “toes.”  Mohenjo daro has variants ABC (3-8 toes, or 2-7 stripes).  Harappa has BC (3-8 toes, or 2-7 stripes), with a two-striped variant of the "C" type illustrated above.  Lothal has only C (two toes, a single stripe). Kalibangan has AB (4-5 toes, 3-4 stripes), a straight-sided, four-toed "A" version being illustrated above.  Balakot has only the curving A (seven toes, seen in the first illustration above) while Lohumjo-Daro has C (four toes).  Considering the large number of “toes” some of these variants have, it is highly unlikely that the sign actually represents a foot.
No parallel is exact.  Egyptian provides no clear example in which one side is straight and the other curved, with striping at one end.  Luwian has a single glyph with a straight bottom, a curved top, and a single stripe within.  This stripe is at the opposite end of where the “toes” are in the Indus sign.  The Luwian glyph represents the syllable la.
Proto-cuneiform includes TAK4~a, a sign that also has one straight side and one curved side, as well as three stripes running the same direction as in the Indus sign.  Still, the stripes in TAK do not touch the base of the sign as they do in the Indus FOOT.  The proto-cuneiform sign came to mean “to touch, handle, weave,” among other things.
There is a vaguely similar symbol on the Phaistos Disk without the type of internal striping found in the Indus sign (Minoan Crete, 1700 BCE).  It is possible that the Phaistos symbol represents a tent or else a conical hat.  It is also possible that it represents neither of these things.  Likewise, the Old Chinese character for a boat is only vaguely similar, with the upper side fairly straight and the lower side quite curved (Wieger 1965: 168).  This is zhou1, a representation of a watercraft with the boat open halfway – only the helm is shown.
A single instance of a motif from the rock art of Texas has a similar outline, but with internal stripes that run horizontally (Newcomb 1996: 144, fig. 81a).  Engraved human footprints or “bear tracks” somewhat resemble this Indus sign, although the prints invariably have a defined heel, something the Indus sign lacks (Newcomb 1996: 63, Pl. 24; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 108, fig. 45; 114, fig. 51a).  In the Nevada collection, there are 92 occurrences of such a foot or paw. 

However, as I have stated before, while I assign names such as FOOT to the Indus signs as a useful device for discussion purposes, these do not indicate meaning.  A real foot with as many as eight toes would be rather unusual, I must say.  In addition, some of the variants of this sign have sides that curve to a degree that would be most impractical for an ankle.  Again, this is not really a foot.  Some of the earliest proto-cuneiform signs that were semi-circular, with internal striping, represented metal (Schmandt-Besserat 1996:76).  Thus, Fairservis might be correct in assigning the meaning, "copper."  Then again, equally early signs that had the same shape, with fewer stripes only between the flat side and a striped near the flat side represented food (1996: 73).  So, take the three proto-cuneiform possibilities and flip an imaginary three-sided coin.  Does this sign mean "metal," "food," or "weave"?  Or is it something else entirely?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pinwheel, Wy, and Man

The ZEE PINWHEEL, which I enumerate V21, is shaped something like our letter “Z” turned sideways.  Alternatively, it may be considered a “ladder” in which the post on the right does not descend to the ground but stops at the bottom rung.  In addition, the post on the left does not ascend above the top rung.  In most cases, this zee-shaped PINWHEEL has three horizontal lines or rungs, but in some cases there are four (M-133 and M-425), in one case five (M-1087), and occasionally the striping is vertical (H-611).  The whole PINWHEEL is tilted diagonally in two instances (M-636 and M-1320). 
Inscription M-244 (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 61; hand copy showing ZEE PINWHEEL in usual final position).

This sign appears elsewhere as KP301, W494, and Fs I-13.  Fairservis considers it a plow, defining it as both the noun and verb “plow.”  Korvink classes it among the terminal signs, as it appears most often at the end of inscriptions.  Wells states that there are six variants.  Three of these are comprised of five strokes, two of six strokes, and one of seven strokes.  Wells notes 27 occurrences altogether, with 15 from Mohenjo daro, seven from Harappa, and five from Lothal.
No Egyptian hieroglyphs closely resemble this Indus sign, although there is a winding glyph rather like a flattened “S” (F48).  This glyph represents an animal’s intestine, functioning as a semi-ideograph in an expression meaning “in the midst of.”  Luwian hieroglyphs do not have quite the same symbol either, although SOLIUM, “seat,” somewhat resembles two flattened, parallel “Z’s” turned sideways.
Proto-cuneiform comes close to the Indus ZEE PINWHEEL with UR4~b, a horizontal, three-striped version of this sign with one difference.  One “leg” curves at the end, which is not the case in the Indus sign.  The proto-cuneiform sign came to mean “to collect, gather,” as well as other things.  Its “a” variant has six stripes and is vertical.  Proto-Elamite has a different horizontal type, this one more resembling a fallen chair with uneven legs, each of which ends with a wedge (M025).

Inscription M-899 showing WY and two types of BEARER (Shah and Parpola 1991: 86; PhotoShop edited, colored, and enhanced for clarity).

Old Chinese also has a fairly close parallel, though it too has one curving line.  This is er3, representing the ear, with that meaning (Wieger 1965: 313).  The character is also more rounded than the Indus sign in the older writing.  In modern Chinese, although the character has become squared off, it is also nearly rectangular as the 128th radical.
Old Norse runes include a somewhat similar shape to represent the “s” sound, with a single central “rung” (FUTHARK).  There is one unclear variant of the ZEE PINWHEEL on a tablet from Harappa resembling this rune (H-207).
The second sign discussed here resembles a backward “y” executed in squared off fashion, hence my designation WY.  I enumerate it V22 as it is the twenty-second of the five-stroke signs in my list.  It also appears as KP302 and W493, but not in Fairservis.  Wells notes that it is a singleton (M-899). 
Inscription B-1 (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 344; hand copy, partial). 
Note displacement of signs on right over horn of "unicorn" bull. 
This variant of the MAN has feet and a round head.

I have not found an exact duplicate of this Indus sign anywhere else.  It resembles the proto-cuneiform ZATU762~a, one variant of a square coil.  This coil is flipped and rotated compared to the Indus sign, its two bent lines do not touch each other as the lines of the Indus sign do, and one of the horizontals of the Indus sign has no counterpart in ZATU762.  Thus, this is not a close parallel.  The closest proto-Elamite analog, M035, is even less similar, more closely resembling an open numeral “4” lying on its back (M035).
In Old Chinese, one character has a form similar to the WY, but again without the second horizontal of the Indus sign.  The Chinese hua4 is “a man tumbled head over die....Derived meanings, to overthrow, to transform” (Wieger 1965: 87).  In modern Chinese, the character no longer resembles the Indus sign in the least.

Inscription M-620 on the handle of a shell ladle (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 156; hand copy). 
This MAN apparently lacks a "head" and is made with four strokes.

A single occurrence in the rock art of Texas is similar, but not matching (Newcomb 1996: 155, Pl. 108).  Not only does this motif not have two horizontals, it adds a short vertical not present in the Indus sign.  If we take this tri-pronged North American motif and flip it upside-down, then add two dots on either side of that extra vertical line, the whole thing becomes the Linear B logograph for “wine.”  At this point, it is quite different from the original Indus WY but reminiscent of the modern Chinese character for “rain.”
The final character for this post is nearly universal, one I term MAN and enumerate V23.  It is also KP13, W3, and Fs A-1.  Fairservis considers it to represent a man but defines it as “to rule; ruler.”  Wells states that there are 47 occurrences and four variants.  Mohenjo daro provides 36 occurrences, Harappa seven, and the following locations each provide one: Lothal, Kalibangan, Banawali, and Nausharo.  Only two of the variants listed by Wells consist of five strokes, a simple stick figure (“a”), and a similar one without a "head" (“d”).  Two of his variants have round heads, a stick figure to which this is the only additional feature (“b”), and another with the round head and an inverted triangle for a body (“c”). 
Egyptian "star" (a); Old Chinese "big" (b); Old Chinese "heaven" (c); Australian lizard (?) (d).

In my estimation, there are more than four variants and perhaps another independent sign among those enumerated by Wells.  The Kalibangan MAN not only has a round head but also feet, as is the case with the instance from Banawali (K-16 and B-1).  I would count these features as two more strokes, making them eight-stroke signs and "e" an additional fifth variant.  One instance from Mohenjo daro with a round head and triangular body is standing on a thin rectangular base (M-669).  This is an eleven-stroke sign which is more complex than the simple MAN.  It ought to be counted as a distinct sign (MAN ON BASE).  The headless variant appears to come in two forms, actually, one comprised of five strokes, and one of only four (H-440, five strokes; M-620, four strokes).  If we wish to be quite accurate, these might be given distinct letters (“d” for the first and “e” for the second, listed and enumerated among the four-stroke signs).
Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs, there are many anthropomorphs: men, women, children, and deities.  The glyphs that most closely match the Indus MAN are A27 (running man) and A28 (man with both arms raised).  However, the most similar graphically is not a person or god; it is a star (N14).  But for the fact that the angle of the upper “arms” differs, the star is almost identical to Wells’ “a” variant of the Indus sign, the same basic form shown in Fairservis’ list and in that of Koskenniemi and Parpola.

Proto-Elamite M096 (e); Linear B "man" (f); North American man/lizard (g); South American man/lizard (h).

This same Indus variant is virtually identical to the Old Chinese character da4, “a grown up man extension...great, tall” (Wieger 1965: 156).  Thus, while this character represents a man, it does not mean that.  It means “big, great.”  In the old writing, some versions of another character match Wells’ “b” variant of the MAN with the round head.  This is tien1, “the heavens, the firmament which is over men” (1965: 156, see example 382).  A third character, representing a type of spoon, is also much like the Indus MAN except that the "legs" are formed by an upside-down "U" shape, now written as a curved "L" shape with an attached hyphen (1965: 74).  The whole thing is now reminiscent of a stick figure seated on the ground, completely unlike its ancient form.
In proto-Elamite, there is a sign closely resembling the MAN, though the “legs” appear to come straight from the “head.”  This feature is also seen in the Kalibangan example, which Wells would classify as a “b” variant, by the way.  However, the “head” of the proto-Elamite symbol is an inverted triangle (M096).  This, by itself, is not surprising, since proto-Elamite signs are usually angular.  Still, a variant of this sign occurs in texts concerned with herds, where it seems likely to represent some type of livestock (Damerow and Englund 1989: 69).
Proto-cuneiform lacks even an approximation of the MAN sign.  In this type of proto-writing, “man” was represented by a head alone.  But in the later Bronze Age, Linear B developed a similar logograph for “man.”  It uses an upside-down “U” or “roof” element for the legs, with a single horizontal line on top of this for the arms.  Resting on the arms is a single quotation mark representing the head.  There is, then, a general resemblance to the Indus sign, but significant differences as well.  Even more distinct is the running man depicted on the Phaistos Disk.  In these cases, one feels that it is only because the symbols resemble humans that the symbols, in turn, slightly resemble each other.
The rock art of North America shows many parallels to the Indus MAN, both in Texas and Nevada (Newcomb 1996: 67, Pl. 27, no. 3; 109, Pl. 69, no.; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 161, fig. 98f; 162, fig. 99a; 176, fig. 113a; 177, fig. 114h).  There are highly schematic stick figures, as well as more elaborate figures that date to later periods.  Some of the stick figures appear to have tails or else represent well-endowed males.  Where the “tails” are long, the figures may not represent humans, but rather lizards.  Some figures are horned, a feature that occurs among Indus signs as well, as we will see in a later post (WINGED MAN / HORNED MAN).  Round heads are not common but they do occur, in both Texas and Nevada. 
Human figures appear in the rock art of Australia, too, though not usually in this particular abbreviated form.  Among the Australian anthropomorphs, a few of the Bradshaw paintings (also termed Gwion Gwion) have a similar, schematic shape (see reference to Bradshaw Foundation website below).  Most of those shown on the cited website either wear a tasseled headdress or their stance differs from that of the Indus sign.  In one case, spearmen have a round head, arms depicted with simple, straight lines, and a single thick line apparently represents both the body and legs, with the legs together.  One arm is raised over the head, the other hanging down.  Thus, although highly schematic and abbreviated, in stance these spearmen are quite different from the Indus MAN.
Among engraved motifs described as animal tracks, there is a simple Australian type that resembles the possible lizard of North America (Flood 1997: 107).  This may also be a lizard, perhaps the goanna, or, when it appears in pairs, another example of a track (at Red Gorge, Flinders Ranges, South Australia).  One reason for thinking such engravings date to an early period is that the native people of this area do not know their meaning or who made them (1997: 106).  When queried on the subject, some older men suggested that the marks must have been engraved by Iti, a legendary lizard-man, in the Dreamtime.
In the rock paintings of Tassili N’Ajjer in Algeria, anthropomorphs typically are more detailed once again (reference below).  But an occasional simplified figure has a round head, inverted triangle body, and stick-limbs.  Even in these cases, though, the fact that elbows and knees are bent makes these joints visible.  This is generally not true of the Indus anthropomorphic signs, with the exception of occasional elbows in the BEARER, a sign to be discussed in a later post.
In South America, the most common shape is somewhat ambiguous, although not identical to the “lizard” of Australia and North America.  Like the latter, it has a central vertical line with two horizontal lines across it.  Each horizontal has two more verticals attached, one at either end.  Those attached to the “arms” point up.  Those attached to the “feet” point down.  This gives the South American “lizard” or “man” a distinctively square look (see various examples at rupestreweb, citation below).
Thus, some form of abbreviated human appears on every inhabited continent.  This is hardly surprising, given the fact that people are highly interested in depicting people and people tend to look much the same everywhere.  Richard McDorman provides another way of looking at similar symbols in different scripts (2009: locations 115-117).  He posits a series of principles of universal iconography operating on all early scripts.  That is, because people are much alike in psychology and the way they perceive the world, there are certain parallels between unrelated scripts.  When people first begin writing, their first impulse is to draw pictures of objects, sometimes “abbreviating” such a drawing by depicting only a characteristic part.  For example, proto-cuneiform contains a simple drawing of an ox’s head with its horns to represent an ox.  The Luwian symbol for the same word is also an ox’s head, showing its horns, at times so abbreviated it is difficult to recognize the animal.  The Egyptian symbol is most often a complete ox, seen from the side (E1), but again the head may suffice, especially in lists of offerings (F1).  In Old Chinese though,  the symbol for “ox” is a variation on a trident shape, with an additional horizontal crossing the stem, said to depict the animal from the back (Wieger 1965: 301, niu2). 
Thus, despite the operation of these supposedly “universal” principles, the specific form of any particular symbol cannot actually be predicted, even when it seems a straightforward matter to depict the object represented.  This is what has happened with the basic “man” representation.  Sometimes the stick figure resembles the Indus MAN closely.  But sometimes it is quite different or this symbol has a different meaning.
In the final illustrations, "a" is the Egyptian star glyph; "b" the Old Chinese character meaning "big," "c" one variant of the Old Chinese character meaning "heaven"; "d" an Australian engraving that may be a lizard or an animal track; "e" the proto-Elamite sign M096 rotated 90 degrees for better comparison; "f" the Linear B logograph "man"; "g" one North American human or lizard form as found in Nevada (the same form appears in Texas with the head filled in); and "h" the common South American human or lizard form.

Damerow, Peter and Robert Englund. 1989. The Proto-Elamite Texts from Tepe Yahya. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
McDorman, Richard E. 2009. Universal Iconography in Writing Systems: Evidence and Explanation in the Easter Island and Indus Valley Script.  Amazon Kindle.
Australian rock art at:
North African example at:
South American rock art at: