Monday, October 4, 2010

Boat or Fish, Bee, and Hunchback: Some Unusual Indus Signs

Today’s first sign is something of a puzzle.  Initially I thought it a variation on the symbol I termed the BOAT, roughly a “C” shape with a smaller, backward curve in the center.  To this a short line appears to be attached at an angle, at the bottom, making an "oar" for this “boat.” The whole thing is positioned vertically, most unlike a real boat, of course, like most Indus signs.  The symbol as described is also under a chevron, or upside-down "V" shape.  Thus, my first name for the sign was the very clumsy CEE BOAT WITH OAR UNDER CHEVRON.  This symbol occurs elsewhere only as KP168 (and 169), not in the lists prepared by Wells or Fairservis.

Seated god determinative appears here, twice, once after the throne (in the name of Osiris), once after the flag (in the word for "god").  This is one parallel for the Indus sign IV30.

I created a database of Indus inscriptions myself, but this sign does not appear in it because I didn’t see it the same way in the photos of the actual seals.  There, it seemed to me the looped CORD (or FINLESS FISH), in essence.  The chevron, in most cases, rests directly on top of this element rather than positioned above it, as it does in most other cases.  Thus, if the basic element represents a type of fish, the “chevron” might better be described as the fish’s whiskers, if it is intended as a catfish, or else the chevron element represents peculiarly positioned fins.  In any case, the sign needs a different and shorter name.  Until I devise one, it is simply IV28.
It seems to appear twice at Mohenjo daro (M-25 and M-627).  It is possible that another instance is M-969, although this “finless fish with bent back whiskers” (as I described it in my database) might be striped.  The photo is simply unclear.  These three instances are most likely variants of the sign STRIPED FINLESS FISH UNDER CHEVRON which contains seven or more strokes (M-160, M-252, M-748, M-928, possibly the aforementioned M-969, H390, and H-416).  As such, I will discuss it later on.  There is another variant, a FINLESS FISH or CORD with a “V” or upright whiskers rather than a chevron.  It occurs only once, so far as I can determine (on K-12, a copper bar).  Thus, IV28 the CORD WITH ATTACHMENT could be characterized as having two variants, "a" WITH CHEVRON, "b" WITH VEE on top.
When the looped CORD lacks the chevron, it is sometimes attached to another sign.  This occurs twice in association with the STRIPED BATTERY (to the right of M-159, where it is striped itself; and to the right of C-8, where it lacks a striped) and once in association with the PRAWN (K-51 also to the right).  These ligatures will also be covered later as they contain multiple strokes.
The unstriped variant of this chevron- or vee-topped CORD (or finless fish), IV28, appears before doubled grids or QUILTS on M-25 (2 x 7).  On M-627, there are two QUILTS (3 x 8) also, although not side by side (FISH / TABLE / QUILT / POT / IV28 / QUILT.  The unclear instance, M-969, occurs before an anthropomorphic figure that appears to be carrying pots dangling from a shoulder yoke, the BEARER (IV28 / BEARER).

On far right, the "hairy" version of IV30 in the Indus script.

Some of the striped variants occur in the same environments.  On M-160, the BEARER follows the striped variant (designated IV28x in the following): POTTED ONE / CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES / SLASH / IV28x / BEARER.  And another does as well, after a break (H-416): IV28x / BEARER.  Another occurs beside double QUILTS (H-66):  FLAG / IV28x / DOUBLE QUILTS (3 x 4).  One other appears with both QUILTS and an anthropoid with a shoulder yoke both no pots (M-252): IV28x / BIG-SHOULDERED MAN / DOUBLE QUILTS (2 X 5) / STACKED TWELVE / BIG SHOULDERED MAN / COMB (6 TEETH).  Thus, the sign IV28 and its variant (IV28x) show a predilection for the BEARER (and its variant, the BIG SHOULDERED MAN) and the QUILT (in its various configurations).
The second sign to be discussed today is the BEE WITH TICK, IV29.  It is actually backward compared to our letter “B,” but since there is but a single instance of it (M-243), it does not seem worth the bother of cluttering up the name with that information.  It was previously KP78 and W567.  Koskenniemi and Parpola show the “tick” to be a diagonal line, much like our slash.  Wells shows it to be curved.  I see it as something in between both representations, not quite as straight as the KP sign, not quite as curved as Wells’ printed version.

Dashboard icon similar to Indus sign IV30.

Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs, a glyph representing a composite bow with the middle tied to the bowstring is a close parallel in form (T10).  This is how a bow is stored when out of use.  The glyph is normally positioned horizontally in Egyptian, though, unlike the vertical Indus sign.  It is a determinative in Egyptian, not only for the word for “bow,” but also for “foreign people.”  There is an expression that translates literally as the "Nine Bows."  It refers to the foreign lands that were Egypt’s traditional enemies.  Thus, it doesn’t really mean nine bows for shooting arrows.  It means the nine foreign countries, as symbolized by this bow-shaped determinative.  In an analogous fashion, the Indus symbol might depict a bow but represent some idea associated with bows that is not obvious to us today.
Old Chinese also has a bow-shaped character rather like the letter “B”: gong1, “it represents a Chinese bow, with its handle in the middle...the bow bent or vibrating” (Wieger 1965: 222).  This is now the very angular 57th radical.  Another character the resembles the letter “B” in the old script is nai3, “a difficulty of breathing; any difficulty in general....It is intended to represent the air curling to make its way through the wind-pipe.  A sigh, a cry.”  All that discussion actually describes only the lumpy part on the right.  Adding a vertical line on the left, making the character more closely resembling our letter, creates a connective particle of the same sound, a character still used today (Wieger 1965: 61).

Kokopelli, the hunchback, as seen in a wallpaper motif.

Proto-cuneiform has a symbol that resembles “B” as well, ERIM~a.  Two more variants of this ideograph exist, positioned differently.  The “b1” variant is backward compared to our letter.  The “b2” variant is positioned horizontally.  The sign came to mean “enemy; wicked; oath.”  Perhaps the Luwians acquired their basically “B” shaped (but backward) sign from the Sumerians, since theirs means MALUS, “bad.”
Runes include variations on “B” which may well be related to our own letter.  Some of these variants are identical to our capital letter, some more angular and pointed, some backward.  They exist in both the old Norse and the Anglo-Saxon systems (FUTHARK and FUTHORC).  An angular motif that is only roughly similar to a backward version exists in the Old European symbol repertoire, in addition (OE 72b).  Its significance is unknown.
In the rock art of North America, motifs that are reminiscent of the letter “B” rarely occur.  I find one in Texas that is backward compared to our letter at the top of a complex group of elements (Newcomb 1996: 101, Pl. 58).  A less clear example occurs in the "correct" orientation further west (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 188, fig. 125h).
The final sign in today’s discussion is one I term the HUNCHBACK due to its similarity to Kokopelli, a figure common in the American Southwest.  The Indus sign cannot be related to the American character but is similar enough to be recognized by that name.  I enumerate it IV30 as it is drawn with four strokes and is the thirtieth in my list of four-stroke signs.  It is also KP193, W79, and Fairservis' Q-7.
Fairservis sees this sign as a ligature of his E-5, a bole of the cotton plant, combined with P-4, the chevron that he defines as “head,” considered an affix.  He states that the sign means “cotton” as a crop and possibly also cloth.  Wells actually divides the sign into more than one, based on position.  When the head is to the right, it is W79; to the left, W83 – except that he reverses the signs when they appear on seals, though not on tablets.  It is not always clear whether or not he reverses the signs as they appear on pot shards -- or, indeed, whether he includes these instances at all. 
My own preference is to include both versions as variants of the same sign, differentiated by letter, "a" and "b" of the same number, IV30.  I would classify each sign as it actually appears on the artifact where it is found, whether seal, tablet, bangle, pot, impression, etc.  In my system, "a" represents the instance with the "head" on the right; "b" the instance where the "head" is on the left.
In Egyptian, there is a seated god which is somewhat similar to IV30.  The Egyptian glyph has a clearly delineated head, with a carefully drawn beard (most of the time), often a little face (except in hieratic), and his headgear may be distinctive from one rendition to the next.  His body, in contrast, is cloaked and undifferentiated.  He is sitting on the ground with his knees up.  That is all we can tell as his arms, legs, and feet are covered up by some sort of wrap.  This is A40 which can be an ideograph or a determinative, or even the pronoun “I, me” when a god is speaking.  In the Twelfth Dynasty, it can also be the king speaking.
There is a very similar glyph that is a seated woman.  The body is identical but the head differs.  She has long hair which hangs before and behind her shoulders and she lacks the beard, quite naturally.  She usually does not have a hat on, either (unless she is a goddess).  This is B1, which functions the same way as the previous sign, as ideograph, determinative, and first person pronoun.  If the Indus HUNCHBACK is a similar sort of glyph, it is considerably more abbreviated.  But the suggestion has been made that it is a seated person – I just can’t recall offhand who made that suggestion.  If a reader can remember, he or she is welcome to jog my fading memory.
Another glyph is I12, the cobra, its head raised as if to strike.  This notion is also based on someone else’s idea and once again, I can’t remember whose idea this was.  Once again, I would welcome assistance for my faulty memory.  I have several bookshelves full of notebooks bearing printouts of articles from journals, magazines, and items from the internet.  I’m sure the reference is there somewhere.  The question is where – and where to begin looking?
The first snake, I12, has a raised head but does not have any raised “knees,” or anything comparable to the bend resembling a chevron which the Indus sign has.  Another snake glyph not only has such a bend after the upright head, it has two of these (I15).  This is an excess of riches for our purposes, but it does demonstrate that symbolic snakes can and do have rising bodies as well as upraised heads.
Old Chinese lacks either an anthropomorphic sign or a snake character that parallels the contours of the Indus sign.  However, the character neng2, representing a bear, is rather similar.  The head is almost the same, as is the line of the animal’s back.  The Chinese character does not have the chevron-like bend beyond this point.  But it does have an unusual feature here.  The bear’s feet are shown as two elements detached from the rest of the character.  These have nothing in common with the Indus sign's chevron-like element, of course.  It is meaning of this character that is most interesting.  It does not mean “bear.”  The meaning is, “valour, an officer” (Wieger 1965: 82).  Thus, even should it be proved that the Indus sign represents a snake, it might not mean “snake.”  It could convey a meaning associated with snakes, depending on what those creatures meant to the people of the Indus Valley in the Bronze Age – representatives of the ancestors, say, or destroyers of vermin, hence divine protectors of grain and agriculture...who knows?
A motif not too different from the HUNCHBACK occurs in Old Europe.  It takes the form of a small circle attached to the top end of a line that almost has an “S” curve to it (one variant of DS239).  Less like this is the runic “j” as an oval element between two straight lines, the right line descending, the left line rising from the edge of the oval.  This occurs only in the Old Norse system (FUTHARK).
In the art of Native Americans of the Southwest, the Humpbacked Flute Player is an ancient and widespread motif.  In Hopi, this is Kokopilau or Kokopelli, who carries the seeds of plants in his hump and wanders over the land playing his flute, creating warmth with his music (Waters 1977: 38).  This type of figure appears outside the Hopi area, too, being found among the Mescalero style figures in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 196, Pl. 147, no. 26-A).
We even have a similar icon on the dashboard of our cars, indicating where the air of the climate control features (air conditioning, heater, or fan) is blowing.  This is shown in one illustration.  Another shows the feathered version of Kokopelli as he appears on my wallpaper.  This form is taken from rock art and appears widely on T-shirts, earrings, coffee mugs, and souvenirs.


Waters, Frank. 1977. Book of the Hopi. New York: Penguin. (reprint of original published in 1963).

1 comment:

  1. A couple notes I forgot to mention in the main article: the HUNCHBACK appears seven times. The "a" variant with "head" to the right occurs twice (M-1629, on a bangle, and H74, a tablet). The "b" variant with "head" to the left occurs five times (M-181, M-623, M-1267; H-76, and H-503). Size and shape of the "head" varies, as does the angle of the "knees." Two occur beside the "HAIRY HUNCHBACK," which must, therefore be a distinct sign, not a variant of this one.