Thursday, October 28, 2010

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?

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