The first Indus symbol discussed here comes close to being universal. I call it the GRAIN EAR, and enumerate it V18 due to its appearance as KP101. In this five-stroke version, it does not appear in either Wells' or Fairservis’ lists (Wells shows a version with 15 strokes, W270). It does actually occur in a form with five strokes at least once in the corpus, on a tablet from Harappa (H-829A). I note occurrences of variants from Mohenjo daro (M-1598 A1 and A3), Harappa (H-829B, H-1003), Kalibangan (K-28, K-94, K-98), Lothal (L-45, L-254, L-277), and Banawali (B-12). They have between five and seventeen strokes. Nine is the most common number of strokes, but form varies even then. There are also two decorative elements on an ivory rod from Mohenjo daro that resemble this symbol (M-1650).
Egyptian "star" hieroglyphs, as found on Cyprus.
An ear of emmer wheat appears among the Egyptian hieroglyphs that closely resembles the Indus sign (M34). It has five strokes on each side of the central vertical, with a bit of bare stem below. The Luwian glyph SCRIBA, “scribe” has only two branches on each side and stem below. In addition, a “table” element sits above. A nearly identical glyph represents the syllable tu in this writing system.
In Old Chinese, two ears, each with three branches on each side, make up the character feng1, “boughs, shoots, vitality, prosperity, abundance” (Wieger 1965: 239). Thus, no particular plant is indicated here. In contrast, proto-cuneiform is quite specific with the ear of grain shown in SZE. This may have as few as two branchings (“b” variant) or as many as five (“c” variant) and it may be positioned horizontally or vertically. However it appears, it represents barley.
Grain ears as shown on a vase from King Tut's tomb (detail from postcard).
Proto-Elamite also has a number of apparent ears of grain, two of which end with a wedge (M076~a and M076~c). The first has two branches on each side while the second has three. A third sign has no wedge and no less than six branches on either side (M488). Presumably two types of grain are indicated, perhaps barley and emmer.
In Linear B, used to write Mycenaean Greek, there are four distinctions in signs that are not quite ears of grain such as these. Each has a post with additions off to one side only. “Barley” has two prongs off the left and these prongs curve upward. In contrast, the ideograph for “cyprus” has two lines that curve toward the right. The ideograph for “oil” has two lines curving toward the left again and, in addition, a loop on the right.
Star? Plant? (Prickwillow Pottery motif ).
On the punch-marked coins of later India, the Magadha type often have a stylized plant with a central stem and two branches on each side. The top of the central stem and the ends of the branches are adorned with small circles. The Vidarbha type also have a stylized plant, this one with four branches on each side, also adorned with a circle at the end of each.
The Old European motifs include two types of grain ear, one with two branches, another with three (OE 13 and 14 respectively). Such plant-like motifs are also found in the rock art of North America. In Texas, they are often associated with human figures and may actually be feathers (Newcomb 1996: 21, Pl. 5, near head of human, Pl. 6, near arm of human). A similar motif with a curved central stem and up to eight branches appears in the repertoire of Adinkra symbols of West Africa. It is called nyame nti, “by God’s grace." It is said to represent faith and trust in God. A similar motif, this one with a straight center and eight branches over two leaf-life elements, is termed aya, “fern.” This is said to indicate endurance and resourcefulness.
The “grain ear” is more likely to represent a plant in the Nevada collection, possibly the joint pine (Ephedra sp.), used medicinally by the native people of this area (50 occurrences noted by the authors) (e.g., Heizer and Baum hoff 1984: 151, fig. 88l). I have noted two paintings in the rock art of Australia as well, one with five branches and one with eight, in the Panaramitee Tradition at Bimbo 2 Shelter Site, Olary region (Flood 1997: 202). Thus, with the exception of South America, I have documentation of this symbol on each inhabited continent. It may occur in South America as well, but I have virtually no information on symbols of that area.
Star quilt or the Big Dahlia (handiwork of Mary Williams).
The second Indus sign is difficult to describe and has almost no parallels. It reminds me of a cartoon sketch of a pair of pants, so I have termed it PANTS for want of a better name. Its numeric designation is V19. There are many variants of this sign but only Wells shows this particular one (W168). He states that it is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1095). I see that particular variant a bit differently, as an eight-stroke sign.
Proto-Elamite provides virtually the only parallel with a horizontal, skewed rectangle bisected horizontally. To the right end are attached three lines which slant downward. The whole sign makes an elaborate chevron shape. In contrast, the Indus sign is positioned vertically, bending in the middle like a “greater than” sign.
The third and final sign for today is the STAR, V20. It appears only as KP218 in the various lists, not being shown in either Wells or Fairservis. Its meager showing in these lists is due to its rarity in the corpus, where it appears only on a pot shard from Rahman-Dheri (Rhd-158) and a round seal from Kalako-deray (Kl-1). There are a couple of rounded five-point stars from Chanhujo daro as well, that are similar (C-49B, C-50B). These are delineated with triple lines that wind around and under each other in a fashion similar to the “plaited pentagram” discussed at some length on Symbols.com (Online Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms).
Lone Stars on window shutters.
Among Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is a star with five points (N14). It does represent a star, but it is not quite the same. The Egyptian "star" is generally drawn with five simple lines extending from a central point. Such stars are often found painted on the ceilings of tombs, representing the starry night sky. In contrast, a five-pointed star of the Indus type appears in proto-cuneiform, but with the “top” pointed down, as UB. But here it does not represent a star at all. In this case it stands for one of the four directions and came to mean “corner, angle, room.” Almost exactly the same symbol appears in proto-Elamite as well, but it seems to be standing on one “leg” (M102~e).
Lone Stars in triplicate on a house.
On punch-marked coins of later India, the Shakya type bears a motif similar to the rounded form of the Indus STAR. The largest segment on these later coins is in the center, a large circular element, around which five smaller circular elements are arrayed, forming a star-like pattern.
The rock art of North America has many motifs that resemble stars of one sort or another, or rather asterisks. These generally have a round central dot and a number of arms, although the center is not always emphasized in this fashion. In addition, the number of arms varies considerably, with five relatively infrequent. Five arms appear in Texas alongside other asterisks of other configurations (Newcomb 1996: 102, Pl. 60; 103, Pl. 61). In Nevada, there are 27 occurrences of asterisk-like elements, most made with three-strokes and thus six-pointed, but two have five points (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 148, fig. 85a; 184, fig. 121i). The last is an Indus-like five-pointed star inside a circle and has another, smaller circle inside it.The five-pointed star is particularly common in the U.S., where fifty appear on the flag representing the states. A single star is also on the Texas state flag, the Lone Star. This symbol is a popular decorative motif on houses, either in a circle or without the ring. Within a mile of my own house, I counted nearly twenty of these. The Lone Star even occurs as a quilt design, though the one shown is the Big Dahlia, according to my grandmother, due to its multiple “petals.”