Petroglyphs from the western United States, including plant motif similar to Indus SHISH KEBAB
lower right (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984).
I think the actual symbol is merely a single post with this triangular element attached, which I would term a PENNANT. I think this because it occurs without an additional "post" on two tablets at Mohenjo daro (M-1635 and M-1636). On these, the PENNANT appears beside a BLANKET WITH 5 TICKS (3 x 2). In addition, there is an additional symbol where the PENNANT occurs, a ligature, the CIRCLED PENNANT.
In runic alphabets, a similar symbol occurs, resembling an angular "P," representing the "w" sound in the Norse system (FUTHARK). The angular attachment is displaced to the center of the vertical line to represent the "th" sound in both the Norse and Anglo-Saxon runic alphabets (FUTHARK and FUTHORC).
The second Indus sign for today is similar to first except for the shape of the lines. It is DOUBLE CEES WITH EAR, IV19, also known as KP173(a) and W579 (not shown in Fairservis). It appears twice, once with a curved ear on the left (M-1274) and once where the top line of the ear is straight (M-1277).
Our third Indus sign is also similar except that the shape of the lines now resembles our letter "S": DOUBLE ESSES WITH EAR, IV20. This sign is also KP173(b) but does not appear elsewhere. It appears to be a singleton, occuring in H-97, a broken seal, where it appears over three rectangles.
Djed-pillars and Tyet-knots beneath stars -- Egyptian motifs, one of which resembles Indus SHISH KEBAB.
The following sign adds two similar strokes, but in a different fashion, so that they form a small dip after the end of a line, rather than an attached ear-like shape. This is STOOL WITH BENT FOOT, IV21. This is my clumsy appellation (hopefully temporary) for KP229 and W456 (not shown in Fairservis). Wells states that it occurs twice, once at Mohenjo daro and once at Harappa. I see it three times (M-1020, M-1087, H-680). The angle and height of the "bent foot" vary a bit, but these do seem much alike and quite rare as a symbol. Obviously, if turned sideways such items would make very poor stools.
There is a single parallel motif in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb 1996: 124, Pl. 81, no. 9). This element has its additional portion added to the lower "leg" rather than the upper one as the Indus sign does. But it was the only similar item I found anywhere.
Next is POINTY DEE-SLASH, IV22, which occurs only as W562 elsewhere. Wells gives its frequency as only three, with one occurrence each at Mohenjo daro, Harappa, and Desalpur. I see four occurrences and two variants. At Desalpur, where it is a seal impression, it is indeed a "dee" form. That is to say, it looks like an angular version of our letter "D" with a slash through it. The other three occurrences (M-12, H-44, and H-682), where it appears on seals, are reversed and thus BACK DEE in my terms.
I see two parallels. One is quite close, ZATU694~c in proto-cuneiform. It is a vertically oriented, backward and angular "D." Its vertical line is slightly long, though. Instead of a slash, it has a horizontal line crossing it. Unfortunately, its meaning is unknown. The other parallel is less close in form, a symbol found on punch-marked coins of later India of the Magadha type. This appears to be a bow positioned horizontally, with a short arrow positioned vertically across it. The bow has a slight bend in the middle, reminiscent of the letter "B." The arrow has a head, which the Indus sign lacks.
In the last post I mentioned the use of a "tick" or short stroke in Egyptian to note a distinction in pronunciation of a phonetic glyph. In another glyph, a number of similar short strokes are used for a very different purpose. In the Book of the Dead, the malevolence of the snake, a determinative in the word "revolt," is magically countered with no less than five backslashes (Budge 1967 and 1895: 3). Thus, an additional element can signal a distinction in sound as in yesterday's Egyptian example, a distinction in meaning as in yesterday's Chinese example, or a magical intervention. It is also quite possible that an additional stroke signals yet other meanings, ones that ancient people understood but we do not.
The next sign in the Indus script is a variant of the TRI-FORK, one I discussed before. This particular one has two variants: SLASH IN BI-FORK / BACKSLASH IN BI-FORK, IV23 "a" and "b." These type are not shown except in Wells, where they are W280 ("a" variant with slash) and W279 ("b" variant with backslash). Each is a singleton according to Wells, both said to occur only at Lothal. I see the slash on L-36 ("a" variant), the backslash on L-36 ("b" variant), in comparison to the three-stroke TRI-FORK on L-29.
Previously, I mentioned the possibility that such symbols might be depictions of bird tracks. Some rock art includes apparent bird tracks that are off-kilter something like these Indus signs, including one from Texas (Newcomb 1996: 90, Pl. 50, no. 2). Another example is from Australia (Flood 1997: 13, at Yiwarlarlay, Victoria River district, Northern Territory). Runic alphabets also include some letters faintly resembling such motifs: variants of Norse letters for the "f" and "r/z" sounds (FUTHARK); Anglo-Saxon letters for "a," "o," and "x" (FUTHORC).
Naxi plant motif at lower right, a distant parallel to the Indus SHISH KEBAB (World Digital Library).
Today's final Indus sign is a four-stroke SHISH KEBAB, IV24, a vertical post with three crossing horizontals. It has no exact KP number since KP99 has four crossing strokes. Fairservis shows two variants of the SHISH KEBAB, K-4 having four crossing strokes, K-5 having five. Only Wells shows this form (W268) as his variant "e." Variants "a" through "g" in his list have four through six crossing strokes. In this form, I see it only three times. It occurs with a "vertical" stroke that leans to the left, almost a backslash, on Blk-1 from Balakot. It probably is the sign on a broken pot shard from Harappa (H-378), although it is right at the edge, so it is difficult to be certain. And it seems to occur on a round seal from Chanhujo-daro (C-48). Such small, round seals tend to be peculiar, though, and often do not easily fit the classification of signs found elsewhere.
One or another variant of this sign appears widely around the world. Old Chinese has a horizontal version with three crossing strokes, san-shi2, "thirty" (Wieger 1965: 71). Normally, the character for "three," the first part of this numeral, is written with three stacked horizontals. This is usually followed by a symbol much like our "plus" sign representing "ten." This is how "thirty" is pronounced in the Chinese language and how it is written today. But in the old style of writing, three tens could be written side by side and, in this variant, they are basically run together.
Another Old Chinese example is vertical like the Indus sign, jie4, "the first mnemonic way invented after the knotted strings....Notches cut in a bamboo lath. By extension, deed, document, record, proof" (Wieger 1965: 240). In this character, the strokes crossing the vertical are diagonal, three slashes.
Proto-cuneiform also has two parallels. The first of these is horizontal, with four crossing strokes, NUN~b. This came to mean "prince, noble; to rise up; great, noble." The other is vertical but has many more crossing strokes, from five to as many as ten in one tablet I noted. This is ASZ2, "emmer wheat; flour, bread." A single horizontal type appears in proto-Elamite where it has no less than seven diagonal crossing lines.
In the rock art of North America, motifs of this type appear both on painted pebbles and the walls of caves and rock shelters in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 91, Pl. 51, no. 2; 106, Pl. 66, no. 3; 137, Pl. 92, no. 2). In Nevada and eastern California there are 27 occurrences of these single-pole ladders, as they are thought to be (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 163, fig. 100a and f). I see from three to seven "rungs" on these "ladders." Australia also has the motif, with double-barred versions that may be representations of lizards at Wharton Hill, Olary region (Flood 1997: 185, L and Q). A taller type with eight crossing lines appears in association with giant bird track engravings at Eucolo Creek (1997: 112).
In the Danube Valley, similar motifs also occur with two to four crossing lines (DS132 two crossbars; DS133 variant three crossbars; DS134 four crossbars). In addition, in later India, a form similar to the SHISH KEBAB but with crossbars that slant a bit upward from the central vertical appears inside a circle on punch-marked coins of the Magadha type. This motif has two of these bent crossbars. A somewhat similar motif has three bent crossbars each of which ends in a small circle. The top of the central vertical also ends in a small circle. Both of these motifs may be representations of plants.
Other plant-like motifs appear in the art of ancient Egypt, as shown in the illustration that accompanied a previous post from a vase. The vase came from King Tut's tomb. The small motif was relegated to areas bordering the main scene of the lion attacking its prey. The motif itself probably represents an ear of grain, perhaps barley in this case. There is a hieroglyph that is quite similar, but this one does not function as a glyph. There is also an Indus glyph that is more like the ear of grain, to be discussed later.
Another Egyptian glyph that is somewhat more like the SHISH KEBAB is the dd pillar, pronounced like the name Jed. This probably began as a group of reeds tied together or stalks of some other plant so bound. But in Egyptian religious thought it represented the backbone of their god Osiris. It was a hieroglyph also, meaning stability, often appearing next to the ankh or, as in the illustration provided, a relative of the ankh, the sacred knot tyt (pronounced something like "chatty").
A final illustration included here comes from Naxi proto-writing, as used in China until the early 20th century. Although I do not know the precise significance of the symbol, it is basically pictorial and represents some type of plant. It is more like the grain ear in the Egyptian vase than the SHISH KEBAB, once again.