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:

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