Friday, October 29, 2010

A Skewered Donut and a Pair of Unusual Cups

The SKEWERED DONUT is an Indus sign comprising a dotted circle with a vertical line both rising and descending from it.  It also appears as KP108, W248, and Fs L-12.  Fairservis sees this as a special bead on a necklace worn by married women.  Wells cites a total of only five occurrences of this sign, all at Mohenjo daro (M-1 and M-663, in which the “donut” is quite round, M-12 in which the “donut” is more oval, and M-1350 in which the oval “donut” has a visible vertical bisecting it).  To these, I would add an instance of the simpler SKEWERED CIRCLE of four strokes (M-436A and B).  The latter appears on both sides of a round tablet in bas-relief.  Inscriptions on such tablets often lack the fine details of the seals, so it may be that the SKEWERED DONUT is what the tablet maker intended.

SKEWERED DONUT / TRI-FORK (Shah and Parpola 1991: 174; hand copy of bar seal).

The simpler SKEWERED CIRCLE is quite similar to an Egyptian hieroglyph representing a cord wound on a stick (V24).  For reasons not well understood, this is a biliteral phonetic glyph, wd, used in words such as “to command” and “to turn” (wedj and wedjeb).
In proto-cuneiform, similarly, an oval is bisected by a line that both crosses it and continues some distance beyond it.  This sign is SZIR~a, among whose meanings is “bulb,” perhaps what it originally depicted.  Another variant of this same sign is a skewered diamond (“b” variant).  Proto-Elamite, with its penchant for angular signs, only has skewered diamonds.  All of these contain either striping or cross-hatching, never a simple dot (M254, three variants).  Thus, they make for poorer parallels to the Indus sign than either Egyptian or proto-cuneiform.
Anglo-Saxon runes include a small circle bisected by a long line as one variant for the “j” sound (FUTHORC).  Other variants include a small diamond with the line through it and a small “X” skewered in the same manner.  One sign in the Yi syllabary is similar to the Indus SKEWERED CIRCLE as well, with a circle between a rising and a descending post.  In addition though, there is a slash attached to the base of the descending post and a backslash attached to the ascending post.  This more complex “circle skewered by a backward zee” represents the syllable transliterated ie (see reference below).

(Shah and Parpola 1991: 125; hand copy, detail, showing ears of rhino).

The rock art of North America also contains examples of a skewered circle (Newcomb 1996: 117, Pl. 75; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 169, fig. 106k).  The dotted circle occurs on a post, i.e., as a “lollipop” in my terms.  In one instance in Texas it also occurs skewered, but only as part of a more complex motif, with additional prongs coming from the “donut” and a chevron at the base of the post (Newcomb 1996: 102, Pl. 69, no. 7).
The next Indus sign considered here is the CUPPED THREE, V33.  It appears elsewhere as KP312, W294 (as a “U” shape) and W300 (as a “V” shape), plus Fs Q-16.  Fairservis considers this a combination of his J-1 and O-3, in other words a measure of quantity plus "three" as an adjective.  This would seem to add up to "three measures" of some quantity.  However, he defines the sign as “a proper name (?) MunaL; foremost in quantity or a quantity” (the capital letter in the name represents a retroflex sound usually denoted with a dot beneath the letter).
Detail from "Newspaper Rock," a rock face engraved with petroglyphs in Indian Creek State Park between Monticello and Moab, Utah.  Note the apparent representations of tracks or footprints with four to six toes (from a postcard at least 30 years old).

To my mind, this is one sign with two variants, the “A” variant being basically “U” shaped with three quote marks inside and the “B” variant being “V” shaped with the same three quotes.  Wells notes six occurrences of my A variant (one at Mohenjo daro, three at Harappa, one at Lothal, and one at Kalibangan), and just at one occurrence of my B variant (at Mohenjo daro, which he identifies as MacKay no. 560).  It seems to me that all of the various Indus signs that are essentially “U” shaped also have “V” variants, with many occurrences being somewhere in between these extremes.  The distinction is similar to that between the circle and oval as variants of what I have termed the CIRCLE.  There are occurrences that are very round, some that are quite pointed at each end, and others that are in between these extremes.  Thus, it seems logical to consider these two "signs," W294 and W300, a single sign with two variants.

(Shah and Parpola 1991: 65; hand copy, ear of unicorn bull shown and FAT
 LAMBDA restored to presumed original condition.  Corner is actually broken off.)

There is no equivalent to the “A” variant in proto-cuneiform, although there is a semi-circle with three internal stripes (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 76).  These stripes are diagonal, unlike the Indus “quotes.”  The Near Eastern symbol represents metal, perhaps copper at this very early period.  At a later time, Luwian hieroglyphs include another semi-circle, CAELUM, “sky.”  Beneath the flat side there is a straight line and between these two, four short lines connecting them.  All in all, the early proto-cuneiform sign and the Luwian glyph are rather different from the Indus sign in being closed half circles. 
The “B” variant does occur a little later in proto-cuneiform (ZATU662).  It is rotated 90 degrees, with the “quotes” on the right.  In proto-Elamite another “V” shaped type occurs, but with only two “quote” marks (M069~b).  In this case, the quotes are on the left.  The meaning is unknown in both types of proto-writing.  Among the motifs of Old Europe, there are two “V” shaped symbols, one with four internal “quotes” (OE92a) and another with two (OE92b).
Note that CUPPED TWO (IV36) and CUPPED FOUR also appear among the Indus signs, at least in the KP list.  I have not yet discussed the POT, a “U” shape with two short horizontals on each side.  This, too, occurs with quote marks inside, POTTED ONE, POTTED TWO, and so on.  One instance of CUPPED THREE cited by Wells may actually be a POTTED THREE (H-745B), as it occurs in a seal impression that is difficult to make out, with a crack across one side, and where one edge is obscure.  But the other edge appears to have the two short horizontal prongs characteristic of the POT rather than the smooth side of the CUP. 

While it is possible that Fairservis is correct about inferring a measurement of quantity in such symbols as the CUPPED THREE, it is also conceivable that this is a representation of a footprint.  It bears a resemblance to the bear track found in North American rock art, cited in previous posts (Newcomb 1996: 63, Pl. 24; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 108, fig. 45; 114, fig. 51).  Similar engraved animal tracks appear in Australia at Panaramitee North (Flood 1997: 122).  Less “U” shaped tracks have also been engraved in rocks at Twyfelfontein, Namibia in Africa (see the site report at the Bradshaw Foundation, fig. 89, reference below).
There are also motifs that resemble the Indus sign that are unlikely to be tracks, located in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 149, Pl. 100, no. 7; Pl. 99, no. 10; 207, Pl. 151, no. 3).  The first is a “U” shape containing a single quote; the second a “V” shape containing two quotes.  The third shows two instances of double quotes, each with a small “roof” curve over it.  In the Nevada collection, there are three similar motifs, all of “roofs” containing marks (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 143, fig. 80b).  In the center of the grouping of elements, the “roof” contains a post.  On the right is another “roof,” this one containing a single dot.  On the left, a third “roof” contains three stacked dots (one over two), these three over a short post.
Old Chinese has such an element only as part of a more complex character.  It does occur, twice, but rotated 90 degrees, beneath a “roof” that contains two strokes resembling the “equals” sign.  All this -- roof with "equals sign" over sideways and doubled "cupped three" -- combined together makes the character ta4, “birds of passage flying in flock; swarm of wings covering the sky” (Wieger 1965: 97).  Thus, the element that is the equivalent of the Indus sign represents a bird’s wing.  This "cupped three" element, doubled, is now a radical.
The CUPPED TRI-FORK is the third Indus sign for this post, V34.  As such it does not occur with a KP number, although a cupped QUINT-FORK does (KP323).  Wells distinguishes this sign (W314) in which the stem of the fork appears on the right, from one in which the stem appears on the left (W335).  I would combine the two into one sign with these two variants, with Wells’ two variants of the first as additional variants.  In each case, as is usual, Wells has reversed the sign as it actually appears.  Thus, in M-316, the CUP is short and the stem arises from the left side, curving upward above the rim, with two prongs arising from the right side of this stem.  In M-784, the stem arises from nearer the bottom of the CUP, but again from the left side, curving again, but this time to lean backward.  Three prongs arise from its right side whereas in the previous example, the top of the stem itself served as the third prong of the tri-fork.  In M-760, the cup is taller and the stem straighter, arising from the center bottom.  This tri-fork is based upon a “Y” shape, with a third prong arising from the right side of the top of the “Y.”  The top of the “Y” is above the top of the cup.  Thus, each of these three instances is its own variant, respectively “a,” “b,” and “c.”
Luwian hieroglyphs include a “U” shaped cup with a central post that coils at the top, forming the ideograph OCCIDENS, “west.”  In addition, one of the syllabic signs includes an essentially “U” shaped element, although curved, with a central post topped by another curve.  This glyph represents the syllable su.
Although this Indus “cup” has no “V” variant, others do.  In proto-Elamite there is a similar “V” type, rotated 90 degrees, as is typical.  Inside, an unattached post bears two diagonal posts (the vee cups a bi-fork in my terms), M501.  This is the closest parallel to the Indus sign that I have seen in any script.  Among other, less similar signs, a completely enclosed element may have been intended to represent a container such as a jug.  Inside, there is a diagonal trident or a shish kebab (M292~d and M292~a, respectively).
Proto-cuneiform has no close parallels, but has the type last described for the neighboring proto-writing system.  In other words, DUG represents an earthen jar or jug.  In later times it represented a standard measure of approximately 30 liters, except in pre-Sargonic Girsu.  In that city, it stoof for a smaller amount.  Inside the jug symbol, other signs occur, including SZE, which represents barley (|DUG~b x SZE~a|).  Together, the combination indicates beer, a popular beverage in ancient Iraq, as elsewhere.  This is not a close parallel to the Indus sign graphically.  But it hints at a possible meaning for such a combination of elements.
A quite different example comes from Old Chinese writing, with she2, “the tongue stretched out of the mouth” (Wieger 1965: 247).  In this case, the cup-like element is “U”-shaped, but also has a horizontal line crossing it, and there is a “Y”-shaped element resting on this horizontal.  This upper element also has a crossing horizontal which is a “U”-shaped curve in some variants.  The base element represents the mouth, the upper element the tongue.
Yet another possible meaning for the Indus sign comes from the rock art of North America, a rare motif in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 106, Pl. 67, no 20; 170, Pl. 121, no. 6).  The first occurrence is on a painted pebble where it appears between and above other lines.  Thus, the “cupped trident” per se may not be a true motif.  In the second appearance, the stem of the “trident” penetrates the “cup” and descends a short distance beneath it.  In addition, there are two rather prongs than one inside the “V” at the top of this fork, making it a “quad-fork” in my terms.  This motif may have been intended to represent a bird, or it may be an accidental overlap of two independently occurring motifs.
In Nevada, the motif occurs with a true tri-fork (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 129, fig. 66a).  Again the stem penetrates the cup, in this case the whole motif being rotated 90 degrees as are the examples from the Near East.  Here, it is likely a representation of a bird, with the “cup” denoting the outstretched wings and the forking element the tail (cf. the more elaborate birds in a panel from Texas shown in the previous post).  A roughly similar motif appears in South America that is usually more angular, as noted in the post mentioning the Indus MAN (in Peru, see reference below).
African rock art at:
Ouzman, Sven. 2010. Rock Art of Twyfelfontein, Namibia, Africa: A Survey into the Relationship between Animal Engravings and Cupules Including the Site Report on Twyfelfontein. At
South American rock art at:  (under Zonas or “areas,” note article on Macusani Corani Cordillera, Peru).
Yi script at:

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating analysis, Diwiyana.

    I am also a researcher on Indus Script. My book Indus Script Cipher has just been published through Amazon.

    I would like to interact with you further on my readings of the glyphics and the essential ligaturing technique used by Indus script writers in creating new composite glyphics.


    Dr. S. Kalyanaraman