The CIRCLED VEE (IV40) is one of the more common signs of the Indus script. Also known as KP385(b), W341, and Fs N-11, it features in one of Iravatham Mahadevan’s articles where he cites its number in his sign list as (Mh)267. Wells notes its frequency as 127, with 70 occurrences at Mohenjo daro, 29 at Harappa, 15 at Lothal, two at Kalibangan, four at Chanhujo daro, three at Banawali, and one each at Desalpur, Dholavira, Jhukar, and Nindowari-damb.
The CIRCLED VEE from broken bar seal H-658 (Shah and Parpola 1991: 309).
Fairservis considers IV40 to be a variant of his sign N-5, the VEE IN DIAMOND, which he defines as “settlement,” or else a variant of his F-1, CIRCLE, which he defines as “sun, day.” He says that IV40 is “distinctly slender, oval shaped” (1992: 180). However, while most of the occurrences are, indeed, ovals, not all are. Several are often quite definitely nice, round circles (L-161 through L-171). Two instances are tear-shaped, with pointed tops but rounded bottoms (L-92 and K-27). Thus, we can denote the oval variant as “a,” the circular variant as “b,” and the tear-shaped variant as “c.”
Insofar as function is concerned, Korvink notes that the CIRCLED VEE often appears in prefixes in the variable portion. That is, the prefix consists of two elements, the variable portion, which comes first, and the constant portion, which comes last. The BI-QUOTES, SINGLE QUOTE, and PINCH function as constants in the prefix. They generally do not occur with each other, but with non-prefixing signs. The CIRCLED VEE is one of the signs that often appears alongside the BI-QUOTES at the beginning of inscriptions. It is interesting to note that at times, this “prefix” is the whole of the inscription (K-27, B-5, B-7, B15). When it is not in the company of the BI-QUOTES, the CIRCLED VEE can also appear in final position (Nd-1).
Egyptian hieroglyphs include a circle with an insert, although it is not “V” shaped. The parallel glyph contains a small rectangle at the base of the circle (X6). This glyph represents a bread loaf with the mark of the baker’s finger. It is not nearly as common a sign as the half circle which represents the t sound. A more distant parallel from the same culture is the Aten, as it was depicted under Akhenaten. The sun was one of the major gods of the Egyptians in all periods and shown in many ways, but under this pharaoh, it was shown with the uraeus, the upright snake that normally adorned the pharaoh’s crown. The uraeus was positioned at the bottom of the sun’s disk in these depictions and the sun’s rays also were depicted, only coming down. At the bottom of the rays, hands hold out the hieroglyph meaning “life,” the ankh.
Old Chinese offerings to ancestors, including chariot on lower left -- note wheels with four spokes (Wieger 1965: 373).
Proto-cuneiform also includes a circular sign that has an insert, a triangle in this case, transcribed |LAGAB~a x KAK~a|. The circle came to mean “block (of wood), slab (of stone)” and the triangular element “nail, peg.” But at the earliest stage such symbols more often had to do with livestock.
In Old Chinese, the numeral “four,” si4, is a circle with two curved marks inside (Wieger 1965: 118). The marks remind me of simple drawings of a window with curtains drawn back. If there were only one such mark, it would be much like a rounded version of the Indus sign. And some of the signs from Banawali have fairly rounded vees anyway, increasing the similarity (B-5, B-7, B-15). A more remote parallel to the Indus sign that appears in the Far East generally is the symbol of Yin and Yang. This is a circle divided in two halves, but not by a straight line down the middle. It is a wavy line that divides the two parts, half colored black, the other half white. These denote opposites, but because they are thought of as complementary, each contains a seed of the other. Thus, there is a white dot in the black side and a black dot in the white side.
In the rock art of Nevada and eastern California, there are two instances of a circle or oval with a rounded element inside, close to one side or one end. These motifs resemble a cartoon drawing of an eye, in a way (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 187, fig. 124b; 190, fig. 127h). In the first instance, the “eye” is looking to the right. In the second instance, the “eye” is looking upward. (This is not to imply that the motifs are intended to represent eyes. I am only describing them.)
Indus seal Dmd-3 from Daimabad (replica made by author).
A second circular sign among Indus symbols is the CIRCLED TWO, IV41. This does not appear except in Wells, where it is numbered 383. It is a singleton from Harappa (H-410). Inside the usual oval, pointed at top and bottom, there are two vertical strokes, stacked over each other. I have not seen a sign or decorative motif identical to this anywhere else. However, a number of other sign systems incorporate two marks inside a circle in some way.
Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is glyph O48, a circle enclosing two strikes side by side. This represents a prehistoric building at Hierakonpolis. The glyph is an ideograph for that city. In proto-cuneiform, almost exactly the same sign is TUG2~b, which came to mean “cloth, garment.” An oval that is long from side to side, pointed at right and left sides, and containing two strokes side by side, is SZA3~d. This came to mean many things, including “stomach; womb; heart; inside.” An oval that is tall, pointed at top and bottom, and containing three stacked backslashes, is KIN2~a, “hand-mill; millstone.”
Tarhunnas, the Hittite storm god, with his cart -- note the circled cross wheel on his cart and the similar sign above, the glyph for DEUS, "god" (Turkish postcard dating to the 1980's).
In the rock art of Nevada and eastern California, I noted two instances of a circle containing two small elements (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 154, fig. 91f; 166, fig. 103g). The first contains two rounded dots while the second contains two stripes that cross the circle completely. In Texas, there are also two occurrences (Newcomb 1996: 194, Pl. 145, no. 24-E; 207, Pl. 151, no. 15). The first is more of a rounded square than a circle, containing short marks that slant away from each other. The second occurrence is of an oval containing marks resembling the letters “TF.” Each of these motifs differs from the others in some way, so it cannot be said that a “circled two” is a meaningful motif in either area.
Finally, we come to the CIRCLED CROSS, Indus sign IV42, also known as KP377, W376, not shown in Fairservis. This is a rare sign in the Indus corpus but quite common around the world. Wells states that IV42 is a singleton, noting only the occurrence at Mohenjo daro (M-272). He classifies the occurrence at Lothal as a distinct sign (L-114), although it seems to be the oval variant whereas M-272 is the round variant, in my view (his W381). I consider it possible that one occurrence at Harappa belongs with these two also (H-142). Here, the lines do not meet the rim of the circle, but it seems to be essentially the same same. At Daimabad there is a round seal with either a cross or an “X” deeply incised on it. Possibly this might be included, if the seal’s shape is included as part of the sign (Dmd-3). A less dubious instance is incised on a pot from Rangpur (Rgp-1). Here, one of the lines crosses the outline of the circle, but this is perhaps a matter of “sloppy” handwriting. Less certainly, we could include a painted sign on a pot from Rahman Deri that includes doubled lines (Rhd-233). Thus, at most there are six instances, but more likely four.
The sun as Aten, somewhat simplified as shown on poster for King Tut exhibit 1979, with uraeus.
Parallels are easily discovered. In Egypt, the glyph O49 is not identical, but reasonably close. It is a circle with four small “v” shapes at top, bottom, right and left sides. It represents a village with its crossroads. It is an ideograph is the word niwt, “village,” but more often acts as a determinative after spelled out names of villages, towns, and inhabited areas, e.g., Kmt, “Egypt” (lit., “the black,” meaning the black land, as opposed to the red land, meaning the desert).
In proto-cuneiform, the circled cross is UDU, “sheep, ram; small cattle.” If the cross is delineated with doubled lines, it is SIG2, “hair, wool, fur.” Proto-Elamite generally includes only angular signs, but it even has a round sign made by impressing the round end of the stylus into the clay. Afterward, a cross is incised over the impression to make the sign M352~c. This is a numeral of some kind.
Luwian hieroglyphs contain a similar sign, though it is not identical. The sign DEUS, “god,” is a circle or oval with a central vertical post all the way through it. The horizontal part of the cross is only partial, though. It does not reach the sides of the circle. It also appears to be behind the central post. I include an illustration of this symbol.
The Old Chinese circled cross is tian2, “it represents a furrowed field” (Wieger 1965: 316). This character is now a square enclosing a cross, the 316th radical. The same circled cross appears among the motifs used in Old Europe (OE 136). It can be seen in rock art at Val Camonica in the southern Alps to this day.
It also appears in the rock art of North America, both in Texas and further west (Newcomb 1996: 147, Pl. 98, no. 5; 195, Pl. 146; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 144, fig. 81b; 156, fig. 93j). In the collection from the Far West, there are eight occurrences in all. This motif also appears in Australia, painted at Uluru (Ayers Rock), Northern Territory, and engraved at Greens Creek, northwest Tasmania (Flood 1997: 156 and 232). In Australia, the arms of the cross reach the circle in each instance. But in the Tasmanian example, the cross is small and there is empty space surrounding it, inside the circle.
The circled cross is an element found in Navaho sand paintings as well. In this milieu, it frequently symbolizes a basket with its contents (Newcomb and Reichard 1975: 59). Occasionally, though, the same symbol represents a hearth with fire in it (1975: 72). Context reveals the specific meaning. It is a basket when it is near the hand of one of the great supernatural beings called yei. When it represents a hearth, it is on a truncated cone that indicates a butte or mountain, or some other representation of location.
A circled cross or circled “X” eventually appears in various alphabets, including Phoenician, Palestinian, and Aramaic, as teth (with a dot under the first “t”). The same symbol with a smaller inner cross occurs as the Old Hungarian “f.” From the Phoenicians, the early Greeks took up this same symbol as a variant of their theta, later deleting the inner vertical (Gelb 1969: 137-142).The circled cross can also be spotted in art, as a wheel. If it were a real wheel, it would be rather flimsy. But this doesn’t trouble the artist, who probably is less concerned with realism than with the great bother of carving fourteen or fifteen spokes in a stone panel. Such at least may be the reason that the Hittite storm god’s cart has a wheel with only four spokes. Similarly, a chariot offered to the ancestors on a Chinese vessel of bronze has wheels with only four spokes. The Egyptian hieroglyph that represents a chariot also sports a wheel with just four spokes (T17). Nevertheless, real carriage wheels, whether in the U.S. or in China, have many more than just four spokes.