Saturday, October 16, 2010

Three Uncertain Signs: Indus Mallet, Hammer, and Hair Pick

The Indus sign that I term the MALLET, V10, occurs 99 times in the Corpus according to Wells.  It is a simple post that stands on a four-sided figure, more or less square.  Known as KP276, W469, and Fs G-9, it is defined in Fairservis as the number nine for no reason that I can determine, as well as “cow,” an utterly astonishing conclusion since the Harappans could and did depict cattle in a straightforward manner.  Wells notes 48 occurrences of this sign at Mohenjo daro, 39 at Harappa, eight at Lothal, and one each at Allahdino, Desalpur, Hulas, and Lohunjo daro.  There is also one additional of unknown attribution, here designated Q-1, for a total of 99 occurrences.  (The link goes to an image of a replica of the Phaistos Disk, which includes a symbol resembling the Indus MALLET, but with a small square top and double lines for the "handle.")
Wells notes only one variant.  However, I note that there are variations in the height of the post relative to the square below, e.g., “a” may be used to represent equal height of both elements (as in Ad-1 and Hls-1), while “b” has a short post with a large square (as in L-112 and M-1029), and “c” a long post with a small square (as in M-66).  In one instance, the “square” is notably rounded (L-114).  In another, the whole sign is distinctly tilted (L-196).  In still another, the post rises from one side of the square rather than the center (Lh-1).  If it should be found desirable, these additional distinctions may be noted with additional letters, as may the fact that some of the “squares” actually have a slanting top or bottom line and are not actually square. (Hopefully, the link below will go to the Flickr site of BabelStone, where there are a series of images of postcards from the 1930's with excellent reproductions of seals from the Ching Dynasty showing Old Seal writing, this one including two characters resembling the Indus HAIR PICK.  One, with a "T" shape over a comb-like element with four prongs, represents tien1, "heaven, sky, day."  The other, which is almost the reverse, but with only three prongs pointed upward, is zhi1, "sign of the genitive; he, she, it.")
Egyptian hieroglyphs do not include a single post plus quadrilateral, although there are some that are not much more complex.  The chisel is similar but usually oriented with the thicker portion at the top (U23).  This is a biliteral phonetic glyph with the sound mr, as in Narmer’s name (also sometimes 3b).  Another glyph that is more nearly parallel represents a drill being used to bore a hole in a bead, as in the ideograph wb3, “to open up” (U27).  Again, the thick quadrilateral element is at the top with the post descending, and this ends in a small circle, representing the bead.  This is an Old Kingdom glyph.
Better parallels exist in proto-cuneiform with MAR~b, a horizontal rectangle from which a line extends on the right.  This came to mean “wagon, cart; winnowing shovel; spoon.”  Another sign is a longer rectangle with a line extending on the left, USZ~a, which came to mean “foundation; to support.”  Proto-Elamite also contains two signs comprised of a rectangle and post.  Where the thin quadrilateral stands vertically, the post attaches on the right, and it is M203~c.  Where the thick quadrilateral lies horizontally, the post attaches on the left, and it is M156.
In the rock art of Nevada and eastern California, I find a post attached to a square either in a series of similar elements or as part of a more complex design (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 156, fig. 93d and k; 190, fig. f; 191, fig. f).  In some of these cases, it appears that one or more of the lines of the quadrilateral itself simply extend farther.  Thus, these do not fall into the same category as the Indus sign.  That is, the square with an attached post does not appear to be an independent motif in this area.

The real hair pick has a handle, of course, making it unlike the Indus sign.

Considerably less frequent is the Indus HAMMER, V11, also known as KP281, W520, and Fs I-9.  Fairservis sees this as a winnowing fan, “the seal tablet as marriage token.”  It is a long, thin rectangle with a post crossing and descending from it, thus forming a shape reminiscent of our capital letter “T.”  Wells notes just two occurrences of this sign, one from Mohenjo daro and one from Harappa (M-56 and H-3).
There is no Egyptian hieroglyph quite as simple as the Indus sign, but the table with conventionalized slices of bread is similar, if the bread is ignored (R2).  This glyph is ideographic or a determinative in the word h3t, “table of offerings” (with a scoop beneath the “h”).  The combination of the house glyph, O1, and the mace, T3, in pr-hd (with dot below the “h”), meaning “treasury” is also similar (O2).  So, too, is the glyph of the sky with an apparently broken w3s scepter suspended from it, the determinative for “night” (N2).
Proto-cuneiform has a sign that is identical except that it is oriented horizontally, as usual.  This is ME~b, “essence, function, office, divine power.”  When the goddess Inanna prepares to descend to the nether world in a famous narrative, she first adorns herself in her me, the emblems of her divine powers.  An almost identical sign occurs in proto-Elamite, as mentioned in connection with the MALLET (M203~c).
Luwian hieroglyphs include a sign that is only somewhat similar, OMNIS, “all.”  It has two slender vertical rectangles, a knob on the left side, and two horizontal lines extending on the right.  In addition, the lower line on the right slants downward toward its distal end.  All in all, this glyph is fairly different from the Indus HAMMER.
So too is a motif that occurs in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb 1996: 42, Pl. 10).  The top portion most closely resembles the Egyptian sky glyph, at least on its left end, with a descending point.  On the right, two long, wavy lines descend much further, in place of the single vertical post of the Indus sign.  There are two of these motifs in the Texan panel, outlined in red with yellow infill.  In another, closer parallel, a generally “T”-shaped motif appears (1996: 46, Pl. 12, no. 3).  This is apparently a representation of a shaman, although it has no head.  The right arm is also abraded.  In the collection from Nevada and eastern California, there is a horizontal rectangle bisected by a vertical line that extends slightly below the quadrilateral (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 134, fig. 71a).  This is part of a cluster of signs and is crossed by a long diagonal that connects it to a nearby motif of concentric circles.
The last Indus sign considered in this post is also rare, the HAIR PICK, V12.  It was formerly KP305, W284, and Fairservis G-19.  Fairservis sees it as a fence, meaning “marriage (offerings); husband,” a sign that pairs with his G-9 (the STRIPED MALLET).  Wells states that the HAIR PICK occurs twice (M-1203 and H-271), as a horizontal line from which rise four tall verticals.  It resembles a comb, then, but the COMB sign itself is vertically positioned with more and shorter “teeth.”
Egyptian hieroglyphs include the sky (a coffee table with pointed legs) with four strokes descending, representing moisture falling from the sky (N4).  This is an ideograph or determinative for dew and rain.  Another sign has five short verticals that end in small circles joined by horizontal lines (O43).  This Old Kingdom glyph represents a fence outside a shrine.  Finally, three backslashes with circles at the bottom joined by a horizontal form the 18th Dynasty variant of the backbone and ribs (F38).  Thus, the Indus sign might be a representation of one of these same things: dew or rain, a fence, a backbone and ribs.
Luwian hieroglyphs include a sign that is even closer to the Indus HAIR PICK.  This is a horizontal base with three tall verticals attached, DOMINUS, “lord.”  Thus, except for the number of prongs, the Luwian sign is identical and is abstract rather than representational, even in a schematic fashion.  This might also be the case with the Indus sign.
Old Chinese has a horizontal character that is roughly similar in shi4, “a floating plant, without roots, that ramifies and grows, like the nymphaeaceae so common in China....By extension, development, multiplication....a clan, a family” (Wieger 1965: 268).  This is a “U” shape within another “U” shape, bisected by a line, all turned sideways (now the 83rd radical).  A better parallel is wu4, almost a coil shape with three slashes in it.  This is “three pennons attached to a stick; a flag....By extension, 1. Jerky motions....2. A decree..., an order made to soldiers with a flag” (1965: 245).  Given the angularity of modern Chinese writing, this character is now similar to an upside-down version of the Indus sign.
Proto-cuneiform has SZU, a horizontal sign based on a slanting line with five lines coming from it, one bent.  The basic meaning of this sign is “hand.”  A more obscure sign has five verticals rising from a thin rectangle (ZATU787).  It is unfortunate that the meaning of this sign is unknown, given its close similarity to the Indus sign.  Proto-Elamite has a comb-like sign with three verticals, but these descend rather than rising from the horizontal (M041).  A variant has four shorter prongs, much like the Indus COMB (M041~c).
An exact duplicate of the Indus sign appears in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb 1996: 183, Pl. 130, no. 9-C).  In fact, four of these occur in various locations and orientations amid other motifs, two of them together.  In another location, one occurs with four prongs downward while a second has five prongs upward (1996: 138, Pl. 94, no. 6).  In two other locations, the motif is horizontally oriented and has a thick base (1996: 151, Pl. 102, no. 1; 155, Pl. 108, no. 7).  In addition, the prongs on these two have short extensions at the ends that remind one of feet.  The first has six prongs while the second has four, with a fifth appearing just beyond the base that has a long attachment.  This fifth element curves back up and over the base.  These comb-like motifs, especially the one with the curved attachment, may represent rain.
Rain is the suggested interpretation for a horizontal with such a looped-over element in addition to five descending verticals (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 128, fig. 65h).  It occurs twice in southeastern Nevada.  However, this may also be a representation of an animal such as a mountain goat, especially when there are four prongs beneath the horizontal line.  It appears to represent an animal track of some kind in Australia (Flood 1997: 107).  Here, it tends to have five vertical posts.
Such may or may not be case with the similar prong-down motif in Old Europe (DS 92, OE 43).  It has four verticals.  A version with six prongs below and an additional circular element above is called duafe among the Adinkra symbols of West Africa.  It represents a wooden comb and is said to signify “beauty, hygiene, feminine qualities.”  Thus, the HAIR PICK or a similar motif appears on most inhabited continents, although I have not noted it in South America.

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