Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Bed, a Table, and a Square in a Square: Three Rare Indus Signs

Inscription K-122A from Kalibangan: CIRCLED VEE / TRIPLE ZIGZAGS & VEE IN SQUARE / DOUBLE LAMBDAS (?).

This post includes a discussion of three rare Indus signs of six strokes each.  The first is basically an “H” shape with two horizontal lines in the middle, beneath which two extra “legs” descend.  I term this the BED (VI10).  It is also known as KP303, W173, and Fs I-17.  Faiservis thinks it represents a harrow, meaning “many; the number 10.”  Wells notes 23 occurrences, 12 from Mohenjo daro, 10 from Harappa, and one from Desalpur.  He divides these among four variants, “a” being the most common.  The “b” variant extends the two central “legs” to the upper horizontal line (i.e., through the “mattress” of this “bed”).  The “c” variant adds an additional short “leg” below, making three (and changing this to a seven-stroke sign).  The “d” variant has four short “legs” (changing this to an eight-stroke sign).  There should be an additional “e” variant with three short “legs” and four diagonal stripes between the horizontals (making this an 11-stroke sign).  All variants occur at Mohenjo daro (a-e), just one at Harappa (a), and just one at Desalpur (b).  Seven of the Harappan occurrences are duplicates.

Bar seal Dlp-1 from Desalpur with inscription showing BED, variant "b," third from right end
 (smoothed and colored by author to enhance clarity).

There is an Egyptian hieroglyph that is only somewhat similar to the Indus BED (O33).  The glyph represents the facade of a palace or tomb, used as a determinative in a word meaning “banner.”  This glyph is made up of four tall verticals, two parallel horizontals both joining and separating these.  Between the verticals and beneath the lower horizontal, there is another shorter vertical in each segment.  This makes three short verticals in all.  Over the whole thing there are two parallel horizontals that do not touch the tall verticals below.  It is intended to represent an exterior once common in royal tombs that had pillar-like extensions on the outside with indentations between, i.e., cornices and niches. 
Detail of Egyptian pectoral showing goddess Nephthys, wearing hieroglyphs spelling her name on her head: nb (basket) on top of hwt (temple, with phonetic glyph "t" inside), i.e., Nb-hwt "Lady of the Temple."

It is possible that the Indus sign, too, represents an architectural motif.  One of the icons found alone on a seal is something like this, with two tall elements on either side and boxy elements in between (M-1187).  On top of the left vertical, there is a motif something like a small “m.”  It may originally have been duplicated on top of the right vertical, but this is broken off, so it is hard to tell for sure.  I think a hint of the right end of this element is still there.  The lower portion of the icon differs from the BED sign, though.  The icon seems to be two squares, side by side, rather than something thin that is held up by posts.  A rather different architectural element appears on a tablet (H-176).  It is considerably more complex, apparently with an anthropoid figure sitting inside on the left.
On the other hand, in proto-cuneiform there is the sign termed U2.  One of its “b” variants is made up of three verticals joined by three horizontals.  Another is 4 x 4, still another seven verticals with four horizontals.  All appear to have long “legs” beneath the horizontals, although these “legs” also cross the horizontals and match the outer verticals in height.  This sign came to mean “plant; vegetation; firewood.”
There is also a horizontally positioned variant of the previous sign (U2~c), which has a parallel in proto-Elamite (M026~d).  In this case, the proto-Elamite sign has a short central “leg” making it more like the Indus sign.  Another sign resembles this, with two short “legs” (M207~f).  This last is the closest analog of the Indus sign yet.  But the “mattress” portion of this “bed” is much thicker than in the Indus symbol.
In Old Chinese, three verticals joined by two central horizontals also occur as a character.  This is zhung1, “the centre...To hit the centre, to attain.  It represents a square target, pierced in its centre by an arrow.  Later on, the target was contracted” (Wieger 1965: 260).  This character is now a smaller rectangle pierced (or skewered, in my terms) by a tall vertical and appears in the name of China, zhung-guo.  Literally, this means “middle kingdom.”
In Old Europe, a similar design occurs with sides that are not vertical but bent.  The left side is “>” and the right side “<” with a horizontal joining them in the center.  Below this single horizontal there are three short verticals (DS192).  A possible variant is the same basic shape but with eight short legs very close together (DS193).  In Linear B, another European symbol set, there is a syllabic sign closely resembling the Indus BED, but with a single short “leg.”  It represents the wa sound.  Four “legs,” three short and only one end long, occur in the syllable ju.  In the latter sign, there is only one horizontal as well. 
I mention the latter Linear B sign mainly because it resembles some of the schematic quadrupeds found in the rock art of North America (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 188, fig. 125k).  In these, three of the four verticals do seem to represent legs, and the single long vertical is the fourth leg (below) and the head (above).  Other instances appear both in Nevada and Texas (1984: 195, fig. 132e with two long verticals; Newcomb 1996: 67, Pl. 27, no. 1; 69, Pl. 31, no. 2; 94, Pl. 53, no. 2). 
Schematic quadrupeds as depicted in rock art from Nevada.

The rock art of North America also contains less zoomorphic motifs that resemble the Indus BED.  One such motif appears in Texas near Glenn Spring, an occurrence similar to “H” with a smaller “H” below the horizontal (Newcomb 1996: 128, Pl. 85).  Another is much like the Indus BED but with two short verticals both above and below the two horizontals (1996: 151, Pl. 103, no. 1).  Three of these motifs appear inside one long rectangle in this case.
One final note concerning the Indus BED is its appearance in one ligature.  One of the eight-stroke signs is the BED with an attached POST.  It will be discussed later.
Our next sign is FAT TABLE (or SQUARE AY WITH DOUBLE LEGS), enumerated VI11.  It is much like the previous sign except that the second horizontal joins the tops of the two outer verticals.  It only appears elsewhere as KP295, not in Wells’ or Fairservis’ lists.  In my database, it appears only on one tablet from Harappa, although it is on both sides (H-180 A and B).  Whether it is truly an independent sign or a variant of the BED is difficult to determine from this single appearance.  It is the second sign of six signs in the inscription. 
Symbol from Arapaho design repertoire resembling Indus FAT TABLE and Hopi bear track.

Note that some of the supposed occurrences of the BED from Harappa, also appearing on tablets, could be interpreted as this sign (H-278 through H-284).  These are hard to discern, showing two long verticals on either side, a single horizontal near the center, and two short legs.  Since these are cylindrical, I cannot be certain that there is no horizontal at the tops of the verticals, though there is certainly no second horizontal close to the center as there should be in the BED.
This rare sign is reminiscent of quite a few symbols found outside the Indus Valley.  Among Egyptian hieroglyphs, the same tomb facade glyph mentioned in connection with the BED is one possibility (O33).  Another analog is the glyph of the sky with four verticals beneath it, representing moisture falling from the sky (N4).  This one is a determinative or ideograph in words for dew and rain.  Another rectangle with three descending verticals is an Old Kingdom form representing a pectoral (S17).  This chest ornament also has a small semi-circle on top that the Indus sign lacks, but jewelry of some sort might also be the intended object depicted by the Indus FAT TABLE.
Old Chinese returns to the theme of moisture from the sky with yu3, “rain” (Wieger 1965: 288 and 26).  One version of the character is a “roof” element with six short horizontals inside, three on the left and three on the right.  Beneath these are four short verticals.  Another version begins with a horizontal across the top and a single vertical attached below, making a “T” shape.  Overlapping the vertical stroke, said to represent the concept of falling from heaven, there is a “roof” element with four dots underneath, two stacked on either side of vertical.  The dots are the raindrops.  This second version has been squared off to form the modern character.
In proto-cuneiform, the FAT TABLE finds an almost identical analog, but one which is less “fat.”  This is E~e, positioned horizontally, which came to mean “speaking, prayer; to say, do.”  A closer analog appears in proto-Elamite but with only one short “leg” (M030~a).  Another has four short “legs” joined by a longer line perpendicular to them, but this “comb” element is slightly separated from the square “A” shape (M207~e).
The first of the proto-Elamite signs is identical in form to the Linear B ideograph for “cloth.”  But the Linear B sign is vertical like the Indus sign, rather than horizontal like the proto-Elamite symbol.  Presumably, the “legs” of the cloth represent fringe.
The rock art of North America presents another possible interpretation for such a sign.  In a way, the FAT TABLE is reminiscent of some of the schematic quadrupeds mentioned in the discussion of the previous sign (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 188, fig. 125k).  These may represent actual quadrupeds, such as mountain sheep or dogs.  But they may also be somewhat metaphorical, representing rain.  Another possibility is a schematized footprint, perhaps of a vear, perhaps of some other animal (1984: 160, fig. 97j).  The cited instance is identical to a Hopi representation of a bear’s track except there are three claws shown in Nevada.  A bear actually has five just as humans have five toes.  But the nine-banded armadillo has just three obvious toes in its track, with two smaller indentations toward the back.  The beaver also has three (webbed) toes that appear more prominently in its track than the outer two.  Thus, the Indus sign could be a schematic footprint.
The FAT TABLE also bears some resemblance to the body and legs of an elephant symbol on some punch-marked coins from India.  This symbol appears on Vidarbha coins.

Native American signs representing clouds (complete one on left resembles Indus TOP)
and moon (upside-down "L").

The third Indus sign discussed in this post is the TOP, a square with a short post attached on top and another on the bottom (VI12).  Elsewhere, it is known as KP275(a), W486, and Fs G-10.  Fairservis thinks it represents an enclosure with two pillars or poles on either side.  He says that it means “cowpen or fold.”  Wells finds just four instances, two from Mohenjo daro, one each from Harappa and Allahdino (M-281, M-723, H-162, and Ad-5).  He states that there are two variants but does not show more than a single form.  The relative prominence of the posts versus the square does vary a bit, but the distinctions among instances are not great.
Proto-cuneiform has more than one sign with this basic shape, but most are further elaborated.  The first of these is AK~a, AK~b.  The “a” variant is horizontal and there are six short marks inside the square, three stacked backslashes on the left and three stacked slashes on the right.  Variant “b” is vertical like the Indus sign and contains six “<” signs, three stacked on the left and three stacked on the right.  This sign came to mean “to do, act, make.”  A longer horizontal type has two crossing vertical stripes, one near each end, BANSZUR~b2.  This came to mean “table; container.”  A third is identical to the Indus sign.  Unfortunately, this is ZATU837~b, a sign whose meaning is unknown.
The same shape appears in the rock art of Texas, although the “square” is thinner and rectangular (Newcomb 1996: 136, Pl. 91, no. 1).  Such an element only occurs in Nevada as part of a larger grouping.  Circles connected by short lines, reminiscent of beads on a string, are a common motif in this area.  Squares connected in such a way are rare, but do occurs (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 146, fig. 83h).
The fourth and last symbol under consideration is VEE IN SQUARE, VI13.  It is a square with what appears to be a smaller square inside, in one corner.  This symbol does not occur in any of the three lists that I have full access to, so it has no enumeration other than mine.  However, I. Mahadevan mentions it in one of his articles, as a variant of the very common VEE IN DIAMOND (VI14).  It may be that Koskenniemi and Parpola, Wells, and Fairservis all saw the few occurrences of the VEE IN SQUARE as variants also and did not think it worth mentioning.

Cloud symbol as it appears in Navaho sand paintings, drawn from design on modern wallpaper.  Where this symbol is halved on the wallpaper, it resembles an "altar" symbol also found on an Indus seal.

It is an interesting sign, though, because it has good analogs outside of India, whereas the VEE IN DIAMOND form is extremely rare outside the Indus script.  In assigning a meaning to the VEE IN DIAMOND (and CIRCLED VEE and VEE IN SQUARE), Mahadevan cites an Egyptian glyph (O6).  This glyph represents a rectangular enclosure, supposedly seen from above.  It is ideographic in hwt, “castle, mansion, temple, tomb” (with a dot below the “h”).  Because this glyph means something like “citadel,” Mahadevan posits that the Indus sign in all its variants must mean “citadel” as well.  As noted, the glyph is not exactly a citadel, though.  Nor is the Egyptian glyph the only analog to the Indus sign.  Luwian hieroglyphs include a square with a central circle, its meaning as yet unknown. 
Proto-cuneiform includes a square with a central diamond, transcribed |LAGAB~b x HI|.  The first part, LAGAB, also appears as a circle in other combinations, where it may have its later meaning, “slab (of stone), block (of wood)” or it may refer to a type of livestock.  The internal element, HI, came to mean “mixed,” so the combination may actually indicate a flock of sheep and goats.  A rectangle with a stripe near the right side is GA2, a sign that also occurs with a small square inside (|GA2~a1 x LAGAB~b|) or with an internal diamond (|GA2~a1 x HI|).  In later cuneiform, GA2 means “box, basket; house; stable; shrine.”  The first combination may represent a shrine made of stone, the second a house made of mixed materials, say, wood and reeds.  These are only guesses of mine based on the meanings of the signs when not in combination.  But |GA2~a1 x GISZ@t|, which contains a small rectangle, might indicate a mixed pair for drawing a plow, i.e., a team of oxen consisting of two different types (different colors? belonging to different owners?).  In proto-Elamite, another example is a rectangle with a small central rectangle inside (M146~d).  As with Luwian, its meaning is unknown.

Broken seal B-18 from Banawali, showing VEE IN SQUARE below other signs.

There may be four occurrences of this sign, although one of these is certainly a more elaborate element.  The clearest instance is on a broken seal from Banawali, where it seems to appear beneath TWO POSTS / THREE QUOTES.  But this may be the VEE IN DIAMOND tilted severely.  There are other clearer cases where the VEE IN DIAMOND is indeed tilted off center (K-40, L-29, M-72, M-142, M-1152).  We will examine these and others in the next post.
A second possible occurrence of VEE IN SQUARE appears on a very obscure tablet from Mohenjo daro (M-1428).  None of the signs on this object are entirely clear, however.  In this case, if it is a VEE IN SQUARE, the “V” is in the upper right corner, whereas this element is in the upper left corner on B-18.  That is what we would expect, since tablets normally reverse the order and shape of the signs on the seals.  One instance occurs in an impression from Kalibangan (K-85).  This is damaged, the signs faint, and the photograph unclear.  But the VEE IN SQUARE appears to be first sign on the right, with the internal “V” in the upper right again.  The fourth occurrence is on a copper ingot from Kalibangan between CIRCLED VEE and possibly DOUBLED LAMBDAS.  It appears to have its “V” in the upper left, assuming that the CIRCLED VEE is positioned with the pointed ends at the top and bottom.  Inside the square are three parallel zigzags of five segments each.  The right side of the sign is obscured.
In Egypt, the glyph representing a rectangular enclosure has its “V” or the smaller rectangle in the lower right corner.  The internal element thus resembles a little door in a tall building.  In the Indus sign, it would have to be a window just under the roof-line.  The Egyptian glyph also appears in the headdress of the goddess Nephthys (more accurately Nebkhut), with a large semi-circular basket on top (see illustration above).

Squares and Rectangles with Enclosures

The first of the squarish signs in the Indus script that I consider here is the WINDOW, or BOXED CROSS, VI4.  It also appears as KP268(b) but is not shown in Wells' or Fairservis' lists.  This sign is hard to find and, if it truly exists, vanishingly rare.  One rectangular seal of Post-Harappan Period IB from Pirak has a pattern on it resembling the WINDOW, an embossed rectangle with a cross inside, and rounded knobs at the corners of the rectangle (Pk-20).  This is not really a sign, though, just a seal with a decorated design. 
Seal Pk-20 from Pirak, resembling a possible WINDOW sign.
One broken pot shard seems to have a square or box shape etched on it, with an “X” inside rather than a cross (M-1620).  But that is the next sign, not this one.  Here, the breaks occur in such a way that one side of the square is missing, so the viewer cannot be certain the "boxed ex" actually exists, anyway.  Another pot shard with similar markings is a little more complete and there is no line to close this “square” (M-1593).  Thus, both examples on pot shards may be the bottom part of the STAR (a five-stroke sign) or the top of the VEST (a six-stroke sign not yet discussed).  Another pot, this one from Lothal, seems to have a a very faint incised boxed cross (L-244).  But there are three deeper posts across it in such a way that the half-hidden symbol seems, instead, to be a diamond enclosing an “X.” 
A broken seal from Mohenjo daro may have the WINDOW (M-1140), but the central line rises a little above the square.  This raises the possibility that the sign is, instead, a STRIPED BISECTED MALLET.  None of the photos is very clear, all are small, and it is very difficult to make out the precise signs on this seal.  Another equally doubtful case is M-1186, the sign on the left above the first of the seven people standing at the bottom of the seal.  This appears to be a WINDOW in just one of the five photos of this seal in the Corpus.  In all the other photos, the sign seems, instead, to be the TRIPLE BRICK, in which the horizontal line only crosses half the square. 
Seal M-1140 with inscription: SINGLE POST / CUP (VEE) / DEE / WINDOW (?)
(detail smoothed and colored by author, showing top of iconic animal, a rhino).

The last possibility is the best candidate, a tablet in bas-relief from Harappa (H-729).  The last sign on the left appears to be a WINDOW.  My best calculation, then, is that this sign is a singleton occurring only at Harappa.
This shape is more popular outside the Indus Valley.  It is the form that the character tien2 takes in calligraphic Chinese, meaning “field, country[side].  It represents a furrowed field” (Wieger 1965: 316).  There is another Chinese character that is almost the same, but the central vertical line extends above the square: yu2, “It represents the germination of a fruit-stone, of a large grain....By extension, beginning, principle, origin, starting point, cause, to produce” (1965: 318).

Tablet H-729A inscription (from right): PRICKLY CORN HOLDER / TRIPLE TRIANGLES /

This “window” shape is a variant of the circled cross in proto-cuneiform, UDU~c meaning “sheep.”  A similar boxed cross but of double lines is a variant form of another sign, SIG2~a3, which came to mean “hair, wool, fur.”  Proto-Elamite also contains a boxed cross sign (M145), along with one in which both the vertical and the horizontal lines extend beyond the box in each direction (M197).  Meanings are unknown.
The rock art of North America also contains a boxed cross motif.  It appears in Texas more than once (Newcomb 1996: 179, pl. 128 no. 3-A; 184, pl. 132 no. 10-A).  And it occurs in Nevada, where it is often near anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 125, fig. 62a; 133, fig. 70a; 160, fig. 97n). 
The Indus TRIPLE BRICK is similar to the previous sign except that the horizontal line crosses only half the square, as far as the central vertical.  Thus, one "brick" is large and the two beside it are small.  This sign, VI5 in my list, appears in both possible forms, with the horizontal on the right (my variant “A”) and with the horizontal on the left (my variant “B”).  This sign is also found as KP265 (“B” variant only), W517 (variant “B”) and 521 (variant “A”), and Fs I-10 (variant “B”).  Fairservis says it represents a winnowing tray, meaning “master; measure; (mother) father; wise, judge, ‘The Wise’; an exclamation; honorific ending for elders.”  These are all semi-homophonous terms in Dravidian languages.  Parpola suggests that it represents a grouping of three bricks (the reason for my term), one upon which women in India give birth.  Wells notes 18 occurrences of his W517, 16 at Mohenjo daro and two at Harappa.  He cites two occurrences of W521, with just one each at Mohenjo daro and Kalibangan (M-747, K-6). 
Detail from K-6 with inscription: CRAB / CARTWHEEL / VEE IN DIAMOND / STRIPED FAT LAMBDA //

Besides the variation in the side with the horizontal line, the instances of the TRIPLE BRICK vary in size.  Some are tall and rectangular, the same height as other signs in the inscription.  Others are smaller than the other signs in the inscription and square in overall shape.  The instance from Kalibangan actually has the horizontal on the left (variant “B”), indicating that Wells has reversed the actual appearance of the sign.  This occurrence is as the first sign in the second row of signs, where it is full sized.  One instance on a tablet from Harappa also has its horizontal on the left (H-206).  This one is a little misshapen, not quite square in shape, and appears on a tablet (where one expects it to be the reverse of signs on seals).  One last instance has the horizontal on the left, this one from Mohenjo daro (M-973).  However, it is abraded enough that distinguishing the location of the horizontal is a bit difficult.

M-882 with inscription: FOOTED STOOL WITH EARS (?reconstructed) / CRAB (? reconstructed) /

All the others have the horizontal on the right (H-60; M-782, M-851, M-882, M-898, M-1139, M-1141, M-1150, and M-1186).  Three are small and square rather than rectangular (M-882, alone in the second row; M-1139, below the BI-QUOTES; and M-1186, alone on the left side beside the tree holding the “god”).  The change in size and shape is due to crowding, it seems.  One final instance is tilted so that it is almost a diamond, as well as being smaller than other signs, and alone in the second row (M-747).
This symbol does not appear outside the Indus script.  In Old Chinese inscriptions on bronze objects, sometimes the presence of the ancestor in the temple is indicated with a triangle.  In some of these inscriptions, this triangle has a horizontal line crossing it and a short vertical bisecting the segment below the horizontal.  In at least one instance, the striped and bisected triangle I have just described has a rounded top.  In this instance, it somewhat resembles a semi-rounded version of the Indus TRIPLE BRICK (Wieger 1965: 372).
There is a proto-cuneiform sign similar to the rounded, striped, and bisected triangle of the Old Chinese inscriptions.  The bisecting line of the proto-cuneiform sign goes all the way, though, crossing both the base (making two small "bricks") and the upper part (which should be undivided, if it is follow the Indus sign).  Additionally, there are two round impressions in the upper part, one on either side of the central bisecting line (ZATU691).  Thus, the similarity to the original Indus sign is quite remote.
In the rock art of Texas I note a single instance also resembling the rounded Chinese triangle, with its crossing horizontal and bisected bottom portion.  The Texan motif also has six short lines projecting from the right side, as if it were fringed (Newcomb 1996: 149, Pl. 99 no. 2).  This is a most unusual motif, not found again.

Inscription L-280 on pot shard showing ENVELOPE (enhanced, with false color).
Another rectangular sign of rare occurrence is the Indus ENVELOPE (or BOXED EX), VI6.  It is a square or rectangle with an internal “X” shape, shown elsewhere only as KP273, not in Wells and Fairservis.  At Pirak, again, there are a few square seals with deeply incised “X” shapes, most further adorned with more lines (Pk-18 from Post Harappan Period IA, rounded Pk-44 from Period II, or more oval Pk-43).  There is also a single Harappan tablet of rectangular shape with a deeply incised “X” (H-351C).  Other tablets of similar shape have three dotted circles on the “C” side.  This makes it seem as if the large "X" fills the single instance as a means of indicating that there is no inscription or possible numeral intended to go here.  If that is the case, this "X" is not a sign here, whether or not it should be viewed as being contained in the rectangle (which, in turn, is only hinted at by the shape of the tablet).
There are the same two pot shards mentioned previously from Mohenjo daro (M-1593 and M-1620), both of which may show an incised ENVELOPE.  Or these may be part of the STAR or VEST.  A third shard clearly bears an ENVELOPE, with all four sides of the enclosing square appearing (L-280).  This sign is best classified as another singleton, then, one which occurs only at Lothal.
Proto-cuneiform has a tall and thin boxed “X” symbol, DARA4~b.  It came to mean “blood; red.”  Such a sign appears also in proto-Elamite (M143 horizontally positioned and M140~a vertically positioned).  The meaning is unknown.  Modern Chinese has a square containing an “X” shape, with another stroke between every two arms.  It thus resembles an asterisk in a box.  This is wei4, “the stomach which incloses the food” (Wieger 1965: 285).  This derives from an Old Chinese circle enclosing an "X" with dots between the arms.
In Old Europe, there is an “X” motif (OE113) and a simple cross (OE130), as well as a combination of the two, an "X" overlapping a cross at an angle, with some additional “v” shapes between the arms.  The whole thing makes an elaborate, asterisk-like pattern (OE143).  But there is neither a cross nor an “ex” in a box.  This is no elaborate asterisk in a boxed either.  Still, the elaborate asterisk itself is interesting because it is so similar to the markings on the (Post-Harappan) seals from Pirak.
Seals from Pirak with "X" designs: Pk-16 and Pk-18.

On the punch-marked coins of later India, the Magadha type sometimes bear a square with five dots inside.  If these dots were joined by lines, they could be thought of as indicating an “ex” shape.  That is, the dots are arranged in the same way as on our dice and dominoes, four dots in the corners and one in the center.  This is admittedly not much like the ENVELOPE.  But it, too, is interesting since there is at least Indus seal with five dotted circles or dotted donuts in the same dice-like pattern. 
In this regard, it may be worth noting that two other patterns appear on seals or pot shards in the Indus Corpus, on one hand, and outside the Indus as well.  An Old European motif, OE142, is a cross with three lines seemingly rising from each arm, the whole making a pattern reminiscent of a swastika.  An Indus seal has the same pattern, but with four lines instead of three.
Another Indus sign that is basically rectangular is the DOUBLE BELTED RECTANGLE, VI7.  It also occurs as KP264 and W518, but not in Fairservis.  Wells notes two occurrences, both at Mohenjo daro (M-240 and M-1273).  There appears to be another one on Ns-9 just above the break in the lower corner.  But this is most likely the tail of the tiger body in the icon below.

TWO POSTS / DOTTED FISH / WHISKERED FISH / SPEAR (smoothed and colored by author to improve clarity).

In Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is a rectangle with two crossing horizontals near the center (O11).  But this glyph also has a third horizontal near its top, a diagonal descending from that top horizontal to the first in the middle.  On top of the whole rectangle several prongs rise a short distance.  The glyph represents a palace with battlements, functioning as an ideograph in a word meaning “palace.”
Further, Luwian hieroglyphs contain PORTA, meaning “gate.”  This example is exactly like the Indus sign, a tall rectangle with two central crossing horizontals.  Likewise modern Chinese has this same symbol, which here is mu4, “eye” (e.g., see Wieger 1965: 322).  In the Old Seal writing, this is an oval with two crossing lines. 
In proto-cuneiform a rectangle with two crossing lines can be either vertical, as the Indus sign is, or horizontal (NAM2 and NAM2 @ t respectively).  Either way, it came to mean “destiny; prince, noble.”  In proto-Elamite there are three horizontal rectangles with two crossing lines (now vertical due to the repositioning of the enclosing form).  In the first, the crossing lines occur in the center of the rectangle (M151~c).  In the second, the crossing lines are closer to the right end (M151~e).  In the third, the two crossing lines are wide apart, one close to the right end and one close to the left end of the rectangle (M152~d).  Meanings are unknown.
Old European motifs also include a vertical rectangle with two crossing horizontals (OE202).  Linear B made use of a similar sign, but with the crossing horizontals close to the ends and far from each other.  This represents the syllable transcribed ja (pronounced yah).
American rock art also includes such a symbol, in North America more often in Nevada than Texas (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 104, fig. 41x; 148, fig. 85f; 165, fig. 102b; 177, fig. 114c; 182, fig. 119i).  Only the first and last instances cited have two crossing lines.  Two instances have three stripes and one has five.  In all cases, the rectangle is extended horizontally, rather than in the vertical position of the Indus sign.  A rare instance in Texas stands in the vertical position (Newcomb 1996: 96, Pl. 54, no. 1).  To the right of it is a more common motif resembling a ladder with multiple rungs.

Impression L-219 showing BATTERY in first position on right.

A sign that is more common in the Indus script is one I term the BATTERY, VI8.  It comprises an incomplete rectangle (with an open bottom), with a smaller rectangle set on top.  It resembles the icon found on or in many modern appliances showing the position for batteries, hence my term for it (but of course, the Indus sign cannot actually represent a battery).  This sign occurs elsewhere as KP289, W475, and Fs G-1.  Fairservis focuses on the smaller rectangle’s placement atop the incomplete rectangle, positing the meaning “platform (upper room, upper story).”  Wells observes 27 occurrences, with 14 at Mohenjo daro, eight at Harappa, four at Lothal, and one at Khirsara.  I add to these an additional instance from Kalibangan (K-24), several more from Mohenjo daro and Harappa (13M, 5H), and a possible occurrence from Rahman-deri (Rhd-269B).
The Indus sign somewhat resembles the Egyptian hieroglyph representing an obelisk (O25).  The glyph is a tall and thin rectangle with a small triangle on top.  It stands on a very thin rectangle representing the obelisk’s base.  Not surprisingly, this glyph is an ideograph or determinative in the word for obelisk.  Another glyph is essentially a tall and thin rectangle but with a different top (O28).  The top is indented, with a short vertical stroke added.  The glyph represents a column with a tenon on top, an ideograph in the word “column.”  Obviously, neither of these hieroglyphs quite matches the Indus BATTERY sign.
A modern Chinese character is more similar to the Indus sign.  This is gua3, “a skeleton, skull and bones without flesh, roughly shaped.  By extension, to strip the flesh off, to bone, to disarticulate, article, broken, etc.” (Wieger 1965: 274).  In Old Seal writing, this character is a circle or half-circle joined to a “roof” element below, and thus not rectangular at all.  But the modern form includes the incomplete rectangle at the bottom with a smaller such element on top.  Inside this upper element are two sides of an even smaller rectangle, attached to the right side of the basic upper rectangle.
There is another character in Chinese, a radical invented under the Tang Dynasty, which has the same outline as the Indus sign, but no internal lines.  Thus, it is a complete (though short) rectangle, bottom line included, but with a short rectangular projection on top.  This is ga3, “convex” (1965: 340).
In proto-cuneiform, another complete rectangular form with an added projection occurs.  This sign is positioned horizontally, termed DUB~d, and includes two horizontal lines internally.  Its eventual meaning was “tablet; to store.”  Another symbol is virtually identical but without the internal lines, URUDU~a, “copper; metal.”
Proto-Elamite includes four symbols that resemble various signs thus far described.  One sign is almost identical to the second Chinese character meaning "convex," but rotated 90 degrees (M203~d).  Another is a horizontal rectangle with a triangle attached to the left side, reminiscent of the Egyptian obelisk, but much thicker (M175).  A third sign is virtually identical to the proto-cuneiform “copper” (M157~a).  Finally, there is also a proto-Elamite sign of the same shape as the Indus symbol, though rotated 90 degrees (M037~a).  Unfortunately, the meanings of these various symbols are unknown.

Possible kachina motif from Nevada (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 193, fig. 130 l).

Interestingly enough, there are also rock art motifs that resemble the Indus BATTERY, especially in Nevada (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 193, fig. 130d; e, c, and l; 125, fig. 62b).  These are essentially anthropomorphic figures, being incomplete versions of an anthropomorphic figure thought to be a shaman (human) or a kachina (divine).  In the complete versions, the figure’s head is a small rectangle (or a triangle, apex down) on top.  The larger, partial rectangle beneath this represents the shoulders and body.  The complete versions either close the lower rectangle or taper to the point of a second, large triangle.  Lines (or doubled lines) sometimes give the figure arms and there may or may not be legs beneath.  In some instances, he arms are holding various objects.  The head is also adorned with further lines in some cases and the body filled with dots, striping, or other embellishment.  There are about 60 kachinas in this corpus, counting both complete and incomplete types.
A very similar outline appears in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 207, Pl. 152, no. 7).  There are two short strokes rising from the “head” which may represent feathers on the shaman/kachina.  On the other hand, as this type of motif is considerably less common in this corpus, the resemblance to the kachinas in the Nevada collection may be a coincidence.  Modern kachinas, as found among the Hopi, still tend to have heads with flat tops, but lack the broad shoulders that make this painted or carved motif resemble the BATTERY.
Returning to the Indus sign, the BATTERY occurs both full sized and small.  This type of variation is quite common among Indus signs, apparently due to the need to fit signs into small spaces.  Where the BATTERY must fit into the confined space above the horn of the unicorn bull, it is often smaller than the other signs in the same inscription.  The same is true when it occurs in the second row.  In other cases, the reason for this sign being small and the others larger is not entirely clear, though.  On some of the tablets, for example, the BATTERY appears in the middle of a single line of symbols and there is no icon.
Among the other characteristics that vary among occurrences of this sign, there is also the relative size of the upper and lower elements.  Some instances from Harappa have relatively tall upper elements (H-1, H-592).  Some from Mohenjo daro have much shorter upper elements (M-65, M-67).  In some cases, the right and left sides of the lower portion are not completely equal, either (M-318A, left side longer; M-393, left side longer; M-1052, left side much longer; H-774B, left side longer; H-296A, right side longer). 
In one instance from Lothal, the upper element is reduced to a single short line (L-115).  This gives the symbol a close resemblance to another sign, the MALLET.  I thought perhaps the two might be variants of a single sign.  This appears unlikely, though, because the STRIPED MALLET appears immediately after the BATTERY on two seals (M-72 and H-1).  Although this is not the same as the simple five-stroke MALLET, having three additional lines inside the bottom portion of the sign, it is the top element that we are considering.  The simple straight line above the STRIPED MALLET is clearly not a rectangle.  And the rectangle above the bottom portion of the BATTERY is clearly not a simple line, on these two seals.  Hence, MALLET and BATTERY probably should not be equated.

Inscription from seal M-649, showing E TRI-FORK (QUAD-FORK) TOPPED BATTERY / CARTWHEEL (by horn of unicorn bull; smoothing and false color by author).

The next sign resembles the previous one in that the base is an incomplete rectangle with an open bottom.  The top element in TRI-FORK TOPPED BATTERY (VI9) is actually the same as the DUBYA, in some instances, but an E shape on others.  I think these two types probably represent the same sign, as there are typically three types of FORKS: those with prongs all rising from the same point, those with prongs angled outward from one side of a “Y” shape, and those with prongs angling out from a straight stem.
Both types appear with the same identifying number in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola, KP292(a) being the “E” TRI-FORK TOPPED BATTERY (my variant “B”), and KP292(b) being the TRI-FORK TOPPED BATTERY (my variant “A,” resembling the DUBYA).  Wells enumerates these separately, with W480 being my “A” variant and W481 my “B” variant.  Fairservis also enumerates them separately, G-3 being my “B” variant and G-4 being my “A” variant.  Fairservis sees G-4 as a platform or building with the symbol for grain on top, defining it as “granary.”  He sees G-3 as a platform or building with the symbol for fire on top, defining it tentatively as “watch fire.”  Wells finds both to be singletons, both from Mohenjo daro (“A” variant M-1263; “B” variant M-649).
On the seals, the “A” variant occurs on a highly abraded example which is quite difficult to make out.  The top and right side of the symbol’s base is clear but the left side is not.  The top element seems to be a short distance above the base, not resting on it as shown in all three published lists.  This is another reason that I consider it a TRI-FORK rather than a DUBYA.  But if there was originally a “stem” to this little FORK connecting it to the base, it does not seem to be there now.  The other occurrence, M-649, is clear, the bottom of the BATTERY being tilted so that the right “leg” is higher than the left.  On top, the “E” shape actually has four prongs rather than three, so strictly speaking I should term it a QUAD-FORK.
A third possible variant is KP279, TRI-FORK TOPPED SQUARE.  I do not see another occurrence that could be this element, so perhaps this list gives the same symbol – the unclear sign on M-1263 – in two different forms.
There is a slight resemblance between my “A” variant of this sign and the Egyptian hieroglyph representing a column, mentioned in connection with the previous sign (O28).  The top of the column is "V" shaped, with the central tenon making the center of a "dubya" -- though the sides of the column rise all the way to the tops of the central "V." 
My other variant, “B,” resembles the Old Chinese zhuan1.  “It represents a plant that develops itself above and under the ground....By extension, stalks and roots” (Wieger 1965: 330).  The Chinese form has a tilted “E” shape above a horizontal line, recalling the top of the four-pronged "E" shape on the Indus sign.  However, beneath the horizontal of the Chinese sign is a rounded “roof” element with another smaller “roof” inside.  Both “roofs” are joined to the horizontal above by a single central vertical.  Thus, the Chinese character bears only a slightly resemblance to the Indus sign.
In proto-cuneiform, DUB~f is also slightly similar.  It is a horizontally positioned rectangle with an internal stripe close to the left side.  From this crossing stripe two parallel strokes extend to the left, ending beyond the outside of the rectangle.  This symbol, like the variant mentioned in connection with the BATTERY, came to mean “tablet; to store.”  Almost the same symbol appears in proto-Elamite also, but without the internal stripe (M157).  An even closer resemblance to the Indus sign appears in proto-Elamite (M424).  This is the same as the published versions of Indus variant “A” but with a central bisecting stripe added.  In addition, as is typical in proto-Elamite, M424 is rotated 90 degrees compared to the Indus sign.
Almost the same motif occurs in the rock art of Nevada, the Indus variant “A” turned on its side (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 195, fig. 132e).  Here, though, the rectangle is complete and contains a stripe, while the prongs of the "dubya" are four in number rather than three.  In contrast, the closest motif in the Texas collection appears to be a representation of a church with three crosses rising from the top (Newcomb 1996: 207, Pl. 152, no. 5).  It is not close to the original Indus sign at all.
As a final note on these “BATTERIES,” I mention ligatures.  There is a BATTERY BETWEEN POSTS (M-957), a CAGED BATTERY AND FISH (M—280), and, where the basic element is striped (STRIPED BATTERY), has an attachment of the LOOP (or FINLESS FISH, which itself may be striped).  These ligatures require more strokes to draw, so they will be covered in greater detail in later posts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Several Sixes

The first of the six-stroke signs includes short vertical lines in a single horizontal row.  This is what I term SIX QUOTES and enumerate VI1.  It appears elsewhere as KP126(a) and W217 but does not show up in Fairservis’ list of symbols or in his table of numeral frequencies.  Wells states that it is a singleton, appearing only at Mojenjo daro (M-678).  I think it may also be the number of dim quotes on the bas-relief tablet M-493A.  Korvink includes a table of numeral frequencies in his book also, based on information in Mahadevan’s concordance (2007: 60).  He states that there are three occurrences of the SIX QUOTES sign.

Seal M-678 with inscription: STRIPED BISECTED TRIANGLE / SINGLE POST / BI-QUOTES // CAGED FISH / STRIPED TRIANGLE / SIX QUOTES / FLANGE TOPPED POT / POT.  Note that the "six quotes" are larger than the "bi-quotes."
The next symbol is SIX POSTS, comprising six long vertical strokes in a horizontal row (VI2).  This one does not occur in the Koskenniemi and Parpola symbol list, but it does appear as W212 and Fs O-8.  Fairservis considers it the adjectival form of the number six as well as meaning “merchandise; continuous or straight furrow” based on semi-homophonous words in Dravidian languages.  He notes three occurrences (1992: 62).  Wells, on the other hand, gives only two occurrences (M-20 and H-646), while Korvink’s table shows no occurrences of this sign at all.
Why should there be such differences?  If we look at the seals M-20 and H-646, we see six long strokes all right, but they are grouped in three, a space, then three more: III III.  Is this one symbol or two, then?  It seems to me that a similar grouping of three strokes, a space, and three more strokes also occurs on M-734, K-22, and H-922, the last a broken bangle.  Six long strokes appear without such a space in the center only twice: on the tablet H-801B and on the seal K-4.  There are also two less clear instances from Lothal, L-260 and L-263.  On the first, the apparent group of six verticals may be part of a very faint grid and thus only apparent, not a real instance of SIX POSTS.  The second shows two long strokes, a space, two long strokes lower than the first, another space, and two more strokes high up again.  Besides the peculiar spatial arrangement and the internal spaces, this instance is characterized by lines that do not lean the same way.  The first two strokes may also be interpreted as slashes, the last two as backslashes.  Thus, this also may not be a true instance of SIX POSTS.

Bar seal H-646 with inscription: FAT EX (partly restored) / PINCH //
SIX POSTS / ? (broken sign, possibly SPEAR).  Tops of last three "posts" also restored here.

In proto-Elamite, one apparent numeral six is formed by placing six wedge-shaped impressions in a row (M379~g).  This is somewhat similar to the Indus SIX QUOTES.  In proto-cuneiform, one form of the numeral six includes six long strokes in a vertical row, i.e., the same symbol as that found in the Indus SIX POSTS but rotated 90 degrees (N57).  Six strokes in a row also appear among Old European symbols (DS95). 
In the rock art of North America, one occasionally finds a group of six dots or six strokes in a row.  In Texas, six short “quotes” appear to the right of four very long “posts” (Newcomb 1996: 159, Pl. 111).  Six taller strokes or “posts” appear to the right of a rounded square as well (179: Pl. 128).  This number of strokes is relatively common in Texas.  The same number of grouped marks also occurs fairly often in Nevada.  There is a row of six dots over five above a circled dot (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 185, fig. 122e).  Six longer strokes appear below a large form similar to a Roman numeral one with serifs (1984: 186, fig. 123a).  The same number of posts occurs over a circle to the left of various rows of dots (1984: 185, fig. 122e).

Tablet H-801B with inscription: CUP / SIX POSTS (made up in PhotoShop to show placement).
A third grouping of six marks appears in the Indus script as three quotes over three quotes, STACKED SIX (VI3).  It also occurs as KP126(b), W203, and Fs O-9.  Fairservis considers it simply another form of the numeral six and notes 38 occurrences (1992: 62).  Korvink notes 38 occurrences also.  But Wells gives 21, with 15 from Mohenjo daro, three from Harappa, one from Lothal, one from Chanhujo daro, and one from Nausharo.  The latter author also finds another form, with a different arrangement of six strokes which he enumerates W230.  It is a singleton from Nindowari-damb (Nd-1).

STACKED SIX / TRIDENT (over unicorn bull whose horn and ear are shown).
I think it may be possible to add further instances to Wells’ count here.  The form with three strokes over three (my “A” variant) may occur on M-237, M-987, and M-1658A.  The first of these is on a broken seal so that only two strokes over three are clearly visible.  But there may be a hint of the third upper stroke right at the edge of the break.  The last of these is on an etched bead that has what may be some wear or concretions or both, making it a little difficult to read.  This may be a STACKED SIX or a STACKED SEVEN, depending on the source of the bit of white closest to a SINGLE POST on the left.  M-987 is almost certainly a STACKED SIX although the seal is now broken across the bottom row of three.  Wells sees a STACKED SIX on three Harappan objects: H71, H-514, and H-789A.  I think it appears on another:  H-942A.  Wells sees a single instance from Lothal (L-27) where I see it on L-25 also and possibly L-103.  The latter is another broken seal, with two quotes over two clearly visible beside the break on the left.  Beside the top row of two quotes, just at the edge of the break, I think I see a small bit of another quote, which was presumably matched by one beneath it, now completely gone.  It is also possible that I am mistaken and this was originally a STACKED FIVE or STACKED FOUR.  Wells notes no instances from Kalibangan, but I see one on K-52.  Wells notes one instance from Chanhujo daro (C-3) and again I see another (C-40).  If we add up these additional cases, there may be as many as 29. 
Inscription M-1658A on etched bead (from right to left): VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES // STACKED SIX (?) / SINGLE POST (?).  There is a bit of white on the original between the top 3 quotes & final post, thus a STACKED SEVEN is possible.  If the diagonal white bit (shown in yellowish here) is not a concretion or scratch, it may indicate the final sign is LAMBDA.

I would add another occurrence of STACKED SIX in another form, H-916A.  On this tablet, the first sign on the right looks like two slanting short strokes, one over the other, beside four such slanted strokes also stacked one over the other.  If we “read” this grouping from the top to the bottom, it is arranged 2 x 2 x 1.  These add up to six strokes, so I would term it variant “B.”  To this we can add the other arrangement of strokes Wells enumerates as W230 (Nd-1) which I will call variant “C” (three strokes with the center one a bit lower than the outer two, all over three more strokes arranged in the same uneven manner).  Thus, there may be as many as 31 total instances of STACKED SIX, in three different variants. 
This leaves seven more unaccounted for to yield Korvink’s total of 38 (which is also Fairservis’ total).  It may be that these include some apparent groups of six where there is a 2 x 2 x 2 arrangement, such as M-260.  The whole inscription here reads CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES / (over) STACKED FOUR / FISH / POT / MAN.  It is the placement of the BI-QUOTES immediately over the STACKED FOUR that gives the appearance of six strokes stacked two over two over two.  But the combination CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES appears so often in cases where there is no such stacking that we can be reasonably certain that this instance is just a matter of cramming two signs together due to insufficient space.  A similar instance appears on Sktd-1 from Surkotada.  This is not a true instance of six either, but the same BI-QUOTES over the right end of a group of four short strokes or FOUR QUOTES.
Proto-cuneiform contains several forms of the numeral six in a stacked formation.  There are groupings of three wedges over three, a small version (N01) and a large version (N34); a similar grouping in which each wedge also bears an incised line (N02); the same grouping but with the wedge turned differently (N08); the same grouping but of circular impressions rather than wedges (N45); and another grouping of such impressions but rotated 90 degrees (N14).  There are also six circles, each incised (LAGAB~a x 6).  Another group of six wedges includes two incised lines in each wedge (N36) and still another has large wedges with circular impressions inside (N48).  And there are still five more types!

Handmade replica of proto-Elamite tablet, showing STACKED SIX form of numeral six in the form of six wedges.
Proto-Elamite has an apparent six horizontal lines stacked two over two over two (M015).  Another symbol includes four wedges in a horizontal row with two stacked one over the other at the end (M380~c).  In two other types, the arrangement of wedges is pyramidal, one over two over three (all rotated 90 degrees from the plane of the Indus sign).  In one variant the bases of the wedges are at the top (or left), while in the second variant the bases are at the bottom (or right) (M383 and M383~a). 
Among Old European symbols, there seems to be another type of STACKED SIX, with two dots over two over two (DS107).  The rock art of North America also includes groupings of six strokes that include stacking.  At the end of a line of irregularly sized short strokes there is a grouping of three over three (Newcomb 1996: 159, Pl. no. 1).  In another area there are six dots over three dots in one part of a “scene,” with six dots over eight in another part of the same scene, perhaps divided into three and three by a tall post (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 177, fig. 114d).  Six is relatively common in this sort of stacking, where six in a row form one set and another group of dots or strokes in a row is the other set.

Mixtec person sitting on a place glyph, with name glyph over his head, based on his birthday, 6-Grass.
Thus far, I have hardly mentioned meaning.  In a set of three posts, I discussed my reasons for concluding that the apparent numerals in the Indus script do not function as enumerative signs.  Let us look now at two sign groups involving the STACKED SIX that occur relatively frequently in inscriptions.  The first of these is the TRI-FORK with STACKED SIX and the second is the FISH with the STACKED SIX.  The first of these, STACKED SIX / TRI-FORK, appears at Lothal (L-27), Harappa (H-71), and at Mohenjo daro (M-17, M-158, M-178, M-416 [E TRI-FORK], M-822, M-872, M-987, M-1224B, and M-1365 [in reversed order on seal!]).  The sequence STACKED SIX / FISH appears at Nausharo (Ns-5), at Chanhujo daro (C-40 in reversed order on this incised copper ingot), Harappa (H-98, H-514, H-789 [reversed order on this tablet], H-942), and Mohenjo daro (M-53, M-112, M-136, M-715).  When an apparent numeral tends to occur especially often in the company of another particular sign in this way, one begins to suspect that the combination itself has meaning.
Parpola follows earlier interpretations that consider the FISH sign to actually be a fish (2009).  He adds to this the supposition that the language of the Indus Valley civilization was an early form of Dravidian, the ancestor of such modern languages as Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam.  In many Dravidian languages today, the words for “fish” and “star” sound the same (are homophonous) or nearly so.  Parpola concludes that this must have been the case as well in the early stage of the parent language spoken in the Indus Valley.  This single symbol, FISH, would then be pronounced something like min (like the English word “mean”) and represents both concepts, that of “fish” and of “star.” 
If this combination of meanings – both “fish” and “star” – could be proven, it would indicate three important things: (1) that the language behind the inscriptions is a form of Dravidian; (2) that some phonetic information about this language is encoded in the symbols; and (3) the use of the rebus principle occurs in the Indus script.  But it seems to me that none of these three things is indicated because the original supposition has not been proven. 
I remain unconvinced that FISH suggests a meaning such as “star.”  For one thing, it does not look like a star and a star is not that hard to depict.  The contemporary Egyptians have a star hieroglyph (five points).  The people of early Iraq also have a star symbol (the proto-cuneiform “asterisk” with eight points that represents An, god of heaven).  The people of early China have a character meaning “star” also (with three dotted circles, suggesting a plural concept).  Why would the Indus people use a fish to mean “star” when drawing a star is not difficult?  One expects the rebus principle to be used to convey ideas that are not easy to depict, such as “life” (for which the early Sumerians used the reed pictograph) or “stability” (for which the Egyptians used a religious symbol in the form of a pillar) or a suffix that conveys the notion of past time (for which the Chinese use a character resembling a baby swaddled up so that no limbs are visible).
For another thing, I think various Indus signs could mean “star” in a more straightforward manner.  It is possible that the CARTWHEEL represents the sun or a star.  Note in this regard that the Egyptians sometimes put their five-pointed star inside a circle.  The cylinder seals of Babylonia and the boundary stones of their Kassite conquerors often bear the symbol of the sun (a four-pointed star, usually with wavy lines between the four points) and of Ishtar / the planet Venus (another star but with eight points), and these are often enclosed in a circle.  The Indus CARTWHEEL sign cannot represent a spoked wheel because the wheels known to the Indus Valley people were solid, lacking spokes.  Thus, it is reasonable to suggest another meaning such as "sun" or "star."  This does not prove that CARTWHEEL really means “star” but that remains a possibility.  Unless one can prove that no other sign means “star,” it seems risky to assume that the FISH does.

Handmade replica of a kudurru or Kassite boundary stone, showing symbol for sun at the top, a circled star-like shape.
That said, Parpola continues with his hypothesis that FISH does mean “star” most of the time, especially in combinations such as STACKED SIX / FISH.  In this case, he looks for a set of six stars that might be significant and finds the answer in the Pleiades.  One problem with astronomical approaches such as this comes from the nature of the night sky.  There are simply so many stars and apparent groups of stars that if one is really determined to find a particular number somewhere, one always can.  But that does not prove that ancient people saw the same grouping of stars, or considered such groupings to be significant.
Parpola does not hazard a guess as to the meaning of STACKED SIX / TRI-FORK.  But this pair (9 occurrences) is about as common as STACKED SIX / FISH (10 occurrences).  If the second pair is meaningful, the first one probably is, too. 
And of course there are other symbols that appear alongside STACKED SIX even if not with great frequency.  It occurs before DOUBLE GRIDS (M-884), each grid three by six, before QUAD-FORK (M-1314), and at the end of an inscription after a long prefix that concludes with BI-QUOTES (M-1341).  It appears twice before POT and after another prefix (C-3 and L-25) and before COMB in another inscription (K-52).  In both these cases (before POT and before COMB), the apparent numeral forms the whole of the medial portion of the inscription before a terminal sign (following Korvink’s analysis).  In the more doubtful cases, it may precede a SINGLE POST or TWO POSTS in some inscriptions (H-304, M-1658).  In one case it may precede BATTERY.  While there is little that can be said concerning such rare or uncertain inscriptions, there are enough cases to conclude that STACKED SIX is not compelled to join with FISH or some type of FORK.  It can be a message unto itself, suggesting that there is more to the significance of the STACKED SIX than just number.
But what could STACKED SIX mean all by itself (i.e., being placed in medial position, after a prefix and before a terminal sign, where it seems to be the central message)?  Since the apparent numerals in the Indus script only seem to go up to 12, the first answer to suggest itself derives from the calendar.  This apparent numeral may convey a meaning such as "sixth month" of the year.  Calendrical solutions are popular answers to the problem of interpreting ancient rock art and alignments of stones.  The main problem with applying such a solution to the Indus "numerals" is that they occur so unevenly.  I mentioned this point earlier in the posts on magic numbers.  Some numerals seem to have been very popular while others barely show up.  There is only one Indus "ten" and no "eleven" at all, while "twelve" is very common indeed.  Similarly, "six" is not particularly frequent, as we have just seen, but "seven" is quite common.  If these apparent numerals refer to months of the year, why would any fail to show up?  I cannot think of a good reason but a reader may have some ideas to suggest.