Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Circled Asterisk or Indus Cartwheel

In the previous post, I mentioned the “circled asterisk” or CARTWHEEL, V43.  I did not discuss it at any length at that time because there is so much to say.  This post is devoted to that symbol alone.  It is also known as KP378, W342, and Fs F-2.  Fairservis sees it as a representation of the full moon, though he does not explain what the apparent spokes represent.  Due to various similar-sounding words in Dravidian languages, he proposes a series of meanings besides “moon,” including “mound, hillocks, platform; strong; to mass or gather; to feed or eat.”  Wells notes 125 occurrences of this sign, with 80 of these at Mohenjo daro, 27 at Harappa, seven at Lothal, four at Kalibangan, one at Rangpur, three at Surkotada, two at Nausharo, and one of unknown provenance (Q-1 in my database).  
Inscription H-506 showing two CARTWHEELS, one "A" and one "B" variant
(Shah and Parpola 1991: 285; hand copy without showing unicorn bull).

Wells notes two variants of my sign V43, a pointed oval (which I designate “A”) and a rounded variant (“B”).  On seal M-1139, the CARTWHEEL is smaller than some of the other signs, circular rather than oval, and the configuration of the internal “spokes” differs.  Usually, there is a vertical stroke bisecting the circle/oval.  Superimposed on this is an “X” shape.  In M-1139, the circle is bisected instead by a horizontal, with the addition of the usual superimposed “X.”  Thus, a horizontal rather than vertical “asterisk” inside provides a third variant, which I designate “C.” 
Also note that V43 appears both normally sized (i.e., the same size as other signs in the same inscription) and smaller.  To be entirely consistent with assigning letters to variants, I should subdivide “A” and “B” further into large (“Aa” and “Ba”) versus small (“Ab” and “Bb”).  I am not sure it would be worthwhile to be this specific, but the existence of variation along all these parameters should be noted. 

Circular seals resembling CIRCLED CROSS or CARTWHEEL from
Post-Harappan IA, Pk-15 and Pk-17 (Shah and Parpola 1991: 381; color added and clarified in PhotoShop).

 To Wells’ totals, a few occurrences may be added.  For instance, the seal L-5 from Lothal is broken but shows enough remaining detail to consider it possible that a CARTWHEEL is in fifth position on the far right of the first row.  Seal L-6 is highly abraded, but the first sign is clearly round and there seem to be spokes.  Thus, it may be a CARTWHEEL also.  The bar seal L-83 is also broken, but the top half of the CARTWHEEL is visible (unless this is a ligature).  The bar seal L-93 is broken in half, with only the right rim and one spoke clearly visible.  Thus, this might be the CIRCLED VEE instead.  However, there seems to be a small piece of another spoke remaining, lower down, making it more likely that it is another CARTWHEEL.  Bar seal L-116 is quite dim, but the CARTWHEEL is clear, on the far right. 
There are also ligatures including this sign: CARTWHEEL BETWEEN DOUBLE POSTS (C-30, M-598), CARTWHEEL IN FAT EX IN DIAMOND (M-145, M-225, M-296, M-655, L-139, L-189), CARTWHEEL UNDER ROOF OVER DOUBLE QUOTES (M-633, M-1101, M-1105, H-380, H-381), POTTED BI-RAKE ON CARTWHEEL (M-639), CAGED CARTWHEEL (M-137), and MAN ON DOUBLE CARTWHEELS (L-221, H-212).  There are also instances of DOUBLE CARTWHEELS (B-1, L-217, H-176, M-111, M-1384) which Wells counts as a distinct sign.  Following his classification, I will discuss the doubled signs later among the ten-stroke symbols.
Depiction of an Egyptian pharaoh in his chariot, showing a wheel with six spokes. 
I have greatly simplified the original, removing the hordes of "Asiatics" he was trampling and shooting,
 leaving only the smaller wheel of another Egyptian chariot in the background.

When it appears in a multi-sign inscription, the CARTWHEEL very often occupies initial position as part of the prefix.  As explained by Korvink, it is the variable part of this prefix and it is the following element, SINGLE QUOTE, DOUBLE QUOTES, or PINCH, that causes the variable to take initial position (2007: 21-22).  Without the constant element of the prefix to accompany it, CARTWHEEL also occupies medial and final positions in various inscriptions. 
In one particularly interesting inscription it occurs twice, but not simply doubled (H-506).  The inscription on this seal reads: CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES // CARTWHEEL / STRIPED MALLET / CORN HOLDER / PANTS.  Thus, the first occurrence of CARTWHEEL is as the variable part of the prefix.  The second occurrence is part of the medial section of the inscription, separated from the previous CARTWHEEL by the constant portion of the prefix, BI-QUOTES.  The first CARTWHEEL is the rounded variant, “B,” while the second is the thinner and more pointed oval variant, “A.”  This is one of a number of instances where the seal carver seems to have realized, after carving the prefix, that there wasn’t quite enough room for the rest of the inscription.  Thus, the rest of the signs are quite thin and cramped compared to the first two.  The significance would seem to be that V43~A and V43~B are variants of the same sign.
The goddess Lamma (far left) brings a worshipper before Shamash, the sun god, as shown by his "circled cross" emblem (Collon 1987: 45; image cleaned up in PhotoShop and false color added).

There are a great many parallels in other symbols systems, but few that are exact duplicates.  Egyptian hieroglyphs include a star in a circle (N15).  This resembles a wheel with five spokes rather than the six spokes of the Indus sign.  The Egyptian glyph is an ideograph in d(w)3t, "netherworld," the original meaning of which was "place of morning twilight."  The wheel on the glyph of the chariot, in contrast, has only four spokes (T17).  In contrast with both of these glyphs, a depiction of pharoah Tutmose in his chariot, the reins of his horses tied to his belt, and shooting arrows at his enemies, shows a chariot wheel with six spokes.  In this artistic depiction of a wheel, there is a horizontal bisecting line with a superimposed “X.”  Although this seems almost as flimsy a wheel as the four-spoke wheel on the chariot of the Luwian or Hittite thunder god, the actual chariot in the tomb of King Tut also had just six spokes.
A character resembling a circle enclosing six spokes appears in Old Chinese as kun4, “a camping...under a tree” (Wieger 1965: 276).  In this, the inner element is a vertical stroke on which there is a “U” shape near the top (the branches of a tree) and an upside-down “U” shape near the bottom (the roots of the tree).  In modern calligraphy, the tree is made with four strokes and the enclosure is a square.  In early depictions of offerings to the ancestors, a chariot appears with four-spoked wheels (1965: 373).  This is just a schematic representation, though, because real Chinese chariot wheels had multiple spokes.  This is shown by wheels discovered in the tomb of the so-called First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di (Finlay 2003).  In other, later depictions of carts pulled by horses, sometimes only the rims of the wheels are shown, and no spokes at all (Bagley 2001: 281).
A Nubian circled cross, a motif in a cermic window grill from the Church of the Granite modern Sudan (Welsby 2002: 222).  It dates between 1000 and 1100 AD and reflects a common motif, the enclosure of the Christian cross in either a circle or a square.
In the earlier discussion of the CIRCLED CROSS, IV42, I mentioned the early appearance in proto-cuneiform of a circled cross to represent a sheep (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 72).  Previously, people of ancient Iraq and surrounding areas had used small clay objects of various shapes, some with markings on them, to represent commodities, in a similar fashion.  Schmandt-Besserat explains the evolution of writing from using these little clay tokens, pressed into clay, to make a record in a first stage; then writing the shape that the tokens would make in a second stage; and finally eliminating the tokens entirely in a third stage.  Among proto-cuneiform tokens and signs, there are a “circled cross,” a “circled star” (of the linear type as in Egyptian glyph N15), a circle enclosing a grid pattern similar to our Tic-Tac-Toe, and a circled cross with a dot between every two arms of the cross.  All of these permutations on the circled cross may have to do with livestock.  For example, four "spokes" represents a sheep, a fifth "spoke" makes the symbol indicate a ewe, and so on.
This gold disc is from Tedavnet, County Monaghan, Ireland, and dates to the Bronze Age (Cone 1977: 19-20 text, picture 25).  They are often found in pairs, with small perforations in the center, suggesting they were attached to something as decoration.  They may be solar symbols -- but then why two?
In the later Near East, two types of star often appear inside a circle, symbolizing deities.  One has four long, triangular points with four additional points, often shorter, between these.  This star-like symbol closely resembles the Christmas star in American Nativity scenes.  Whether enclosed in a circle or not, the Near Eastern star represents Ishtar, the Akkadian goddess of love and war, the Morning Star and Evening Star (i.e., the planet Venus).  The other type of star also has four long, triangular points.  Between these, most often there are wavy lines.  This symbol appears inside a circle more often than does that of Ishtar.  But whether inside a circle or not, sporting wavy lines or not, it represents Shamash, the Akkadian sun god.  Such symbols appear on cylinder seals and on large boundary stones, the latter called kudurru.
In the Yi syllabary, a writing system of China, a circled cross represents the syllable lip, while a circled “X” with the addition of a dot on the right is mie.  A figurine from Cyprus has a marking on it that closely resembles the circled cross (or circled “X”) with a dot between every two arms, as well.  Any meaning ascribed to this symbol is unknown.  In Linear B, a circled cross represents the syllable ka, while “wheel” occurs among the ideographs as a “donut” (circle within a circle) superimposed by a cross.
Irish cross with circle, east face, Ahenny, County Tipperary (Cone 1977: 103).
In later India, punch-marked coins bear a circular symbol with multiple “spokes,” with a small central circle.  These Janapada coins of the Magadha type tend to have eight “spokes” and sometimes seem to have an outer rim.  The rim may be illusory, though, and only due to the effect of the punch.  In other words, this may be a rayed circle, not a “spoked wheel.”  Other rayed circles have another mark inside the central circle, i.e., they are dotted circles with rays.  There may be as many as 12 rays, if I have counted correctly.  On the Kuru coin, another rayed circle has six rays, three of which end with triangular heads.  This makes it appear that the central dotted circle has been pierced by three darts.
The rock art of North America also includes circles that enclose apparent spokes, some occurring in Texas (Newcomb 1996: 189, Pl. 139, no. 18-C; 207, Pl. 151, no. 12; 214, Pl. 159, no. 12).  The first instance cited has seven “spokes” while the second has six (as does the Indus sign).  There third includes so many that it is difficult to count them accurately.  In the second instance, four of the spokes extend beyond the rim of the circle.  Spoked circles occur in the Nevada collection 11 times (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 161, fig. 98l).  The instance cited is a spoked “donut,” a small circle in a larger circle, with seven spokes that connect the inner and outer circles.  Since the cultures of precolumbian America did not have an actual spoked wheel, these symbols do not represent wheels.  What they do represent is unclear.
Real wheels as seen on two different types of carriages from 19th century (Rio Vista museum, California).
In Central America, the Mayan phonetic symbol lamat somewhat resembles a wheel with four very thick spokes, each dotted.  One apparent variant is more flower-like, with four undotted, thick “spokes,” a small circle in the center.  In both cases, the “wheel” element is surrounded by an additional circle so that the “wheel” seems to have two rims.  Again, this symbol does not actually depict a wheel.
The Indus CARTWHEEL does not depict a spoked wheel either.  Toy carts from archeological finds indicate that a solid wheel was known in this culture, just as in contemporary Iraq.  Even where true spoked wheels exist, after about 1600 BCE, a wheel-like symbol still may not represent a wheel directly.  Some artistic representations do not match reality, as in the Chinese depictions of carts with wheels that lack spokes altogether, or the Luwian Thunder God rides a wagon with four-spoked wheels. 
The Lone Star of Texas enclosed in a circle that is, itself, filled with additional five-pointed stars, these again surrounded by another circle (photo by author).

Other occurrences of either the circled asterisk or the circled cross are purely decorative, as in an example of a gold disc from Tedavnet, County Monaghan, Ireland (Cone 1977: 25).  This disc is circular, with several rings outlined in impressed dots and raised zigzags.  In the middle of these thin rings is a large, wide cross or “X” shape, also outlined with raised lines and impressed dots.  There is an additional “V” shape between every two arms of this cross.  And in the center of the cross, there is a small star-like shape with a square center and four triangular points.  The points of the star are positioned inside the arms of the “fat ex” or cross.  This decorative item dates to the Bronze Age.
Another Irish cross is adorned with a circle, this one from County Tipperary (Cone 1977: 103).  This is a Christian cross of stone dating to about 750 AD.  In the illustration, I have reconstructed part of the central circle in PhotoShop, a portion of which has actually broken off.  This type of cross superimposed by a circle also appears in modern America, atop the local Presbyterian Church.
A simple circled Lone Star (photo by author).

In modern Texas, the five-pointed Lone Star in a circle is commonly found on houses and some public buildings.  Some of the surrounding circles themselves are adorned with additional, smaller stars, or with other elements, such as the words “The Lone Star of Texas.”  I include three examples from photographs taken within a few blocks of my house.  Similar decorative rings enclosing five "spokes" appear in a Chinese burial pit at Sanxingdui (Bagley 2001: 135).  They date to the twelfth century BC, have an overall diameter of 84 cm, and may have been used to adorn a shield.  The excavators suggest that the five-spoked "wheel" may be a solar symbol.  Six of them were restored from fragments in a single burial pit.
The Indus CARTWHEEL does not represent a wheel, then, but may depict the sun or a star.  Even if it is meant to look like the sun, the full moon, or a star, it still may mean something only associated with one of these heavenly bodies rather than the "star" itself.  This may be a deity (e.g., Akkadian Shamash), a supernatural realm (e.g., Egyptian netherworld), or a rank (e.g., perhaps the king on punch-marked coins).  Then again, it may stand for something completely different from any of these, an abstract symbol for some type of livestock, as in proto-cuneiform.  With regard to this last possibility, there are a number of Indus seals without inscriptions that are either round or squarish, and that bear cross or "X" incisions.  In most cases, these are further enhanced, in a way somewhat reminiscent of the proto-cuneiform tokens and very early signs.
The Lone Star with encircling ring, additional stars, and the name of the state,
in case you remain in doubt (photo by author).
Bagley, Robert, ed. 2001. Ancient Sichuan: Treasure from a Lost Civilization. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum & Princton University Press.

Finlay, John R., ed. 2003. The Chinese Collection: Selected Works from the Norton Museum of Art.  West Palm Beach, Florida: Norton Museum of Art.

Cone, Polly, ed. 1977. Treasures of Early Irish Art, 1500 BC to 1500 AD. From the collections of the National Museum of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College, Dublin, and exhibited at museums in New York, San Francisco,  Pittsburgh, Boston, and Philadelphia. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Welsby, Derek A. 2002. The Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia: Pagans, Christians and Muslims along the Middle Nile. London: The British Museum Press.

Proto-cuneiform tokens that may represent various types of livestock (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 72; handmade replicas).  The five-spoked variant at the bottom resembles Egyptian glyph N15, a star in a circle, and a Chinese "solar wheel."

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