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.

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