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 /
OVERLAPPING CIRCLES (? CRAB?) / WINDOW.
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 //
TRIPLE BRICK / POT / FOUR-TOED FOOT.
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) /
POTTED ONE / MALLET / TRI-FORK / TRI-FORK TOPPED POT // TRIPLE BRICK (small).
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.
Seal M-240 with inscription: DOUBLE BELTED RECTANGLE / VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES //
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.