Saturday, November 13, 2010

Three Indus Signs Combining Two Circles and a Line

The first of today’s Indus signs is POST BETWEEN CIRCLES, V48 (the 48th of the five-stroke signs in my list).  It looks like two small circles at the top of the line separated by a single vertical stroke.  This sign, as such, only appears in Wells as W359.  In his classification, it is variant “b” of another, more common sign, one I term BARBELL ON POST (six strokes).  This other variant, Wells’ “a,” occurs three times at Mohenjo daro (M326B, M1112, and M1180).  The “b” version discussed here appears only at Chanhujo daro, as a singleton (C-20).  I include illustrations of both types, showing that the horizontal bar in Wells’ variant “a” is quite short.  This inclines me to accept his classification of POST BETWEEN CIRCLES as a variant, not as an independent sign, and not as three separate signs (CIRCLE / SINGLE POST / CIRCLE).
I would add quite a few instances to the "a" variant, though.  There are at least seven more from Mohenjo daro: M-16, M-265, M-699, M-835, M-932, M-947, M-1202C, and possibly M-1376 although I cannot be certain of the last.  In addition, I see BARBELL ON POST several times at Harappa, none of these instances noted by Wells: H219A, H301A, H-565, H-801A, H-905, H-971A, and H-988A.  It is possible that H-495 also has the "b" variant, POST BETWEEN CIRCLES.  It is broken so that the lower part of a possible oval appears on the right, beside an apparent post.  There is a hint of the pointed bottom of an oval to the left.  However, the first two elements may be the COIL, with the hint of pointed oval part of another sign.  From all these, it appears that V48 prefers the company of FIVE POSTS to any other sign.  BARBELL ON POST precedes FIVE POSTS 11 times, with an additional instance possible on the broken tablet H-971A (four posts or some portion thereof visible before the break).

Inscription M-1112: BARBELL ON POST / FIVE POSTS / MAN WITH RAKE / BI-QUOTES // (2nd row) FISH / EF-PRONGED EXIT / POT (Shah and Parpola 1991: 119).  The original seal is broken, showing the horns of the zebu or humped bull, as well as the line of his back, not shown here.  Artificial color added in PhotoShop and abrasions removed for the sake of clarity.

Parallels to this simple symbol do not seem to be common.  Among the Luwian syllabic hieroglyphs, one is comprised of two small circles separated by a modified post (wa/wi).  This separating post crooks a bit at the top, bending to the left.  The Linear B syllabary, in contrast, places a circle directly on top of a post, attaching a smaller circle on each side of the central one (reference below).  This represents the syllable qa, probably pronounced something like kwa as in English “quality.”
There is a far more elaborate symbol in Proto-cuneiform, ZATU730.  It includes two diamonds joined to a horizontal bar that is above them.  Each diamond is joined to the bar by a vertical stroke.  Beneath the center of this horizontal bar, there is a thin rectangle, divided vertically.  In addition, the left-hand section of this divided “post” is crossed by three horizontal lines.  All in all, this complex sign is quite different from either Indus sign (POST BETWEEN CIRCLES or BARBELL ON POST).
In the rock art of North America, the Nevada collection includes at least one instance where a “google” symbol (or figure eight on its side) rests on a post (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 177, fig. 114i).  There is neither a space between the circles, as in the Indus POST BETWEEN CIRCLES, nor a horizontal stroke, as in the Indus BARBELL ON POST.  Also, the “post” is leaning, more closely resembling a backslash than a true vertical.  As in many cases where there is a concatenation of elements, it is not clear that these two were originally intended to form one symbol.
I term the next Indus sign EARPHONES (V49).  It appears as two circles, this time at the bottom of the line, joined by a line that curves over them.  Thus, it resembles the Indus ROOF (an upside-down “U”) with a circle at the bottom of each prong.  Also known as KP344 and W75, it does not appear in Fairservis.  Wells observed that there are a total of three occurrences, one each at Mohenjo daro, Harappa, and Chanhujo daro.

M-1397A showing EARPHONES (image enhanced in
PhotoShop by author for clarity).

Egyptian hieroglyphs include one that comprises two small circles, one above the other, joined by a long loop on the side.  This originally represents a rope for tethering animals, used most often as a phonetic glyph for a voiceless dental stop that is somehow different from the regular t.  It is transcribed by underlining the letter “t.”  It later periods, the tethering rope comes to be used in much the same contexts as the semi-circular bread loaf.  This indicates that the two sounds became the same over time.
Luwian hieroglyphs also include a parallel, this one formed much like the Indus sign.  However, rather than joining two round circles or pointed ovals, the Luwian curve often joins two semi-circles.  These may have the flat side down, as if the round elements on the Indus sign had sat in one place too long and deflated a little.

Inscription M-1397B (image enhanced and colored in PhotoShop).
The Proto-cuneiform TUR resembles the Egyptian glyph in joining stacked circles with a loop on the side.  In this ancient Iraqi proto-writing system, the prongs of the loop seem to skewer the circles, too, leaving a bit of prong on the opposite side from the loop.  The “circles” in TUR may be truly circular impressions, incised ovals, or ovals with a flattened side as in the Luwian example (except that the flat side is flipped horizontally).  This symbol represents a low-ranking person, early on, perhaps a slave.  Later, it came to mean “child; young (of herd animals); second in rank; to be or make small; to reduce; small, young.”
Symbols resembling the EARPHONES appear in rock art as well.  One in Nevada resembles the Indus sign fairly closely, while a second instance is rotated 90 degrees to more closely resemble Egyptian (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 175, fig. 112b; 188, fig. 125e).  In the European Alps, rock carvings identified as Susa 1 include a similar motif upside-down compared to the Indus sign (reference below).

Inscription K-43: CRAB + REVERSED CRAB / POTTED TWO / BARBELL / BI-QUOTES + SINGLE QUOTE (?) // TRI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT (Joshi and Parpola 1987: 306).  Image artificially colored and simplified to improve clarity of inscription (author's work in PhotoShop).  This three-headed bovine is relatively uncommon among the icons, but occurs at other sites also.

The third Indus sign discussed in this post is formed of two circles again, this time joined by a horizontal stroke (BARBELL, V50).  This sign has been seen elsewhere as KP347 and Fs K-11, but does not appear in Wells.  Fairservis proposes interpreting this symbol as the scale pans of a weighing scale, meaning “weight.”  As a substantive or noun, he suggests, it would be accompanied by a numerical sign.  This does not seem to be the case.  According to my database, BARBELL appears once at Kalibangan (K-43).  It might possibly be the sign on the far right in an impression on a pot from Mohenjo daro (M-1376).  The latter might be two of the simpler CIRCLE sign, which does occur elsewhere as a doubled form.  BARBELL also appears in two ligatures: CAGED BARBELL (L-96 from Lothal), as well as BARBELL BETWEEN SLASHES (Ad-6 from Allahdino).
In a way it is too bad that this is not a more common sign in the Indus system, because it has many parallels in other symbol systems.  Proto-cuneiform gives an example of two circles, either incised or impressed, joined by a short vertical post and with a bit of vertical post a either end.  This is NUNUZ, which came to mean “egg(s); offspring; female, woman.”  Proto-Elamite also has a sign made by impressing the round end of the stylus into the clay, with an incised line joining these (M371).  This sign appears horizontally, as does the Indus sign.
Old Chinese presents us another example of two circles vertically stacked, joined by a vertical which, in this case, begins above the first circle and descends through both to the other side of the second circle.  This is chuan1, “to string....Two objects strung on a vertical rod” (Wieger 1965: 319).  In this case, the oldest form is indeed a circle and not a “mouth,” or “U” shape with an internal horizontal.  In modern writing, as with the “mouth,” the circle has become a small square.

Image of "barbell" in center (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984).  Rock art of Nevada, where motif occurs amid bisected "circles," strokes of various types, and a "meander."  Image has been hand copied and revised in PhotoShop to give some texture, as would appear on actual rock surface.

A motif resembling a barbell appears in the rock art of both Texas and Nevada, in North America (Newcomb 1996: 100, Pl. 56, no. 1; Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 136, fig. 73e).  Such motifs commonly appear in vertical and horizontal positions in both regions.  The authors of the second collection note 130 occurrences of two to four (or more) connected circles, of which a subset are the two-circle “barbell.”  A similar motif also occurs in South America, where the circles become “donuts,” or a circle within a circle (reference below).
Rock art in the Alps (Valcamonica, Italy): 
South American rock art: , at Hinkiori, Amazonia, Cuzco, Peru.
Inscription M-1397B (PhotoShop enhanced, cleaned
up, and given false color for clarity by author).

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