Of the eight infrequently occurring Indus signs discussed in this post, the first is the most common. Due to its most frequently encountered shape, I term it E TRI-FORK, enumerating it V55 (the fifty-fifth of the five-stroke signs). This symbol does not appear in published lists except that of Wells, where it is numbered W265. Wells states that there are 48 occurrences in three variants. He notes 35 examples from Mohenjo daro, 11 from Harappa, and two from Lothal. His three variants include only one that is shaped like our letter “E” placed at an angle on a post (“a” variant). The “b” variant has an extra diagonal stroke, while the “c” is distinct in form. This last variant involves four horizontal prongs attached to a vertical post, thus more resembling our letter “F” but with additional prongs. The “E” shape (or “a” variant) appears at all three sites, while he notes “b” appearing only at Mohenjo daro. He does not enumerate the occurrences of “c” nor locate them.
Inscription from L-90: LOOP ARMED MAN WITH STICK / E TRI-FORK / PINCH //
THREE QUOTES / GARDEN.
Both Wells’ “a” and “c” variants are written with five strokes, so I would classify them as variants of one sign. However, since I classify symbols first based upon stroke number, “b” requires a separate listing and enumeration among the six-stroke signs. In addition, I would add a fourth variant, “D,” written with a vertical post to which are attached four diagonal prongs, as found on Agr-1, Agr-2, and Agr-3. If one wishes to be quite precise, the sign on Agr-3 is yet another variant, as the “post” is curved (cf. the “CEE WITH FOUR SLASHES as variant “D” of my QUAD-FORK, also known as KP162 and W582).
Inscription from H-129: COIL / HEADLESS FLYING BIRD / VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES // BACK E TRI-FORK / FISH / FISH UNDER CHEVRON / POT // LAMBDA / E-TRI-FORK (QUINT-FORK, "c" variant).
One of the instances of the E TRI-FORK from Lothal that is listed by Wells has been misidentified, in my view. On L-47, the sign is more likely part of the PINWHEEL (ZEE), V21. But there may be two occurrences, L-90 and possibly L-88 (the latter listed as W263, my “A” variant of the QUAD-FORK, V54). One instance from Harappa appears to have five prongs (H-129, otherwise classified by Wells as variant “a” but to my eyes an instance of “c”).
In proto-Elamite, there is a sign that resembles the letter “F” but with three prongs rather than two, positioned diagonally (M502). This is analogous to the “c” variant of the Indus sign, to use Wells’ subdivisions. Another proto-Elamite sign resembles the “a” variant, a diagonally slanting “E” at the end of a post, although again positioned horizontally (M075~m). The latter sign also has two chevrons adorning the “post” and a wedge-shaped impression at the “base” (i.e., on the right, opposite the end with the “E”).
Much later in the Bronze Age than the Iranian proto-writing system comes Linear B, with a symbol vaguely resembling a curved “E” (or Greek eta) on a post. With an extra curve at the top of the post outlining the back of the “E” here, this symbol represents the syllable ma.
A motif resembling a diagonal “E” on a long post juxtaposed with another paralleling it appears in the repertoire of symbols from Old Europe (DS 157). In this symbol, the “E” shapes come at the far ends of the posts, the upper one a slash with the “E” at the upper right, the lower one a slash with the “E” at the lower left. A similar motif includes a single slash with both “E” shapes attached, one at either end (DS 154). A single “E” on the right end of the slash is another motif (DS 152). There is also an upright “F” that appears backward compared to our letter (DS 139).
Among various runes used still later to write in the Old Germanic system, there are two more symbols resembling our “F” (Gulharnet). The sound “a” appears as an “F” with prongs that slant downward, i.e., two backslashes attached to the right side of a post (used for the short “a” sound transcribed with “ae” in Anglo-Saxon). The sound of “f” occurs with two prongs attached to the same side of a post, but this time slanting upward (also used in Anglo-Saxon runes).
Inscription from M-385: POTTED ONE / FISH WITH TRIPLED FINS / BUD / BI-QUOTES // FOUR QUOTES / TRI-FORK.
The second symbol from the Indus script appears to be a BUD, V56. It resembles at flower bud with two leaves attached to a stem that is sometimes a vertical post, sometimes a curving line. This symbol occurs in other lists as KP103, W247, and Fs E-4. Fairservis sees this as a plant, perhaps a cotton plant, meaning “cotton (as a crop).” Wells notes eight occurrences, seven at Mohenjo daro, one at Lothal (M-28, -34, -55, -626, -663, and -1089; L-79). To these, I add two more instances from Mohenjo daro (M-385, -840) and one from Banawali (B-27). Although Wells only notes a single variant, I see at least three. One instance from Mohenjo daro has the vertical stem just mentioned (M-66, as well as the occurrence from Lothal), while others have a curved stem. Another instance from Mohenjo daro adds an apparent ground line to the base of the stem (M-663).
The Indus BUD somewhat resembles the Egyptian hieroglyph depicting a lotus bud (M10). The glyph also has a curved stem, with an oval tip that is pointed at both ends. The Egyptian lotus bud does not have the leaves seen in the Indus symbol and the Indus BUD lacks the line crossing the bud seen in the Egyptian glyph. Thus, the two are clearly not identical.
In proto-cuneiform, one sign very much resembles a bud on a curving stem, GI. This “bud” lacks any crossing mark such as the Egyptian glyph has, but also lacks the apparent “leaves” of the Indus sign. Instead, GI has three diagonal marks arising from the “stem,” two backslashes on top and one slash between these on the bottom (as GI is horizontal). GI came to mean “reed” and a measure of length approximating three meters (six cubits).
Linear B has the syllabic sign za, an oval on a post, with a short horizontal stroke immediately beneath the oval. This somewhat resembles the straight-stemmed variant of the Indus sign, but with a simple horizontal line substituting for the Indus “leaves.” Another Linear B sign, qa, is an oval on a post with two half-circles attached to the oval, one on either side. A third syllabic sign is ku, an oval attached on the side of the sign, to a bent stroke. Between these two elements is a long curving line resembling a closing parenthesis.
Old Chinese provides a more distant visual analog with xin1, “to offend one’s superior; and the consequence of it, chastisement, pain, bitterness” (Wieger 1965: 250). This is now the 160th radical, a character which also occurs among the Celestial Stems. The latter group combines with that of the Earthly Branches in the old Chinese calendar. There are 10 of the Celestial Stems and 12 Earthly Branches, creating in all a cycle of 60 distinctively named years. Xin is the eighth in the list of Celestial Stems, one of two associated with the western direction, planet Venus, and the element of metal (or gold) (Fenn and Tseng 1940: XXVII).
|Old Chinese character xin above; modern style below.|
The rock art of North America also occasionally contains a motif resembling the Indus BUD. A rare instance in Texas appears to be angled downward, with the “bud” at lower right and two rounded “leaves” at the upper left (Newcomb 1996: 101, Pl. 58). In Nevada, three instances with a similar outline may represent birds (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 113, fig. 50c). The “leaves” then represent the wings of the birds and the “flower buds” the birds’ heads.
The following Indus sign is STRIPED DEE, V57. It resembles our letter “D” containing two internal stripes that parallel the back of the sign. Also known as KP181, W566, and Fs M-1, the symbol represents a lute or lyre, according to Fairservis, meaning “song, music.” Whether this is correct or not, V57 is a singleton, appearing only at Mohenjo daro (M-73).
Linear B includes a single sign resembling a backward “D.” It has no internal stripes and must represent the crescent moon, as its meaning is “month.” One might assume that this simpler sign could not share the same meaning as the Indus sign, because the ancient Greek symbol has no internal striping. And what could internal stripes represent, in a depiction of the moon? However, internal striping may not be meaningful in itself in the Indus symbol. Many signs in this system contain internal striping, as do occasional pictorial elements.
|Inscription from broken seal K-29: THREE POSTS UNDER CHEVRON / BI-QUOTES, |
a prefix, over head of short-horned bull and part of trough.
The next Indus sign to discuss is in the form of THREE POSTS UNDER CHEVRON, V58. It also appears in the literature as KP149 and W220, but does not occur in Fairservis. It is another singleton according to Wells, appearing only at Kalibangan (K-29).
This sign, simple as it appears, has few parallels elsewhere. But there are three possibilities in the proto-cuneiform system. These are all rotated 90 degrees compared to the Indus sign, as is typical. The first takes the form of a chevron over what I term a “stacked eight” (four posts over four posts), GI6. This came to mean “black, dark.” When this symbol occurs over two diamonds side by side, each containing a short stroke, the sign is GIG, which came to mean “illness; injury.” A chevron over just two posts is |SZU2.2(N57)|. In other words, the basic sign here is the chevron (SZU2) with two numerical strokes added. This ligature came to mean “cover, covering surface; to set, become dark; to overthrow, throw down.”
An earlier form of proto-cuneiform, made by pressing a marked token (a small clay object) into clay or incising the mark alone, represents a type of garment or cloth (Schmandt-Besserat 1996: 75). In this case, the chevron portion is quite large in comparison to the very short strokes beneath. But the short strokes number three, just as in the Indus sign.
Inscription from tablet H-890 (reading from right to left): DIAMOND WITH TICK /
CUP / STACKED SEVEN BETWEEN PARENS / POT.
Another Indus sign is V59, DIAMOND WITH TICK. It has two forms, both essentially a diamond shape with a diagonal stroke added to cross one lower side, thus resembling an angular letter “Q.” Also known as KP361, but not appearing in Fairservis, it has two enumerations in Wells. The first is W401, shown as a diamond with an added slash on the left; the second, W499, with an added backslash on the right. Wells sees the former as a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-293), the second as occurring twice at Harappa (H-890, H-205).
I see both M-293 and H-890 as the same, with the added stroke on the lower right. The instance from Mohenjo daro is on a seal and that from Harappa is on a tablet (H-205, also on a tablet, is too unclear for my eyes to read). Since the signs on seals are assumed to be in reverse (so they will appear in the right form in impressions), we would expect these two instances to mirror one another, not match. Wells regularly reverses the signs as they appear on seals for this reason, while I choose to present them as they actually appear. That makes it clear where our expectations fail to be met, as in this case.
Proto-cuneiform provides a type of diamond-shaped sign with an additional stroke in HI x 1 (|HI x 1(N57)@t being the closest variant in form to the Indus sign). The basic diamond came to mean “to mix; mixed,” while the additional stroke is a numerical mark. The added numerical mark is a slash that crosses the diamond and projects outside on the upper right. Thus, this symbol is not identical to the Indus V59.
In proto-Elamite also, there are signs adding a single stroke in various ways to a basic diamond. The one most like the Indus sign is M243~b which attaches a backslash to the left side of the diamond at its point. Again, this is not identical in form to the Indus sign. Similarly, the Old European repertoire of motifs includes a diamond with a single added element, in this case a central dot (OE218).
Old Germanic runes use a diamond bisected by along vertical stroke that begins above the diamond, crosses the diamond, and then descends further (Gullhornet). This represents the “th” sound. In the Anglo-Saxon runes, the same symbol represents a “j.” A diamond with a crossing and descending vertical stroke denotes “w” in the old Germanic system, the “oe” sound in the Anglo-Saxon. Again, although the Indus DIAMOND WITH A TICK is quite simple to make, it fails to be duplicated exactly elsewhere.
Inscription M-278 as shown on seal over elephant: CIRCLED VEE / BI-QUOTES // FOUR QUOTES / QUINT-FORK (CURVED) / TRIPLE BRICK. I have artificially colored this and smoothed out the image on the original.
My sign V60 is a QUINT-FORK with a curved shape at the top. This particular form of five-pronged fork only appears in Wells (W274). He notes it as a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-278). It bears a slight resemblance to proto-cuneiform GAL~a which came to mean “big, large, great.” The proto-cuneiform sign is entirely angular, however, and more closely resembles the Indus RAKE, which I have yet to discuss (six prongs). Proto-Elamite M039~c1 resembles a “7” that has fallen over to the left, and to which are added five short strokes over the former top.
Old European motifs include one like the ancient Iraqi GAL, an angular “rake” form with six prongs on top (DS175). This also has a base line. Altogether, it only slightly resembles the curved Indus V60. In Linear B there is an element with a curved based set atop a post, the former having three rounded prongs. The sign is an ideograph for “olive oil.” Since even the prongs are rounded, this does not closely resemble the Indus sign. Even more distantly analogous is a three-pronged plant-like form on the Phaistos Disk.
Inscription H-7 as seen on seal: BOAT WITH PADDLE (? or GREATER THAN WITH TICK) / BOWTIE (1 STRIPE) / SINGLE QUOTE // FAT EX / JAY / CEE BOAT. As with other images, I have simplified and smoothed the actual form of the seal, adding false color to increase clarity.
The final sign for today’s post is the Indus V61, BOWTIE (1 STRIPE). It occurs elsewhere as KP225, W465, and Fs M-2. Fairservis sees this as a variant of the simple BOWTIE (unstriped), representing a drum. Wells notes it as another singleton (H-7). I see the stripe inside as a short stroke on the right, one which does not touch either the top or the bottom of that side of the BOWTIE. Wells presents it reversed, as do Koskenniemi and Parpola.
This shape resembles that shown inside the butcher’s block in Egyptian hieroglyphs (T28). This glyph is semi-ideographic in a meaning “under.” In proto-cuneiform there is a “bowtie” shape containing a single stroke that bisects the whole sign. This is ZAG~c, which came to mean “boundary, border, edge; should; beginning; district; sanctuary, shrine; a measure for fish; right (side); outside, front.” These varied meanings may originally have been separate words that sounded the same in Sumerian, with only one being the original. I do not know which is the original, however.In Old Chinese, a character is formed of two rounded triangles, placed one over the other but with the apex of one overlapping the apex of the other. Together, they form an element resembling the basic BOWTIE of Indus script. To this element, the Chinese add either a stroke above or a stroke below. For an example, the reader may go to the Flickr website, to BabelStone’s Photostream. Among the Precious Seals of the Qing Dynasty, no. 81 contains this character. It is located in the center of the second column from the right, in a compound character (or ligature) with a character representing a boar.