Saturday, December 25, 2010

Stools, Tables, an Asterisk, and a Rake

I begin this post with a sign found only in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP241).  I call it CAGED EX since this list shows it to have the form of an “X” shape surrounded by four short marks (upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left).  In my own list it is VI26, indicating that it is the twenty-sixth of the six-stroke signs.  I am not actually certain that it exists, as I have no mention of it in my database of inscriptions, which are based on my readings of the first two volumes of the Corpus. 
The enigmatic seal M-787: VEE IN DIAMOND (?) / BI-QUOTES / CAGED EX (?) / BEARER
 (some smoothing of image and false color added by author).

It is possible that the sign is present on one seal from Mohenjo daro that is both broken and highly abraded (M-787).  The upper left-hand corner is broken off, removing the top of the first sign in the inscription.  The pointed, angular portion that remains at bottom of this sign suggests that it may have been VEE IN DIAMOND, a common variable appearing in prefixes.  It is followed by the BI-QUOTES, the most frequent of the constants in prefixes.  This much is reasonably clear, despite some abrasion.  The next sign is too abraded for me to be at all sure of its identity.  The two left-hand marks of “caging” appear to be present, and possibly that on the lower right.  The central portion could be an “X” shape, although that identification is doubtful.  The final sign is the BEARER with straight arms.
A slightly different sign is also possible here, and perhaps a little more likely, considering the poor state of seal M-787.  Among the five-stroke signs, I discussed the EX UNDER TABLE (V25).  This has the same central element, the “X” shape, as the proposed CAGED EX.  The center of this sign, of course, is the least visible portion on the seal, as seen in the first illustration.  If the top horizontal of the TABLE was originally there but is now too abraded to see, that might leave the “legs,” making them appear to be the two upper marks of caging.  Against this, it is the two left-hand marks that I see, and the rest of the sign more resembles one of the birds than an “X” to my eyes.  Be that as it may, we will assume that a CAGED EX is present somewhere in the Corpus.
A motif similar to Indus caging, detail from textile made by Native Americans of Peru (reference below).

Although the CAGED EX seems to be a simple symbol, I have not seen another example
of it, either in Indus inscriptions or among the symbols of other cultures.  Caging with four dots is fairly common in the Indus script but rare elsewhere, so far as I can tell.  An “X” shape is common around the world, but not in combination with bracketing.

Distorted image of a detail from seal C-6: SPEAR / JAY / SINGLE QUOTE / FISH BETWEEN PARENTHESES / POT / MAN // DOUBLE CARPET RAKES / CIRCLED VEE (smoothing and false color added by author).

The second Indus sign I will discuss resembles the letter “T” with some additions.  On either side of the horizontal stroke at the top, there is a short vertical mark.  A small triangle sits in the center of the horizontal as well.  I call this sign a CARPET RAKE as it resembles a rake I once owned that was intended for “combing” shag carpets.  It also somewhat resembles one of the BEARER signs of this script (CHEVRON HATTED BEARER), but with the arms raised and without legs.  It occurs elsewhere as KP94 and W245.  Fairservis makes no mention of it.  Wells gives a total of three occurrences, two from Mohenjo daro and one from Harappa (M-3, M-192; H-90).  I see an additional occurrence from Chanhujo-daro which is doubled (C-6).  The absence of the last from Wells’ enumeration is due to his predilection for classifying cases of doubling as independent signs.
The CARPET RAKE is not duplicated precisely anywhere else that I have seen, unlike the ordinary RAKE.  Distant similarities do exist here and there.  Among Egyptian hieroglyphs, there are two representations of a small table or cult stand (a platform on one leg) on which sit two loaves of bread and a jug.  The first version of this glyph shows three items on the table, a tall loaf on one side, a jug without handles in the center, and a small, round loaf on the other side (R1).  This is an ideograph or determinative in h3(w)t, “table of offerings.”  The second version is a schematic variant of the previous glyph with up to five strokes (vertical lines with bent tops) on the table (R2). 
In connection with an interpretation of the Indus sign as a person’s arms, hat, and trunk, one might also compare the ideograph for k3, “soul, spirit” (D28).  This Egyptian glyph represents two conventionalized arms upraised, recalling the prongs on the right and left sides of the top of the Indus sign.  But there is neither a head/hat nor a body of any kind in the glyph, while the Indus sign has both.  The final hieroglyph to compare resembles a triangular hat with arms coming down and holding an oar or paddle (D33).  The glyph is ideographic in hni, “to row.”  It perhaps resembles the CARPET RAKE only in my mind.
Proto-cuneiform also contains an analog to the Indus sign with |SIG x 1 (N57)|.  This resembles a horizontal version of the CARPET RAKE in which the “arms” and “hat” are curved rather than angular.  Here, the curved portion means “evening,” probably based on a representation of a crescent moon.  The single horizontal on the left is a numerical symbol, with the meaning “one.”  Proto-Elamite presents a more angular analog, also horizontal {M036 + 1 (N14)}.  The “arms” of this symbol are on the left, the opposite of the proto-cuneiform sign.  Instead of an angular “hat,” there is a round impression between the “arms.”  The meaning of this ancient Iranian symbol may or may not be related to “evening.”
Examples of
with "mountain."

Old Chinese has no precise parallel, but two less than perfect examples.  The first is based on a “U” shape, with a chevron inside from which extends a vertical post.  This is shan1, “mountain” (Wieger 1965: 208).  Today, this character is angular, a horizontal line with three verticals attached.  There is one on each end and a third in the center which is taller than the other two.  The character is the 46th radical.  Obviously the lower vertical of the Indus CARPET RAKE is missing from this Chinese parallel.  My second example is a curved trident in form, the old character che4, “a plant that sprouts from its grain; the minimum of a plant...often used as a represent any object” (Wieger 1965: 199).  It is now the 45th radical, its top portion identical to the modern “mountain,” but with a central “post” that tends to curve toward the bottom.  In the accompanying illustration, a more complex character includes the "mountain" element at the bottom (yue4, "mountain peak; wife's parents" {Keightley 1978: 218}).
Sign VI28 is another BOWTIE, this one with two stripes, one on each side (cf. the unstriped IV10 and the single-striped V61).  It appears elsewhere only as W464, where it is classified as a singleton (M-855).  However, I see it on two more objects from Mohenjo daro (M-119, and below the markhor on M-1129), in one inscription from Lothal (L104), and perhaps on a bangle from Kalako-deray (Kd-8).  It also resembles the central element of a more complex design on a Post-Harappan seal from Pirak (P-25).  Even if all of these are classified as the same sign (which one may not wish to do), there are still very few altogether, certainly too few for statistical analysis.

Detail from seal M-119: STRIPED BOWTIE / CEE / TWO POSTS / BLANKET (?) /

A STRIPED BOWTIE symbol is not particularly common outside the Indus Valley either, in my observations.  Proto-cuneiform includes one rotated 90 degrees in ZAG~c.  The internal stripes on this symbol are different from those on the Indus sign, though, so this is not an exact match.  The Sumerian descendant of this sign means “boundary, border; sanctuary, shrine” and is a measure for fish (as well as a few other things).  One proto-Elamite sign is also shaped like the BOWTIE and has some stripes inside (M286~b).  There are four stripes in this symbol, all on one side, and the whole thing is rotated as in proto-cuneiform.
The next sign is similar to the previous but the stroke that would close one side is broken in the center.  I term this FOOTED STOOL, and this particular version also has a vertical line down the center.  This yields a full but clumsy descriptor, FOOTED STOOL WITH MID POST (VI29).  It is also KP231 and W458 but Fairservis does not note this variant.  Wells cites a total of two occurrences, both from Mohenjo daro (M-632 and M-148).  I see it on one tablet from Harappa also (H-953).  The “feet” are on the left side on the two seals from Mohenjo daro, on the right on the tablet from Harappa.  This is as expected, since seals were used to stamp things and tablets apparently were not.
Detail from seal M-148: FOOTED STOOL WITH MID POST / CIRCLED VEE / POT (color and smoothing added).

A single analogous form occurs in proto-cuneiform as GA’AR~b1.  This is actually another “bowtie” shape, but with the central vertical post found in the Indus sign.  In proto-cuneiform, the sign indicates a commodity made from dried, grated cheese.
A similar sign in the Indus script is VI30, a FOOTED STOOL WITH TICK.  Here, there is a short diagonal mark attached to one of the “legs” of the “stool” rather than a tall post crossing it.  This is also KP230(b) and W448, again missing from Fairservis.  Wells notes a total of 14 occurrences, nine from Mohenjo daro, two from Harappa, and three from Lothal.  I found 13 from Mohenjo daro, four from Harappa, three from Lothal (as Wells says), and an additional one of unknown provenance (a total of 21).  Either way, occurrences are insufficient for statistical analysis.
STACKED TWELVE / POT // FOOTED STOOL WITH TICK / PINWHEEL (color and smoothing added).

I have no parallels to cite for this sign other than the same one in proto-cuneiform noted earlier, GA’AR~b1.  The later Sumerian version indicates “powdered or finely grated sun-dried curd-cheese which can be stored and reconstituted with water or milk” (Halloran 1999: 69).  There is a compound in the same language, ga-ar3-gazi, meaning “cheese seasoned with gazi, a pungent spice – cassia or black mustard” (1999: 69)  If the Indus STOOL or FOOTED STOOL represents some type of commodity, the additional “tick” mark might indicate a variation on it, in a similar manner (but that’s a big “if”).
Another singleton among Indus signs is something of an anomaly, EN UNDER TABLE (VI31).  It also occurs as KP189 and W433 (missing from Fairservis).  The bottom portion, the EN, is a very short zigzag, resembling our capital letter “N” except that the vertical strokes lean to the right.  Over this is the TABLE, a square bracket with its “legs” hanging down.  The apparent ligature of these two elements appears only on bar seal M-367, as Wells notes.  Typically, symbols found beneath the TABLE element occur elsewhere as independent signs without the TABLE.  But the EN element does not appear alone, unless we view it as a variant of the EM WITH TICK, or other longer zigzags.  A less probable relationship might be with a sign inscribed on a broken pot rim, M-1587.  The photograph in the Corpus is not clear, and there could be one or even two instances of the EN on this object.  However, I think it more likely that these are occurrences of the BOWTIE.

(color and smoothing added; lower right corner missing on original).
When it comes to parallels, VI31 is again a singleton.  There are symbols in other scripts which are analogous to either the TABLE (see post on III6) or the EN (cf. the zigzag EM WITH TICK, V8), but not for the combination of these.  For example, Egyptian hieroglyphs include the common phonetic sign for the n sound (N35).  This is a zigzag, but one with a larger number of strokes than the EN.  There is also the sky element.  It occurs in two glyphs with something descending from it (N2 and N4).  But the sky does not appear over the water (i.e., n) as a single glyph.
In Luwian hieroglyphs, an element resembling the Indus GRAIN EAR appears beneath an apparent TABLE, both in the logograph SCRIBA, “scribe,” and in the phonetic glyph tu.  But no zigzag of any length occurs below this same “table” motif in Luwian.  In proto-cuneiform, there is a sign of unknown meaning that is vaguely similar to the Indus TABLE.  It is almost identical to the Egyptian glyph of the sky, rotated 90 degrees (ZATU751).  Hence, it is a poor analog to the Indus VI31.  Finally, proto-Elamite contains apparent variants on the Indus EN (M050~k, M050~m, and M050~n).  All have additional strokes resembling hairs and none occur within the long-legged proto-Elamite analog of the TABLE (cf. M106 + M288, where a long-legged “table” encloses a sign resembling the Indus VEST).
Detail from seal H-43: TWO POSTS / ASTERISK (8) / QUAD-FORK (color and smoothing added).

The final Indus sign discussed here has two rather different forms and might easily be described as two separate signs.  Originally I termed the first “variant” ASTERISK, noting in parentheses afterward that it contains eight points (VI32).  Tentatively, I maintain that name, calling this “A.”  Included in the same enumeration is the “B” variant, which I originally thought of as a DOUBLY DOTTED EX.  That is, the first looks like an “X” with another, curved “X” superimposed on it (“A” variant).  The second is an “X” with two short verticals rising from its upper “arms” and another two verticals descending from the lower “legs.”
The “A” variant appears elsewhere only in Wells’ list (W552), where it is given as a singleton from Harappa (H-43).  The “B” variant appears as KP245 and W556.  Wells gives it as another singleton (M-949).  I see the latter variant also on M-975, M-1205C, L-14, and L-48).  I cannot quite decide whether these two variants really are the same sign rendered somewhat differently.  It may be preferable to leave them as separate signs, as Wells encodes them.  In that case, they need better names.
Egyptian hieroglyphs include no exact parallel, although one which Gardiner calls “three fox skins tied together” is similar (F31).  It occurs in the word mst, “apron of foxes’ skins.”  The glyph resembles an asterisk with six points, the lower three longer than the upper three. 
In Old Chinese, two forms of one character are vaguely similar: mi3, “grains of different plants...separated by the thrashing” (Wieger 1965: 285).  One variation in the ancient writing is a “+” with diagonal strokes added between every two “arms.”  The other variation is an “X” with a short vertical stroke between every two “arms.”  The modern character for grain is based on the first variation.  Still in modern Chinese, the same character with an additional diagonal stroke at the top becomes bien4, “the steps of a wild beast....The examination of the trail..., discriminate, to part, to sort out” (1965: 286).
Proto-cuneiform contains an eight-stroke asterisk closely resembling our own symbol of that name: AN.  This came to designate “sky, heaven, the god An; grain ear, date spadix; to be high; high, tall; in front.”  As a prefixed element, it is also read DINGIR, “god/goddess,” acting as a determinative before names of deities.  An asterisk of six points, an “X” with a horizontal stroke through it, is HAL, a sign that came to have a great variety of meanings in later cuneiform.  Among them are “secret; divination expert; to stream, run; to divide, separate.”
Proto-Elamite also provides two types of “asterisk,” the eight-pointed type (M046) and the six-pointed type (M046~a).  There is also a sign with a resemblance to an asterisk formed of two “V” shapes crossing one another at an oblique angle (M102).  One variant has, in addition, four wedge-shaped impressions arrayed about the left half (M102~k).  The other variant of note has six smaller marks arrayed more symmetrically around it (M102~k2).
In rock art, as I noted in the discussion of the three-stroke ASTERISK (III19), there are many star-like forms.  In Texas, there are many examples with varying numbers of points, some odd numbers, including five and seven (note eight-pointed example Newcomb 1996: 53, Pl. 17, no. 6).  In the collection from Nevada and eastern California, the authors note 27 total occurrences of “stars” of three to six strokes (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 83; note the eight-pointed example p. 98, fig. 35g).  A star-like engraving also appears at more than one site in Australia: at Eucolo Creek, at the Rockholes, Panaramitee Station, and at Wharton Hill, Olary region (Flood 1984: 112, 183, 185). 
The closest motif to an asterisk that I find in African rock art is painted variously on the great overhang of Songo at Sanga, Mali (Le Quellec 2004: 60-61).  Some of these motifs seem at first glance to be six-pointed asterisks, most painted in red with a white surrounding line.  However, as the more detailed examination of six of these shows, they are not stars but representations of lizards (2004: 64, fig. 9). 
Among other African art forms, motifs more like the Indus ASTERISK appear.  For example, the Adinkra designs that are typically used on funerary cloths include a seven-armed, an eight-armed, and a nine-armed, asterisk-like motif (Willis 1998: 200-201).  One difference between these and the Indus sign is that the African examples surround a circle rather than a point (there is also a 10-armed asterisk that encloses a circled cross). 
Only the eight-armed example is pointed; the others generally have circles at the tips of the “arms” (a feature sometimes seen in American rock art also).  The star with eight arms is called nsoroma, “a child of the heavens, a star.”  There is a proverb associated with each of the Adinkra designs, that of the eight-pointed star being as follows: Oba Nyankonsoroma te Nyame so na onnte ne ho so, “A child of the Supreme Being, I do not depend on myself; my illumination is only a reflection of His” (1998: 154-155).  Thus, although the design depicts a star, it represents a person of excellent character or faith.  Variants of this symbol have other numbers of arms, as well: five, seven, or even ten.


Chinese: Keightley, David. 1978. Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. Berkeley: University of California.

Peruvian (Inca): Appleton, Le Roy. 1971. American Indian Design and Decoration. New York: Dover. (Originally published 1950 by Charles Scribner's Sons, entitled Indian Art of the Americas).

1 comment:

  1. Dear Diwiyana,
    The first picture is not clear and details of symbols could not be seen. Kindly put up a fresh and improved picture. All the best. Jeyakumar Ramasami