Monday, January 3, 2011

Human Figures with an Additional Stroke

Seal M-304 with inscription: QUOTE UNDER MAN / DOUBLE FOOTED STOOLS / POTTED TWO / FISH / POT, and MAN lower right, below elephant and above tiger.  Note the icon of seated anthropomorphic figure with horns, often identified as the later Hindu god Shiva (watercolor with added color by author).

The first Indus sign for today’s discussion is QUOTE UNDER MAN (VI43).  There are not many occurrences of this sign, also known as KP14 and W19, in the Indus script.  It appears four times in all, three times at Mohenjo daro and once at Kalibangan.  As seen in my earlier post concerning the basic MAN (V23), simple anthropomorphic figures appear on virtually every continent, whether it is in writing, in proto-writing, or in art.  Adding a short vertical stroke below such a figure and between the legs is such a simple variation on the basic sign, one might expect to find many parallels to VI43.  In fact, though, such variation is not common at all. 

In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a single vertical stroke often appears below or beside a glyph to indicate that the marked glyph is ideographic, not phonetic.  However, while there is a seated man among the glyphs, there is no simple standing stick figure in the hieroglyphic script style, although a number of standing figures do appear.  As I noted in the earlier post on MAN, the most similar graphically of the hieroglyphs is the star (N14).  This glyph has the same five lines as the Indus MAN, but the star's “arms” angle upward instead of downward.  The star occurs below a curved line, half of the crescent moon glyph (N11) to form a ligatured glyph (N13).  This is ideographic in the word for a festival that was celebrated in the middle of the month.  This curve above a star (in Egypt) contains the same number of strokes as the quotation mark below a man (in South Asia), but the two look quite different in sum.
In Old Chinese, the Indus MAN is closely matchd by a representation of a man with his arms spread, da4, which means “big, great.”  This character does not combine with a single stroke beneath, but does combine with the numeral 10, a short-armed cross.  This forms the compound character tao1, “to advance, to move forward, to prosper rapidly, as the man who has past [sic] his tenth year” (Wieger 1965: 157).  A cross below a man not quite the same as a quotation mark, again, but the placement of the added element matches that of the QUOTE UNDER MAN.
Proto-Elamite sign M097~h resembling angular version of Indus QUOTE UNDER MAN.
Proto-Elamite provides the best parallel with a wedge-shaped impression placed between the "legs" of a human-like symbol that has a triangular “head” (M097~h).  As is typical of this proto-writing system, the symbol is positioned horizontally.  The basic “man” in this case probably does not represent a human, however, since it appears in texts that concern herds and flocks (Damerow and Englund 1989).

Hohokam engraving interpreted as a birth scene, with two anthropomorphs, one with a dot or two below the legs.

In the rock art of North America, there are many instances of an anthropomorphic figure with what seems to be a short tail.  This motif is somewhat similar to the Indus sign VI43, although the "quote" in the latter is usually shown in printed lists as detached from the "man."  The "men with tails" occur frequently in Texas (e.g., Newcomb 1996: 59, Pl. 21, no. 3; p. 74, Pl. 36, no. 3; p. 109, Pl. 69, no. 3; p. 149, Pl. 100, no. 8).  They also appear in Nevada (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 161, fig. 98c; 156, fig. 98e).  The illustration is found between these two states, in southern Arizona, made by people whose culture is termed Hohokam (Noble 1991: 65).  Where the “tail” is short on an American figure, it may indicate the male organ and not a tail at all.  Such motifs should then be interpreted as representing men, in the sense of male humans.  In other cases, the “tail” is longer and the figure may represent a lizard.  The same sort of motifs occur in the rock art of Africa, sometimes depicting humans and sometimes lizards (Le Quellec 2004: 72, fig. 24; p. 70, fig. 21; p. 131, fig. 44).

African painted motifs from the great overhang of Songo at Sanga, Mali.  Note the anthropomorph holding a tall staff compared to the lizard to the right of this, both outlined in white.

Another Indus sign based on a human-like stick figure is MAN HOLDING QUOTE (VI44).  In this sign, the basic MAN element occurs without a change in arm position, but with a stroke added attached to the end of one arm.  Elsewhere it is KP23, W13, and Fs A-12.  Fairservis calls this a man with his arm in a holding position (but not actually holding anything).  He thinks it represents an occupational suffix that is found in Dravidian languages.  In English, a similar occupational suffix still exists, –er as found in baker, writer, dancer, etc. 

Seal M-403 with inscription: MAN HOLDING QUOTE / SPEAR / LAMBDA / QUINT-FORK.
It is worth noting that Fairservis' definition is a problematic for the common hypothesis that the Indus seal inscriptions primarily include only names and occupations.  If that hypothesis is correct, then this “suffix” is astonishingly rare: Wells notes only eight occurrences.  Five are from Mohenjo daro, one from Harappa, two from Lothal.  I think there may be as many as 26, but that is still quite infrequent for such a handy suffix.
There are two main variants of this sign, “a” having the quote extend from the left “hand” of the MAN, “b” the reverse of this with the quote extending from the right “hand.”  In addition, some instances show this quote rising vertically while others show it at an angle.  In two of the occurrences, the “man” is missing his “head.”  In these two cases, the body and one leg are also a single vertical stroke, with the second “leg” descending at an angle.  This type ought to have its own designation, “c” (or given its own name and enumeration as a separate sign).
Egyptian hieroglyphs provide a number of examples of human and divine figures holding sticks or staffs, which may be taken as parallels.  One man holds his stick with both hands (A24), a second is leaning and using a single hand to hold his stick (A25).  Both are determinatives in words having to do with hitting, striking, and teaching.  Evidently, ancient Egyptian teachers motivated their students with the stick!  A third glyph depicts a man holding his stick up high in one hand (A59), a determinative in the word for “drive away.”  None of these provides a close match to the Indus sign.

Oracle bone variants of quan, "dog," above.  Below, modern character and Old Seal versions of quan, with Old Seal yu at the bottom. 
Old Chinese yields an interesting case where a character closely resembles the man with his arms out cited above, meaning "big," but means something utterly different.  In the modern character, quan3, “dog,” is identical to the word for “big” except that a short backslash is added over the right “arm” (Wieger 1967: 304).  This extra stroke is sometimes referred to as the dog's ear.  In the Old Seal script, what seem to be lower limbs (actually a leg and the tail?) form a curve, but the character looks even more like a little man holding a stick.  It is only in the earliest stage of writing on oracle bones that the character actually resembles a dog. 
Representations of a stick figure that may be holding a stick, tool, or weapon appear commonly in rock art.  Such motifs occur in many places in Africa (e.g., Le Quellec 2004: 39, 58, 60, 75, 86, 113, 123).  They are also to be found in North America (Newcomb 1996: 67, Pl.27, no. 3; 109, Pl. 69, no. 3).  In Africa, some variants of a motif resembling the “headless” Indus variant (“c”) also occur, but they represent cattle, not men (Le Quellec 2004: 126)!  Thus, the addition of a stroke to a symbol, as well as the removal of one, may be significant and meaningful in unpredictable ways.  This is a lesson to bear in mind when it comes to interpreting or deciphering the Indus symbols.

Schematic cattle painted at Bukoba, near Lake Nyanza, in Kenya, Africa.  The variant on lower left resembles the "headless" Indus MAN signs.

Broken seal M-1054 with partial inscription: CUPPED THREE / PINCH / MAN WITH SINGLE WING.
A third Indus sign involves the addition of a single stroke to the neck or shoulder of the basic anthropomorph.  In this case, I am not quite sure what to call it: MAN WITH SINGLE HORN (or MAN WITH SINGLE WING).  It is the forty-fifth of the six-stroke signs and thus VI45 in my list.  Fairservis does not show it, but it also appears as KP12 and as two signs in Wells, W38 and W65.  Wells distinguishes these two signs by adding a backslash to the left side of the “man” for W38, and a slash to the right side of the “man” in W65.  Each one is a singleton according to him.  I see more than that and I don’t reverse the signs on the seals as Wells does.  For me, variant “A” has a backslash on the left (M-1198 and H-347) while variant “B” has a slash on the right (M-1054, H-784, H-839). 

Oracle-bone variants of guo, "halberd," with ,modern variant at lower right, which resembles Indus MAN WITH SINGLE WING.

Old Chinese provides two characters that resemble that for “big,” modified by a stroke near the “arm” or “head.”  The first of these is yu2, which in Wieger’s imaginative description represents “a setter which s[c]ents the game, folds its ears...By extension, amazement, surprise, singular, extraordinary” (1965: 305).  The character does not much resemble a dog with an ear folded back, despite what Wieger says.  It looks like the “big” character with one “arm” bent back toward its “head” which is also bent.  The second character that resembles the Indus sign is not even animate: guo1, “a kind of halberd...A hook or crescent on the top, then a cross-bar, and a halter hanging” (1965: 177).  The modern form is now the 62nd radical and reminds me of a stick figure man.

Detail of yei with vertical head feathers from a Navaho blanket woven to replicate a sand painting (color added, not authentic).  Both arms are on one side here, indicating movement in that direction.  Other figures are shown with an arm on each side, more like the stance of the Indus sign.  Note also the medicine pouch hanging on one side like a "tail."

In North American rock art, anthropomorphic figures sometimes have a single prong rising from the head, a feature that may represent a feather in the hair (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 135, fig. 72a; Newcomb 1996: 53, Pl. 18, no. 5; cf. p. 47, Pl. 13, no. 3 with a penniform protuberance).  Supernatural beings called yeis appear routinely in Navaho sand paintings with a feather or another element on the head, sometimes shown rising up but more often shown perpendicular to the angle of head and body (Newcomb and Reichard 1975: Pl. XIV, showing perpendicular feathers on the heads of Holy Man, Holy Woman, Holy Boy, and Holy Girl; cf. Pl. XXIX, showing a tail between the legs and a triangular protuberance on the heads of Black Thunder and Blue Thunder).
The next Indus sign is TAILED MAN (VI46), another anthropomorph, this time apparently adorned with a laterally positioned tail.  It appears elsewhere as W40 only, where it is noted as a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-234).  Because the actual sign appears just once, it could be an error for the basic MAN.  The seal carver might have made one groove for the left leg, then decided this was at the wrong angle and added another line, as a correction. 

It is also possible that VI46 is just what it appears to be, perhaps a person wearing a tail or train as a costume or garment.  Parallels for such a practice do exist in other ancient societies.  For example, some Egyptian rites involved the king or a priest wearing an animal’s tail.  The ibis-headed god, Thoth, wears such an animal tail in The Book of Going Forth by Day: The Papyrus of Ani, better known as the Book of the Dead (Faulkner and Goelet 1994: 25, Pl. 3).  A priest performs rites for the deceased Ani, wearing a spotted leopard skin, complete with head, paws, and tail in a recurring image in many of the illustrations (e.g. 1994: 27, Pl. 3). 
In addition, this papyrus includes a plant with a human head, illustrating a passage wherein the deceased transforms into a lotus (1994: Pl. 28).  According to Goelet, the animal head represents an aspect of a particular Egyptian deity (1994: 144-145).  As such, these therianthropic images served the same function as fully anthropomorphic images of the same deities, in which the god’s attribute sits on the head like a hat.  Thus, the goddess Hathor appears in varied guises: “a cow with a solar disk between her horns, a slender woman with cow horns and solar disk upon her head, a woman with the [hieroglyphic] sign for ‘West’ upon her head...the menat-necklace and the head of a musical instrument known as the sistrum” (1994: 144).  Depending on which of these possibilities we might choose as a model, the Indus TAILED MAN might represent a human wearing a costume, a deity wearing the same as an identifier, an animal which has a tail (a monkey?), or a theriamorphic being -- part human, part animal.
In Mesopotamia, too, there are various representations of figures that combine human and animal features, including men dressed as fish (Black and Green 1992: 18, 83, 103, 108).  These represent the Seven Sages, wise men who lived before the Akkadian Flood (1992: 163).  The same civilizing figures also appear with human bodies, bird heads, and wings, in which guise they are known in modern literature as griffin-demons.  Other therianthropic beings from the same cultures include a bull-man, a scorpion-man, and eventually a lion-man, all with human heads and torsos but the back end of an animal; as well as a lion-demon, similar to the griffin-demon but with a leonine head.  There is also a lion-centaur, a creature with a human head and torso attached to the full body of a lion – with front and back leonine legs – and sometimes with wings (1992: 120). 

 Mesopotamian bull-man (image drawn from cylinder seal by author).
The last being recalls the Egyptian deity Tutu, “one who keeps enemies at a distance,” which has a human head on the body of a dog or lion (Pinch 1994: 38).  The Great Sphinx is a similar image on a far larger scale, originally representing the pharaoh Khufu or Kephren.  One type of soul in Egyptian imagery is the ba, shown human-headed and sometimes possessing human arms as well, but with the body of a bird (1994: 159).  This aspect of the soul is also a hieroglyph (G53), an ideograph in the word b3, “soul” (the main other aspect of the soul is the ka, written with the glyph of two raised arms).

Small sphinx from ancient Egypt.

Various cultures worldwide have produced depictions of other beings that are part human, part animal.  Sometimes these are gods, as in Egypt where many deities appear as anthropomorphs with animal heads (e.g., Pinch 1994: 27, ibis-headed Thoth; 31, jackal (?) headed Seth; 34, dog-headed Anubis, falcon-headed Horus, etc.).  In other places, such as southern Africa, animal-headed anthropomorphs have often been interpreted as shamans (Lewis-Williams 2004). 

Seal Ns-9 from Nausharo, with icon of apparent therianthrope, part tiger, part woman.

On Indus seals, one of the least frequent icons represents a being that is part human and part tiger (M-311, K-50, K-65, Ns-9).  This creature has long horns matching those of the markhor (a type of goat).  Rising from the anthropomorphic head, between these horns, there is a plant-like motif.  The creature has a fully anthropomorphic head and body in front, at the back of which is the long, striped body and back end of a tiger.  There seems to be long pigtail stretching out from the back of the head and over the tiger portion of the figure.  Also, the human element apparently wears a long skirt.  This garment and the long hair may indicate that this being is female, a rare feature among Indus icons.  The other animals and imaginary beasts (the human-faced markhor, the three-headed bovine, etc.) are decidedly male.  I consider it within the realm of possibility, then, that the TAILED MAN sign is actually meant to have a tail as an abbreviated form of the “tiger woman.”
It is difficult to find a precise match for this sign in any other arena.  However, in Old Chinese, an additional stroke changes the meaning of a basic character in various ways, depending on where the stroke occurs.  The character for the dog becomes ba2 when an oblique stroke crosses the leg, meaning “a dog led in a leash, by a string tied up to a leg, according to the Chinese way” (Wieger 1965: 304).  Another character, this time for a woman (which, interestingly enough, lacks a head) becomes wu2 when crossed by a horizontal stroke.  This means “a woman placed under lock and key...for avoid, to abstain, inutility, nothingness” (1965: 170).
In North America, it is easy to find anthropomorphic figures with horns and others (which may actually be lizards) with tails of various lengths.  In the corpus from Nevada and eastern California, there are 485 representations of anthropomorphs, divided by the authors into six categories, and 11 “lizards,” which resemble stick figures of “humans” except in their proportions (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 86-91).  The authors are more confident than I am that a modern viewer can clearly distinguish between “lizards” and human stick figures.  They define the lizard as having a long tail and short limbs while the stick figures of people have longer limbs and short "tails" (or none).  But I see every gradation between what I would characterize as long and short in tails and in limbs!  Even among the “katchinas” (a highly stylized anthropomorph), which are certainly not lizards, I see at least one that has both horns and a tail (1984: 118, fig. 65a, 2nd figure from left).  The figures with both features, then, may be therianthropes.

Rock painting in the Beersheba region, later moved to Bloemfontein Museum, South Africa.  Therianthropic figures which might be interpreted by Westerners as shamans (with bird wings and eland heads, but human bodies, possibly with tails), but interpreted by San informants as people changing into frogs (detail painted by author based on Le Quellec 2004: 205).
In the rock art of southern Africa, a number of images of therianthropes have become relatively famous through the work of scholars proposing a shamanic interpretation (e.g., Lewis-Williams 2002: color plate 9 after 112; ch. 5, 136-162).  The most common such depiction shows a creature with the head of an antelope, especially that of an eland, and a human body.  Figures with tails, one or more prongs protruding from the head, and short strokes descending from widespread arms – closely resembling North American thunderbird images – are said to be winged shamans (2002: 150).  The same or similar animal-headed (or “winged”) humans appear with other interpretations – people wearing animal headdresses, spirits of the dead, therianthropic ancestors (Le Quellec 2004: 168-205).
Australia also provides examples of rock art depicting beings that may combine human and animal features.  One such figure may represent a lizard, in a painting from Endaen shelter, Stanley Island, Princess Charlotte Bay (Layton 1992: 7).  The apparent limbs are perpendicular to what seems to be the body, and the “tail” is relatively long, expected in lizard depictions.  But there is an additional diagonal stroke near one end (the head or the tail?) that is quite enigmatic.  A painting made in recent times for magical purposes appears to have a human body, a tail, and perhaps an animal head (by John Flinders Wodhyethi c. 1920, on Ngurromo, Clack Island, Princess Charlotte Bay; 1992: 26). 

In Dandani cave, there is a row of anthropomorphic figures joined by their outspread arms, most of which seem to have a short tail (1992: 61).  The author describes this as men dancing.  Another group of similar figures in the same cave shows no “tails” of this sort, a group appearing beneath the extended arm and hooked boomerang of a larger “tailed” person.  One explanation provided by local people for this group is that the larger figure depicts an infamous murderer and the smaller figures his victims (1992: 125).  I find myself wondering what it is that indicates dancing in the first group, but no dancing in the second.

An anthropomorph with four digits on each hand is painted above a presumed Rainbow Serpent at Twin Falls Creek, western Arnhem Land (1992: 162).  This elongated stick figure has three extensions from the head, one sticking up, one to the right, and one to the left.  Is it therianthropic, or are the extensions from the head representations of something physical -- decorative items in the hair?   How can one ever be sure? 
To his credit, Layton discusses at length the difficulty of clearly distinguishing anthropomorphs from zoomorphs, as well as distinguishing among the animals in the latter category (1992: 168-182).  For example, a single motif resembling the Chinese “big” character, but with a “V”-shaped “head,” has been interpreted variously as a man, a squid, or a shark with open mouth; the same figure with a short “tail” may again be a man, unless it is a beche de mer, a crayfish, or a very thin turtle (1992: 175)!  This should serve as a reminder that modern interpreters of art and symbol cannot be certain of their conclusions, especially in the absence of a living tradition.

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