Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Ladder, a Grid, and Some Enigmatic Indus Signs

Among the Indus signs, there is one that resembles a depiction of a LADDER.  I give it that name in my list of symbols and enumerate it VII 4 (the fourth of the seven-stroke signs).  Elsewhere, it appears only as KP297; Wells and Fairservis apparently are unaware of its existence.  It is not a common sign among the inscriptions.  I count seven certain occurrences as well as two uncertain examples.  Of these nine, two are from Mohenjo daro, two from from Harappa, one from Kalibangan (questionable), one from Chanhujo daro, and three from Lothal (one questionable).  Although KP297 is shown with five "rungs," all of the cited occurences have just three “rungs,” which actually makes them five-stroke symbols.

Seal M-308 with inscription: LADDER / CUP ON 3 PRONGS / BI-QUOTES //
BELTED FISH / SPEAR (note the unusual icon, which resembles the Near
Eastern "Master of Animals" or "Gilgamesh" motif).
Somewhat to my surprise for such a simple symbol, the Indus LADDER does not have that many analogs in other scripts.  Egyptian hieroglyphs contain no parallel, although the ship’s mast comprises a top portion resembling a ladder set above a “Y” shape (P6).  This glyph is an ideograph or determinative in the word “mast,” and a phonetic element in the homophonous word, “to stand.”  Among the hieroglyphs of Crete – the use of which preceded Linear B – there is one that somewhat resembles a ladder (O39).  Instead of horizontal rungs, though, it has diagonal elements which turn it into a narrow lattice.  It may be a phonetic symbol representing the syllable pa.

Three similar symbols from other areas (from left to right):
proto-cuneiform SHE3, proto-Elamite M506, and Cretan O39.
In proto-cuneiform, again, there is no “ladder” per se.  There is a similar element inside the sign termed SHEN~b, which seems to be a copper vessel.  The “ladder” appears as a decorative element on the container here.  The Indus sign also somewhat resembles SHE3, which came to mean portion.  This sign, however, is not so much a “ladder” as a striped rectangle.  Similarly, striped rectangles appear here and there among the rock art motifs of Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1967: 96, Pl. 54, no. 1; no. 2).  But I have seen nothing that I would characterize as clearly a “ladder.”  Although the description of motifs of Nevada notes 26 occurrences of the “two-pole ladder,” I have observed only striped rectangles (this descriptive phrase distinguishes the motif from the “one-pole ladder,” a motif I term a “shish kebab”).  Such rectangles occur in both horizontal and vertical positions, as in Texas (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 108, fig. 45b; p. 165, fig. 102b).
Proto-Elamite provides a better parallel with M026~aa, a horizontal “ladder” with three “rungs.”  A second sign possible analog is M506, another horizontal “ladder,” this one with six “rungs” and an additional short post at each end.  The African nation of Ghana gives us a final example of a true ladder with the Adinkra motif given the epithet owuo atwedee.  This means “ladder of death,” something that is climbed by all (Willis 1998: 182).

Indus SQUARE AY (upper left) and analogs: proto-cuneiform
E~a (upper right) and proto-Elamite M029 (lower right).
The second Indus sign discussed here is SQUARE AY UNDER TABLE (VII 5).  It is also known as KP294 and W492 but does not appear in Fairservis’ list.  Wells notes two occurrences, both from Mohenjo daro.  Both occur as the first sign in the inscription and both precede POTTED ONE, for what that is worth.

Egyptian depiction of a gazelle and lion playing the
board game Senet: note the "square ay" shape of
the lion's chair (versus the "stool" shape of the gazelle's).
Both proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite have signs much like the two elements of which the Indus sign is composed.  The top element or TABLE is paralleled by E~a in its general shape (later “to speak, say”).  The SQUARE AY portion resembles ZATU626~a, though the proto-cuneiform sign is horizontal.  The two are not combined in a single ligature, although ligatures of signs do exist in this proto-writing system.  In proto-Elamite, the parallels to the SQUARE AY include M029 and M032~a – the first with “legs” to the left, the second with “legs” to the right.  The TABLE is rather like a short-legged version of M032.

DOUBLE-BELTED TWIN AITCH as it might appear
over the horn and ear of the "unicorn" based on KP299.
The third Indus sign for today’s discussion is most peculiar.  It occurs only in the list by Koskenniemi and Parpola, as KP299.  Although I have not seen it in the Corpus, I include in the list here, giving it the clumsy descriptor DOUBLE BELTED TWIN AITCH.  It is made up of three vertical posts joined by two central horizontals.  Centered between the tall posts – and centered between the double horizontals – are two short verticals, one on each side of the central post.

Analogs to VII 6 (from left to right): Old Chinese "center," proto-
cuneiform ZATU 636, proto-Elamite M026~d.
Old Chinese contains a character also comprising three verticals joined by two horizontals, though it lacks the additional short verticals.  This is zhung1, “the center” (Wieger 1967: 260).  An almost identical character, but with three horizontals rather than just two, is yung4, “the bronze ex-voto offered to the Ancestors, placed in the temple as a memorial...hence...aptitude, efficacity [sic], utility” (op. sit.).
In proto-Elamite, too, there is a sign made up of three strokes joined by another at a perpendicular angle (M026~d).  In this case, the central stroke is shorter than the two on the outsides.  And of course there is the fact that the crossing line is not doubled.  The proto-cuneiform ZATU636 has three long strokes, in contrast, but also joined by a single crossing line.  Here the outer stroke are bent or flared outward.  The meanings in these cases are unknown.
There is nothing quite comparable to the Indus symbol in the rock art of North America, so far as I can tell.  The closest thing to it is a motif found on two painted pebbles in Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1967: 106, Pl. 66, nos. 8 and 12).  On these objects, the long strokes of the Indus sign are broken where they meet the short, crossing lines.  On the first pebble, there are three short crossing lines, while on the second there are just two.  In neither case are there the very short lines between these crossing “belts” as in the Indus sign.  But in the second example there are three short strokes attached at a 90 degree angle to one end of each of the long strokes.

Drawing of inscription from seal M-45: TWO POSTS / OVERLAPPING
Our next sign is a GRID (VII 7).  There are several different “grids” in the Indus script characterized by different numbers of squares.  The item discussed here has two across and three down, a characteristic which I encode in my database of inscriptions (2 x 3).  This particular form of GRID does not appear elsewhere except in Wells’ list (W503).  He finds only one of these, he states, although he actually lists two (one from Harappa, one from Lothal).  He regularly lists occurrences of two of the same sign, side by side, as a separate item, a fact which may explain why I find so many more of this particular GRID (8 from Mohenjo daro, 2 more from Harappa making 3 in all, and another from Lothal making 2 in all). 

GRID analogs: unbounded grid from Texas (left);
proto-cuneiform E2~a (right).
Initially, I thought the number of squares in these GRIDS might be significant, so I divided them into two main groups.  The ICE CUBE TRAYS have two squares across and three to seven down, whereas QUILTS have three squares across and again three to seven down..  Among them, I see no clearly distinguishing characteristics – either morphological or positional – that would indicate they are not variants of a single sign.  Nevertheless, since I list symbols by the number of strokes it takes to draw them, they are included here as separate elements with distinctive numbers.  I recognize their essential unity in the name for all of them, which is now simply GRID.  Adding the 30 occurrences of the various “ice cube trays” together with the 110 “quilt” occurrences, I find a total of 140 occurrences of a GRID of one form or another.  That should be sufficient to determine more precisely whether they do in fact form a single class of sign.

Detail from Adire cloth (Yoruba, Nigeria), with grid or
checkerboard design at bottom, similar to Adinkra symbol.
Proto-cuneiform has no exact duplicate of the GRID.  Variants of one sign do appear as rectangles with both horizontal and vertical stripes, a feature of the various GRIDS (E2 in variants a, b, c, and d).  The later meaning of this symbol was “house; temple.”  In each case, the shorter lines cluster toward one end of the enclosing rectangle, unlike the essentially even distribution of lines in the Indus sign.  Proto-Elamite, on the other hand, has a closer parallel in M145~f.  This sign resembles the “ice cube tray” variants of the Indus sign, with two squares down and five across.

Detail from modern Peruvian cloth, showing some elements
similar to a grid or checkerboard.
Among the Adinkra patterns of Ghana, there is another type of grid.  Here it is more of a checkerboard, with some of the squares filled with additional grid lines or darker color than adjacent square.  This motif receives the epithet kronti ne akwamu, meaning “elders of the state” (Willis 1998: 122).  It represents qualities of democracy, interdependence, and complementarity.
Grids occur in the rock art of North America with some frequency.  The total for Nevada is given as 106 (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 131, fig. 68e).  They occur generally along the eastern edge and the southwest, but less frequently in the central part of the state.  In Texas, they are less common and when they do appear, they may lack a clearly defined border (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1967: 128, Pl. 85, no. 4).

Bar seal M-1266 with inscription: STACKED 12 / FISH UNDER CHEVRON /
SLASH IN FISH / FAT LAMBDA / POT (clumsily drawn by author).
Our final Indus sign here is FAT LAMBDA (VII 8), also known as W424.  Wells finds only three of these, all from Mohenjo daro.  One could also view this rare symbol is an outlined letter “T,” tipped over so that the lower stroke has become diagonal.  If one views it in that way, a possible parallel is the proto-cuneiform URUDU~a, in which case the “T” has fallen further and is standing on the side of its “head.”  This sign came to mean “copper, metal.”  Flipping this horizontally gives one the proto-Elamite sign M203~d, which, however, has a very long “head.”

No comments:

Post a Comment