Saturday, March 12, 2011


Besides basic symbols, the Indus script contains a number that are composed of two (or more) parts, each of which may or may not occur as an independent sign.  I have discussed several apparent numerals, including THREE POSTS (III 2), a group of three tall verticals.  In another post, I discussed the TRI-FORK (III 13).  At times, the latter combines with another basic sign to form a ligature.  In the case of today’s first symbol, these two are combined: THREE POSTS WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK.  This sign appears elsewhere only in the list of symbols prepared by Wells (W221).  He notes only one occurrence from Mohenjo daro (M-409).  To this we might add another of slightly different form, deriving from the same place (M-898).  This is one I discussed previously, enumerating it VI 33 (see the earlier post for an image).  Only the first, cited by Wells, is a seven-stroke item, one which I enumerate VII 9. 
Seal M-409 with inscription: CIRCLED TRI-FORK / POT //
In both variants, the TRI-FORK attaches to the left side of the third “post.”  In the first example (VII 9, as found on M-409, depicted here), the prongs all rise from the diagonal stem of the TRI-FORK.  In the second example (VI 33, as found on M-898), the prongs attach at opposite angles to this stem, i.e., as a “V” shape bisected by the stem.  If this distinction is significant enough to be reflected in the name as well as the numerical designation, we can amend VII 9 to THREE POSTS WITH ATTACHED E TRI-FORK.
There may be a third instance of this same ligature in a third variant form.  It appears as a singleton cited only by Wells (W182), which I included in the list of five-stroke signs as DOUBLES QUOTES ON SLASH BELTED AITCH (V 14).  Its single occurrence is on a seal from Mohenjo daro that is crowded toward the right edge.  The inscription transliterates: BUD / CEE BOAT / SINGLE QUOTE // SLASH IN FISH / CUPPED POST / 3 POSTS / DOUBLE QUOTES ON SLASH BELTED AITCH / 2 POSTS.  However, the “posts” on either side of the peculiar “aitch” are indistinguishable from the two vertical strokes of this “aitch.”  So the same inscription might be transliterated with equal validity another way: BUD / CEE BOAT / SINGLE QUOTE // SLASH IN FISH / CUPPED POST / 4 POSTS / 3 POSTS WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK.  Here, the “TRI-FORK” actually has only two prongs attached to the stem, so it is a BI-FORK in my terms.
In any case, there are few comparable signs elsewhere.  In Luwian hieroglyphs there is one that is fairly similar.  It contains three vertical strokes like the Indus sign.  To the one on the right is attached a diagonal stroke, forming the phonetic element tara.  The diagonal is unadorned, though, and slants in the opposite direction of the stem of the Indus TRI-FORK. 
In proto-cuneiform, we might compare a composite (or ligature) transliterated |3(N57).AMAR|.  In this, there are three horizontal strokes on the left, which represent a true numeral.  On the right is an outlined wedge shape which came to mean “calf.”  Thus, together the two elements mean “three calves.”  Other similar examples could be cited, but in each case the numeral is equal in scale or smaller than the other element.  I am aware of no examples where a numeral has a small attachment, as appears to be the case with Indus sign VII 9.
The next Indus sign in my list is VII 10 (the tenth of the seven-stroke signs), which I term ARROW SKEWERING DIAMOND.  As with the previous symbol, it occurs elsewhere only in Wells (W246).  It resembles our conventional “arrow” sign pointing upward, with a diamond shape overlapping the shaft midway between the base and the point.  It appears once, as Wells notes, on a pot shard from Naru-Waro-dharo (Nwd-1).  On that shard it is to the left of two somewhat shorter strokes which might be classified as either "quotes" or "posts."  Cut off by the break is a hint of another (unfortunately unidentifiable) sign.
Inscription on pot shard Nwd-1 (reading from right):
Luwian hieroglyphs again provide a vague parallel in the syllabic sign za.  This is also basically an upward pointing arrow.  However, this is no diamond.  Beneath the arrow are two slanting lines stacked one over the over.  The shaft of the arrow touches the upper of these.  In contrast, proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite include diamond shapes “skewered” in a similar manner to the Indus sign, but by simple posts rather than “arrows.”  The proto-cuneiform SZIR~a came to mean “bulb” among other things.  When the diamond contains two short strokes, this is NU11, which came to mean “light; fire, lamp.”  The proto-Elamite sign contains various numbers of internal strokes (M254).  Its significance is unknown.

Inscription transcribed from M-391: FIVE-TOED FOOT / STACKED STOOLS WITH MID QUOTE /
The following two Indus signs may be variants of a single symbol.  I term the first STACKED STOOLS WITH MID QUOTE (VII 11) and the second STACKED STOOLS WITH MID POST (VII 12).  With equal justice, they might both be given the same name and enumeration, distinguished by adding “A” to the first and “B” to the second.  Fairservis does not list either, Koskenniemi and Parpola show only one variant (KP228), and Wells distinguishes them.  The first, with the central “quote,” is W457, which he notes twice (M-376 and M-391).  The second, with the central “post,” is W454, which he also sees twice (H-37 and K-17).  And of course the simple STOOL is III 21 in my list.

Detail from seal M-26 showing inscription: CROSSROADS EX / PINCH //
is abraded and partly broken off).
In proto-cuneiform there are two long, low “X” shapes stacked one over the other in a manner reminiscent of these Indus signs.  In addition, there is a central vertical mark, though it extends beyond the middle of each “X.”  This the “quote” and “post” do not do in the Indus signs.  The proto-cuneiform sign is TE, which came to have a great variety of meanings: “cheek, skin; thorn, sting; tattoo, symbol; to prick, pierce; dye red; to approach, reach, meet; attack; be frightened.”  Since the form of the symbol itself is fairly abstract, it is difficult to see which of these might be the original meaning – if any.
Seal M-936 with inscription: CORN HOLDER / TRIPLE TRIANGLES /
I note one more Indus sign here, TRIPLE TRIANGLES (VII 13), about which I have a little more to say.  It is also known as KP215(a), W414, and Fs G-21.  Fairservis states that the symbol represents three conical structures and means “dairy, storage, liquid measure, buttermilk; dairy or other storage; top of conical dairy.”  Wells observes a total of 33 occurrences in four variants.  The “a” form shows three triangles side by side, touching (see M-936 above).  The “b” form adds a vertical stroke to the top of each of these triangles.  In the “c” form the triangles are smaller and their base line is tilted at an angle (see M-809 below in which the triangles are both "stemmed" as in the "b" variant and tilted as in the "c" variant).  The triangles of the “d” form are small again, with the sign rotated 90 degrees (proposed by Wells but not yet observed by me).  Thus, the three triangles form a column rather than a row.  Among the 33 occurrences of these combined variants, according to Wells, 26 are from Mohenjo daro (abcd), five from Harappa (abc), one is from Lothal (bc), and one is from Kalibangan (c).  In addition, I find seven more from Harappa, an additional instance from Lothal, plus one from Allahdino (a), one from Kot Diji (poorly executed “a”), and perhaps one from Sibri-damb, yielding a larger total number of occurrences of 44.

Detail of seal M-809 showing inscription: BACKED CEES / STRIPED MALLET /
(final sign partially reconstructed).
In Egyptian, there is a hieroglyph representing three rounded hills, the two outer ones cut off midway (N25).  This sandy hill country becomes an ideograph or determinative in h3st “foreign land,” in names of particular foreign lands, and for the desert.  Proto-cuneiform provides a similar sign with KUR~c, made up of two triangles side by side with the third above them (and the whole thing rotated 90 degrees).  It came to mean “land or country; netherworld; the east.”  In Old Chinese there is a roughly similar character, though simplified into a “U” with an internal chevron, a vertical stroke rising from the latter.  This is shan1, “mountain,” the 46th radical (Wieger 1967:208).  It is tempting to note the graphic parallels between the Indus TRIPLE TRIANGLES, the three triangles in the proto-cuneiform “land,” the three humps of the Egyptian hill country, and the three vertical elements in the Old Chinese “mountain,” and conclude that there must be some universal principle involved.  This might mislead us into thinking we can guess the meaning of the Indus sign, assigning it the definition “mountain” or “land.”
But I say mislead us for good reason.  There is another Egyptian glyph representing three vessels side by side, identified as water-pots in a rack (W17).  This is the ideograph for that very thing: racks for water-pots.  Although the Indus symbol is considerably simpler, it may represent something actually triangular or cone-shaped rather than mountains, hills, or foreign countries.
In Luwian, too, a hieroglyph exists of three triangles, though these are typically striped.  The glyph is transcribed CASTRUM, meaning “fortress.”  Cretan hieroglyphs also include joined triangles, though only two, and these each have a round dot at the apex.  This sign may represent the syllable ta.  Neither of these examples supports the hypothesis that the Indus symbol must represent hills or some such.  A final parallel, less convincing, is proto-Elamite M125.  In this sign the three triangles are not joined side by side but stacked one over the over (and the stack is rotated 90 degrees, as is typical).  The meaning remains unclear.
This leads to the interesting question of whether the arrangement of the three triangles is significant in the Indus symbol.  If we accept tilting and rotating as carrying no change of meaning – and probably due to the need to fit a broad sign into a narrow space – then perhaps we should consider the SPACESHIP as another variant.  This sign is made up of three triangles as well, although two are side by side and a third is beneath them (an 8-stroke sign not yet discussed).  The whole set is then rotated 90 degrees from the orientation of the TRIPLE TRIANGLES described here.  In other words, this is a very different arrangement of the same three elements.  Being visually distinct, it probably designates something different.  Or does it?
As a final note on enigmatic symbols, we should note that a row of joined triangles appears in the rock art of North America also.  It appears in Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 51, Pl. 15, no. 1; p. 192, Pl. 142, no. 20-N).  It also occurs in Nevada, though infrequently (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 180, fig. 117a).  The cited instances include three triangles, but other numbers of them also occur together in both areas of the Southwest. 
It is interesting to note that neither simple nor repeated triangles appear among the core designs found on Adinkra cloth (Willis 1998: 200-201).  There are triangular elements in some of the designs, but these are always combined with some other element(s).  The most prominent example is sepo, featuring a triangle atop a circle (1998:190).  Variants rotate the design so that the triangle is on one side, the circular element on the other, or interpose a dividing stroke between the two shapes.  In the latter case, the triangle is typically transformed into a diamond.  Regardless of variant, this symbol represents an executioner’s dagger used for piercing.  It symbolizes law and justice, as well as punishment.  However, this is very different from a row of triangles, especially three of them.  Generally speaking, Adinkra symbols show bilateral symmetry -- with two sides matching or top and bottom matching -- or else four-fold symmetry.

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