Among the signs of the Indus script, there are quite a few resembling a stick-figure person or anthropomorph. Eight of these contain seven strokes, as I count them (six covered in this post). Not surprisingly, parallels to these appear more often elsewhere than most other seven-stroke signs. The first to discuss in this post is MAN BETWEEN POSTS, the nineteenth of the seven-stroke symbols (VII 19). In form it is simply the basic stick figure with a straight vertical line on either side, also known as KP15, W14, and Fs Q-13. Fairservis suggests that it represents a man between two posts, meaning “bazaar man, merchant.” Wells counts a total of seven occurrences, six from Mohenjo daro, one from Harappa.
|Seal H-103 with inscription: CIRCLED QUAD-FORK / RAKE / FISH / 3-TOED FOOT/|
POT // CUPPED POST / 3 POSTS / SPEAR // MAN BETWEEN POSTS / CHEVRON-HATTED BEARER.
There is no exact equivalent in Egyptian hieroglyphs, but there is an ideograph representing a man holding the necks of two unidentifiable animals (A38). The base of each elongated neck curves down below the man’s feet so that he seems to be gripping the sides of a tall vessel. This is the glyph for the city of Cusae in Upper Egypt.
Old Chinese also lacks a precise parallel. But a stick figure inside a circle is yin1, which originally meant “to confine a man” but is now obsolete with that meaning (Wieger 1967: 156). The character now means “cause, reason, argument.” Another character contains the halberd (mentioned in the post concerning the basic Harappan MAN) between two “posts.” This is bi, “A thing certain, decided” (1967: 176).
In the rock art of Texas, many of the Pecos River style representations of humans depict shamans (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 53, Pl. 17, no. 6). Some are more detailed than others, but typically they hold a long, straight object in one hand, a somewhat shorter and/or bent object in the other. These objects are presumably related to ritual. In many of the depictions, the objects are shown with a small gap between them and the hands (or the ends of the schematic arms) of the shaman. If the Indus MAN BETWEEN POSTS is based on the same principle, it might represent a man holding two objects such as poles, spears, staffs, etc.
|Detail from Navaho blanket showing 3 yei.|
In Nevada, many simple anthropomorphs appear to hold something in one hand, but I see none with an object in both hands. There is, however, an enclosed “shaman” figure inside a roughly circular area along with other elements (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 147, fig. 84a and 84b). Both these and the Texan “shamans” generally have thicker bodies than the Indus MAN symbol. So do the yei or supernatural beings shown in Navaho sand paintings, who again these often hold items in both hands (Lamb 1992: 32-33). Here, the objects are identified as ceremonial rattles, pine boughs, yucca strips, and so on.
|Spearman from Pedra do Feitico, Zaire.|
African rock art also contains images of anthropomorphs, some bearing objects in both hands. On the bank of the Zaire River, there is a large stone with multiple carvings called Pedra do Feitiço (Fetish Rock). On this many depictions are anthropomorphic, including at least two that appear to hold objects in each hand (Le Quellec 2004: 86). In South Africa, too, a good many depictions of anthropomorphic beings show them bearing two sticks (e.g., Le Quellec 2004: 168, 169). In most of these, however, the figures are shown in sideview so that the sticks are on the same side of the “person.” Some interpretations identify the figures as humans engaged in the shamanic or healing dance characteristic of San culture while others identify them as supernatural beings of the watery Otherworld.
|Detail from seal Lh-1 with inscription: MAN HOLDING TRI--FORK / MALLET / BI-FORK /|
BI-QUOTES // FISH UNDER CHEVRON / 4-TOED FOOT / MAN BY CHEVRON / GRID /
BI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT.
The second symbol for discussion is MAN BY CHEVRON (VII 20), also known as KP20 and W17. Fairservis considers this a ligature of the basic MAN (his A-1 defined as “ruler”) and CHEVRON (his P-4 defined as an affix meaning “head”). Presumably, putting the two together indicates the “head ruler” or supreme sovereign. One little problem with this hypothesis is that the CHEVRON does not occur above the other element here, as it does elsewhere. This positional difference may be meaningful. A second problem is the fact that archeology provides little or no evidence of an elite group or individual ruling the Indus Valley: “Archaeologists are not sure what the political form of the Indus Civilization was, but a corporate form, without kings or emperors, seems reasonable” (Possehl 2002: 247).
I can discover only one symbol resembling the Indus sign in this case, and it is fairly different. In Old Chinese, the character for a person is not the stick figure (which occurs but means “big, great”) but the legs only. This element in combination with another the top of which resembles a chevron is wei4, “the place upon which a man stands straight; position, dignity, person” (Wieger 1965: 157). The important thing to note here is that the final meaning of the composite character is not simply a concatenation of the meanings of the two parts. It is tempting to interpret the ligatures of the Indus script in such a simple manner – as Fairservis appears to do – but this is an assumption, not a proven fact. As demonstrated by composite Chinese characters, there are other possible ways to interpret ligatures.
The next Indus sign is MAN WITH HEAD BETWEEN QUOTES (VII 21). It appears elsewhere only as W35. Wells gives the frequency as two occurrences, both from Mohenjo daro, citing their appearances as MacKay XCII 4 and CIII 4. I have not seen these as they do not appear in either of the first two volumes of the Corpus. Wells shows the sign as the stick figure with two short marks at head height, one on each side. These marks do not touch the vertical stroke that forms head and body.
As noted with depictions of objects “held” by figures in art or signs from other parts of the world, marks that do not touch but are near may still have been considered touching by the artist. That is, the “quotes” might have been a variant form of the “horns” seen in another figure (VII 24) to be mentioned shortly. An example of an item which occurs close to the head but not touching is also seen in a Cretan hieroglyph (003). The glyph is termed VIR3, “man,” and appears to be the head and torso of a man with either a feather headdress or a horsehair crest. In either case, the “feathers/crest” does not touch the head.
Likewise, one of the schematic shamans of Texan rock art has an extremely reduced, dot-like head, above with there are two short lines, slightly angled (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 52, Pl. 16, no. 4). The double lines almost certainly are the equivalent of the horns depicted actually touching the heads in other representations.
In Old Chinese, on the other hand, there is a character much like the Indus sign but with an additional short horizontal stroke that joins the “quotes” on either side of the head. This is yang1, “a man in the middle of the space...; middle, centre” (Wieger 1965: 158). In this case, the human element is essentially superfluous to the meaning of the character, serving only to indicate the center of the small space represented by two “quotes” joined by a horizontal stroke. The Indus sign could conceivably mean the same thing: “middle, center.”
It is also possible that sign VII 21 is a representation of a woman with the kind of tall hair on either side seen in some clay figurines (e.g., Possehl 2002: 178, fig. 10.3, 10.4) These well-endowed female figurines come from Mehrgarh, an early farming village on the Kachi plain, dating to periods V and VI. They are more or less contemporary with the seals found elsewhere.
|Edge of seal 1202C with inscription (and showing boss/handle below):|
MAN HOLDING POST / BARBELL ON POST / 5 POSTS.
The following Indus sign is VII 22, MAN HOLDING POST, also known as KP31, W6, and Fs A-13. Fairservis calls it a man with a staff, assigning it the meaning “eminent person (elder?).” Wells notes 21 occurrences, 18 of them from Mohenjo daro, two from Harappa, one from Lothal. In form, the sign again contains the basic anthropomorphic stick figure, this time with a single tall vertical to one side. The seventh stroke is a short diagonal from the end of the arm/hand to the stick so that it looks like the figure’s elbow is bent.
Egyptian hieroglyphs include three different symbols depicting a man holding a stick. In the first glyph (A19), the man is bent over, as this is an ideograph or determinative in i3w, “old.” The glyph also serves the same function in wr, “great one, chief,” oddly enough. Glyph A20 also depicts a man leaning on his stick, this one forked at the base. Here we have the determinative or ideograph for smsw, “eldest,” a word that appears in the title “elder of the portal.” From this evidence one may conclude that elders were highly respected in ancient Egypt. The last of the three glyphs is a man standing straight and simply holding his stick, plus a small cloth in his other hand (A21). This is the ideograph or determinative in sr, “official, noble.” Hence, a stick or staff may represent a walking stick or a staff of office in Egypt. These same two possibilities exist for the Indus sign – as Fairservis assumes.
In Old Chinese, again, the halberd resembles the human stick figure. Adding an essentially straight vertical line to the left creates wu4, “halberd with a crescent” (Wieger 1965: 178). Adding an additional short horizontal beneath the blade of the halberd in this same character transforms it to xu1, “to attack, to wound, to kill” (ibid.). Apparently the extra stroke represents the wound.
Anthropomorphic figures with a long or short “stick” in one hand appear in the art of the American Southwest as well. They are fairly frequent in Nevada (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 361, fig. F – 21f; p. 368, fig. F – 29b). They are not rare in Texas, either (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 206, Pl. 150, no. 2; p. 212, Pl. 157, no. 1).
|Detail from South African rock painting showing hunters with spears.|
The following sign may be a variant of this: MAN HOLDING CEE (VII 23). It is a singleton from Harappa (H-36), also appearing as KP34, W42, and Fs A-16. Fairservis subdivides it into two categories for unknown reasons. His A16a is supposed to represent a man with a bow (but apparently no string or arrow), meaning “merchant (?); variant of Q-15 (?).” (His Q-15 is the CUPPED TWO, which he identifies as a quantity). The second variant, A-16b, represents a man with a shield, meaning “warrior.” It does seem odd that a singleton should be assigned two different meanings!
|MAN HOLDING CEE as it might appear on a seal.|
In Old Chinese, let us recall, the character for a person indicates the legs only. When this appears with a curved line on its right, it is wan2, “a man who tumbles down on a stiff slope, rolling down; by extension, round, pellet, pill” (Wieger 1965: 154). When the curved line is to the left of the person, however, this is zhai3, “a man who, while climbing up a stiff slope, bends forward; by extension, inclined, slanting, sloping” (1965: 154). In some of the old depictions on bronze votive items, there is yet another possibility for comparison. Here, a highly schematic human holding a small curve in one three-fingered hand (1965: 370). The author identifies this as a representation of the dutiful son offering meat to the ancestors. What he holds is not the meat itself but the small, curved knife still used in Chinese cooking.
In both Egyptian hieroglyphs and American rock art, there are images of humans holding an object which is not simply a staff or stick. Egyptian contains glyphs representing a kneeling man holding an oar (A10), a sceptre (A11), and a bow and quiver (A12). In Nevada, the anthropomorphs bearing “sticks,” cited for the previous sign, actually bear curved objects in their hands, as does one from Texas (op. cit.).
|Inscription from L-4B: POST / BATTERY / BI-QUOTES // BELTED FISH /|
HORNED MAN / POT / DOWN WY.
The next sign is the HORNED MAN (VII 24), also known as KP9, W1, Fs A-4. Fairservis identifies this is a man with horns, “possibly a shaman, a priest, or a deity.” Wells notes 62 occurrences in seven variants (a-g). In the case of his “a,” “b,” and “g,” the “horns” arise from the shoulders of the stick figure rather than the head. Thus, an alternate term for these “variants” of the sign could equally justifiably become WINGED MAN. As seen below, there are many parallels for both possibilities in the art and scripts of other places.
|Detail from seal H-45 with inscription: CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES // |
WINGED MAN (BETWEEN CEES) / POT / MAN.
Variants “c,” “d,” and “f” have curved horns, whereas the others have straight (i.e., diagonal) ones. In variants “b,” “d,” and “g” the arms are a single horizontal stroke rather than a chevron shape. Variants “f” and “g” have triangular bodies with the apex at the bottom. Wells counts the occurrences of each variant thusly: Mohenjo daro 41 (19a, 6b, 10c, 3d), Harappa 15 (3a, 8b, 3c, 1e), Lothal 4 (2a, 1c, 1e), Chanhujo daro 2 (1e, 1f). As is often the case, my own counts differ somewhat, but we need not get into such fine details.
|Egyptian goddess Maat with feather on head and wings spread (from a stamp).|
In Egyptian hieroglyphs, some of the gods have horns, though being seated as glyphs they do not much resemble the Indus sign. There is Khnum the ram god, whose horns stick out to the sides (C4); Anubis the dog-headed god whose ears stand up something like horns (C6); and Seth who has an unidentifiable zoomorphic head with ears standing up like horns (C7). The goddess Hathor is a better parallel, with cow’s horns on her head, as well as the disk of the sun between them (C9). Amun and Mont each have two tall feathers on their heads, another possible interpretation of the “horns/wings” of the Indus sign. In Egyptian art, gods and goddesses may have horns or wings and some have both. Isis is frequently depicted with either the throne that is her proper sign or Hathor’s horns and the sun disk on her head, as well as bird’s wings.
|Old Chinese "heaven" at bottom, below eye signifying presence of ancestor in temple (enclosure),|
beneath triangle also signifying presence of ancestor (Wieger 1965: 371).
In Old Chinese, the character for “sky, heaven,” tian1, has a form almost identical to that of the Indus MAN, with the addition of a line across the head area. In some of the Old Seal writings, this line is somewhat curved, while in others it is either replaced by a large eye or the eye appears just above the character (Wieger 1965: 156 and 371). The character yang1, “middle, center” which I cited earlier is another possible parallel.
Proto-cuneiform shows a predilection for the depicting only the heads of people and animals. If we consider the human head that indicates a person as a distant parallel to the Indus MAN, then we can cite the ligature |SAG x GESZTU| as the equivalent of the Indus HORNED MAN. The two symbols in proto-cuneiform combined here are SAG, later “head, person,” and GESZTU, later “ear, hearing, understanding, intelligence.” There are at least four variants, each a human head: “a” sports donkey-like ears, “b” has two straight strokes which more resemble horns (two variants), and “c” has two “horns/ears” that resemble scythes.
|Near Eastern sun god (Sumerian Utu, Akkadian Shamash) rising between mountains,|
as shown on cylinder seal, with sunbeams rising from shoulders and bearing
cap with multiple pairs of horns (and his saw).
Proto-Elamite does not contain a clear-cut symbol for a person, but I have previously referenced a sign that resembles the Indus MAN with a triangular head (Damerow and Englund 1989: 59). A variant of the basic sign has two “arms” on each side. This appears on tablets concerned with herds and flocks, so it probably does not represent a winged human. Even so, many images in Near Eastern art do show human-like beings with horns or wings or both. Deities commonly wear horned hats, as depicted in relief carvings, statues, and cylinder seals (Black and Green 1992: 102-103). Particular deities often have wings, including the sun god (Sumerian Utu, Akkadian Shamash) and the goddess of love and war (Sumerian Inanna, Akkadian Ishtar).
|Hopi kachina depicting a supernatural being of the American Southwest (owned by author).|
Many of the figures presumed to be shamans are horned, in the rock art of North America. Some have curved horns protruding from round heads, while others have prongs rising from what may be either head or shoulders (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 149, fig. 86a and 152, fig. 89a). In total, there are 33 horned humans in the collection from Nevada and eastern California. In Texas they are probably equally frequent (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 213, Pl. 158, nos. 5 and 9). A horned stick figure also occurs in South America at Macusani Corani Cordillera, Peru (for reference, see post on Indus MAN).
|South African therianthropic figures: bull man, eland man, and gemsbok man (Le Quellec 2004: 199).|
In Africa, one again such images are hardly rare. A stick figure with multiple prongs on the head stands on a horse’s back at Kourki, Niger (Le Quellec 2004: 58). In this case the prongs are not horns but feathers. On the Great Overhang of Songo at Sanga, Mali, what appears to be a very tall man with horns and extremely short legs is actually a schematic elephant mask (2004: 69). The figure cited earlier from the Pedra do Feitico on the Zaire River almost appears horned as well (op. cit.); cf. the schematic cattle depicted at Bukoba by Lake Nyanza (2004: 126). In fact, some horned representations are so schematic that an uninformed viewer cannot determine whether a given image is human or bovine (2004: 129). In South Africa, the paintings in rock shelters are particular famous. In several of these, there are beings with the horned heads of grazing animals – and sometimes the hooves as well – but anthropomorphic bodies (e.g., 2004: 168, 169, 199).From this survey, we can see that both horns and wings on anthropomorphic figures are about as common as any symbol can be. Even in modern Christianity, such images still appear in popular art. Angels have wings even though such appendages are not well supported by Biblical evidence. In addition, the devil is often depicted with horns, if not other animal characteristics as well, such as a tail and cloven hoof-like feet. It might be a good idea, then, to be cautious about conflating the apparently horned and winged figures in the Indus script. There is a possibility that these are two different things.