Monday, April 11, 2011

Five Rare Indus Signs

This post includes brief discussions of five Indus signs, each drawn with seven strokes.  None appears frequently and none has very many parallels in the scripts or artwork of other places.  The first is shaped like a single parenthesis with a small triangle attached, a feature I have previously termed an “ear.”  There are also four short strokes descending at a shallow angle from the inner curve.  The clumsy appellation for this sign, thus far, is QUADRUPLE LASHES ON CEE WITH EAR (VII 32).  It appears elsewhere only in the list prepared by Koskenniemi and Parpola, where it is KP159.  I have yet to see this symbol, but I present an illustration below, based on its form in the published list.

QUADRUPLE LASHES ON BACK CEE WITH EAR, as it might appear beside TOP
(not actually observed by author).
In Luwian hieroglyphs, there is a symbol vaguely resembling this one, a curving line with three diagonal lines attached.  However, in this case the diagonal strokes attach to the outer portion of the curve, rather than the inside.  Proto-cuneiform also contains a curving symbol, with strokes attached on the inside this time, but six of these added bits.  One variant has an “ear” as well, but this characteristic is on the inside of the curve, along with the “lashes.”  This is IB, which came to mean “corner, angle.”

The Indus sign also bears a faint resemblance to a motif found in the rock art of the Southwest.  The American design resembles a comb, but one end of the back curves around and back over the symbol (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 140, fig. 77b; p. 148, fig. 85d).  The motif may symbolize rain, though at least some of these “rain” motifs may be schematic quadrupeds (most likely mountain sheep).  I add an illustration of several quadrupeds found in the art of Texas below (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 206, Pl. 150, no. 3; p. 207, Pl. 152, no. 7).
Various possible quadrupeds as they appear in American rock art:
gray forms appear in a single panel, but the darker shapes are added by author,
simply for easy comparison.

The next Indus symbol is what I call STRIPED FOOTED STOOL (VII 33).  Also known as W463, it does not appear in the list of signs by Fairservis or that of Koskenniemi and Parpola.  Wells notes the sign as a singleton, appearing only at Mohenjo daro (M-119).
Seal M-119 with inscription (reversed, reading from right to left):

Luwian hieroglyphs contain an ideograph that depicts an actual stool or seat, THRONUS, “throne.”  This symbol bears some resemblance to the Indus sign, but lacks the inner striping.  In addition, the legs of this actual seat are typically curved, while the comparable elements of the Indus sign are straight.

In proto-cuneiform, there is a sign identified as ZAG, more of a “bowtie” than a “stool.”  One variant contains one stripe in each half while another variant contains two stripes in each part.  The symbol came to mean “boundary, border,” among other things.  Proto-Elamite has a symbol more closely resembling an Indus “stool” in M105.  The “stool” is lying on its side -- as is the Indus sign -- and has a concave “seat.”  There are also two stripes below the “seat.”  This “stool” has no feet, though, unlike the Indus sign.

Further afield, there is a “bowtie” among the Adinkra symbols of west Africa.  This is a depiction of a “talking drum,” called dono ntoaso (Willis 1998: 92).  It symbolizes united action, alertness, good will, and praise.  Also clearly representational is the “bowtie” shape found in Texas in rock art (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 141, Pl. 97, no. 1).  In this case, this is the form taken by the torso of a human or deity, as demonstrated by the common addition of feet, arms, and/or head (though sometimes one or another of these elements is missing).

Our third symbol is STRIPE BELTED AITCH WITH TICK, a term awkward in the extreme.  I enumerate this sign VII 34 as the thirty-fourth of the seven-stroke symbols.  It appears only as KP298(a) in published lists.  It resembles the letter “H” but with two horizontal lines crossing it rather than just one.  In addition, there are two short verticals joining these two “belt” lines, reminiscent of a belt buckle (hence my dreadful name for the sign).  Appended to the base of the sign, on one side, is a slightly curved horizontal stroke.  I have not seen this in the Concordance, but I have created an illustration as it might appear, below.
Illustration of STRIPE BELTED AITCH WITH TICK as it might
appear on a seal, over head of "unicorn."

Having not observed the Indus sign, I wondered at first whether Koskenniemi and Parpola could have mistaken a stray mark on some tablet or seal for the “tick.”  If this were the case, then there would be no VII 34 as identified and this would merely be an instance of the STRIPE BELTED AITCH.  But there is a sign in proto-cuneiform that bears some similarity to this Indus one.  The proto-cuneiform is ZATU 754, an obscure symbol made up of three vertical posts joined by a single horizontal, with a single diagonal attached at upper right.  While the basic form of the sign is rather different from that of the Indus symbol, the attached diagonal recalls the Indus “tick.”  In proto-Elamite, in contrast, one sign resembles the “double-belted aitch” portion, though with an “X” between the lines of the “belt” rather than two little verticals (M026).  It lacks an equivalent to the "tick."

Detail of seal M-724 with inscription: VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES // CIRCLE / PAW / TRI-FORK
(it is not clear to me whether the CIRCLE should be "read" as following BI-QUOTES --
as I transcribed it here -- or as a 2nd row, i.e., following the TRI-FORK).

The next Indus sign under consideration is PAW (VII 35).  Elsewhere, it is KP322 and W309, but Fairservis does not mention it.  Wells notes four occurrences, all from Mohenjo daro.  I am by no means implying that the Harappans were trying to draw an animal’s foot with this symbol, but it resembles schematic paw prints as shown in some of my books on American Indian art (especially when I haven’t read them recently and can’t quite remember what the originals look like).
Analogs of the Indus STRIPED STOOL (from left): proto-Elamite M105,
proto-cuneiform ZAG~b, and Adinkra dono ntoaso.

The proto-cuneiform SZU, meaning “hand; a share” has a similar off-balance shape to it.  So does TAK4~a, which came to mean “remainder; to leave, abandon.”  The closest analogies in proto-Elamite and American rock art, however, are bilaterally symmetrical (M129~b, which is triangular; Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 193, Pl. 143, no. 23-F).

The final Indus sign for this post is TRIPLE CLAWED PAW UNDER TABLE (VII 36), also known as KP321 and W337.  It is not found in Fairservis.  Wells gives it as another singleton, this time from Lothal (L-93).  It has the same unbalanced look of the previous sign, but lacks one “toe” and the horizontal across the top of the “claws.”
Broken bar seal L-93 with inscription: CARTWHEEL / STRIPED MALLET /
There is a slight resemblance to the proto-Elamite sign resembling a schematic hand (M505).  There is also a faint similarity (minus the TABLE) to an Old Chinese character, chen2, “minister, attendant on a prince” (Wieger 1965: 214).  The latter supposedly represents the minister seen head on, as he is bowing his head to the floor before the king.  However, if that is the case, one wonders why the character can appear horizontally or vertically, or even tilted like a crescent moon.
Versions of Old Chinese chen2, "minister, attendant on a prince" (based on Wieger 1965: 214).
The central variant supposedly represents this official lying prostrate before the prince, as seen
head on.  This one slightly resembles Indus sign VII36, though without the TABLE.

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