Saturday, April 2, 2011

Two Men, Four Ays, and a Comb

We can finish the discussion of anthropomorphic (human-like) figures drawn with seven strokes in this post, beginning with LOOP ARMED MAN HOLDING SLASH (VII 25).  Unlike most of the stick figures which appear to be holding things in the Indus script, this character has elbows on both sides.  It is also known as KP11, W2, and Fs A-5.  Fairservis suggests that it is a depiction of a man with an arrow, but then gives the possible definition “mother, mother as a deity (?),” a rather peculiar pairing!  Wells notes the total frequency as 25 occurrences, but he distinguishes W2 (--HOLDING BACKSLASH) and W23 (-- HOLDING SLASH).  That is, he enumerates these two probable variants differently based on which side of the body the diagonal line is held.  I count 49 of W2 plus four of W23, making a total of 53.

Detail of inscription on H-688, a copper object: LOOP ARMED MAN
There are number of variants, of which “a” is the most frequently occurring (seen above on artifact H-688).  This symbol is peculiarly depicted if it actually represents an anthropomorph because it seems to lack a head.  Ten of these type come from Mohenjo daro, two from Harappa, and three from Lothal, according to Wells.  The more human variant, “c,” occurs seven times at Mohenjo daro, twice at Chanhujo daro, and once at Kalibangan (shown below on seal C-30).  The “b” variant includes a different number of strokes, so it is not discussed here. 
Detail of seal C-30 with inscription: STACKED FIVE / LOOP ARMED MAN HOLDING SLASH /
Parallels exist in many geographic and cultural areas, often clearly intended to depict humans or deities holding an object.  I noted some of these previously in the discussion of MAN HOLDING POST (VII 22) and MAN HOLDING CEE (VII 23).  In addition to those cited earlier, I will add a Texan motif of a thick-bodied, horned anthropomorph which holds an arrow across its body (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 209, Pl. 154B).  In this example, the arrow is not simply a line but has a clearly defined, pointed head added to the right and fletching on the left.  Such is not the case with the slash or backslash held by the Indus LOOP ARMED MAN.

Egyptian goddess Isis (wearing the Hathor crown)
with son Horus on her lap (commercially made figurine).
In comparison, there are two Egyptian hieroglyphs to note, each depicting a seated woman with a child in her lap.  In the first, the woman sits on the ground/floor with her legs bent beneath her, holding the child to her breast (B5).  In the second, the woman sits on a chair and the child’s head and upper body appear at an angle over the mother’s shoulder (as shown in the figurine of Isis and Horus above).  This angle of the child in the mother’s arms resembles the far simpler stick figure of the Indus script.  This same characteristic angle is seen in representations of mother and child from other cultures, from ancient depictions of the goddess Isis with her son, Horus, on her lap, to modern images of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. 
Mycenaean Greek style figurines, the one on the left winged, that
on the right holding an infant (made by author in imitation of photos).
In fact, the angle of the infant in the arms of the Harappan figurine included in this post (upper right) also recalls this sign (Kenoyer 2008: 187, cat. no. 4, text fig. 2.20).  The original figurine was found at Nausharo, dating to period ID (2600 to 2500 BCE).  Kenoyer states that the statuette is male and carries a male infant, but no overt sexual characteristics appear.  Kenoyer also considers the thin bands at the figure’s waist and ankles to represent trousers, but considering the early date this seems rather unlikely.  At the very least, it is equally possible that the bands represent a belt and anklets.  At any rate, Fairservis’ suggestion that the Indus symbol means “mother (goddess)” is plausible though not proven.

Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus (detail from medieval Irish illuminated manuscript,
considerably reworked by author). 
The next sign to consider is MAN HOLDING CUP (VII 26), also known as KP40, W16, and Fs A-18.  Fairservis does see this as a man with a container, deriving from this the definition “recorder; potter; one who records by quantity or measures quantity.”  Wells finds a total of seven of these in three variants.  His “a” has no “elbow” while “b” and “c” do; “b” and “c” are distinguished by the size of the CUP.  There are three occurrences from Mohenjo daro (all “a”), one from Harappa (“a”), and three from Lothal (one “b” and one “c”).

Detail from seal L-26 with inscription: COIL WITH TICK / MAN HOLDING CUP /
Egyptian hieroglyphs include one showing a man bent over a large container that sits on the ground or floor (A36).  This apparently represents a man kneading dough in a vessel, an ideograph or determinative for the word “brewer.”  So, the little fellow would seem not to be making bread but brewing beer.

Old Chinese symbol of son holding cowry (redrawn from Wieger 1965: 365).
On an Old Chinese bronze vessel, a human figure holds a tear-shaped item in one hand.  Inside the “tear” is an “X” and beneath it a kind of rectangular base (Wieger 1965: 365).  According to Wieger, this is the dutiful son offering an ancient form of money to his ancestors.  The “money” in this early period was in the form of cowry shells.  So, apparently, that is a (giant) cowry shell in the person’s hand.
In North America too an anthropomorphic figure sometimes holds a cup-like item in one hand.  In Nevada, the item is painted solid and has three thin lines descending from it (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 136, fig. 73e).  The shaman (?) here is probably holding a shield rather than a vessel or container.  (On the other hand, perhaps he is holding his container upside-down to pour out the contexts.)  The Native Americans of this area did not make pottery but they did weave baskets.  Even so, I have not observed a pictograph that clearly represents a person or deity holding a basket.

Bar seal M-357 with inscription: CARTWHEEL / SINGLE QUOTE //
The following Indus sign takes the shape of the letter “A” with one leg longer than the other.  This is the same basic form appearing in the next four signs, in fact.  This first one rests its shorter leg on a small, “E” shape that lies with its prongs down.  I have only the clumsiest of names for this: AY WITH DOWN E FOOT (VII 27).  Elsewhere, it is KP186(a), W438, and Fs I-5.  Fairservis sees it as a ligature of his I-4 (a plow) and I-9 (a comb).  Combining these elements yields “to cut, as in writing, therefore ‘to write’(?).”  The same author notes that some examples of his I-4 (my VII 27) have more than three strokes beneath the short leg.  Thus, he considers this type of variation insignificant, indicating only minor variation in a basic symbol.  Wells finds only two of this sign, one from Mohenjo daro, one from Harappa, but his classification system distinguishes the similar symbols that Fairservis groups together.
Indus sign AY WITH UP E FOOT, as shown by Wells (W446).

Inscription on H-146: SINGLE POST / AY ON FOUR QUOTES (but isn't it actually on 3?) /
CIRCLED TRI-FORK / POT-HATTED BEARER (note the similarity in the two inscriptions).
Thus, the next sign in my list – following Wells – is AY WITH UP E FOOT (VII 28).  As W446, it occurs only once, as Marshall no. 436 from Mohenjo daro, which I have not seen.  Again, a small comb rests beneath the short leg of the “ay,” but this time the prongs extend upward (rather than downward as in the previous example).  The following sign may be another variant: AY ON FOUR QUOTES (VII 29).  Again, only Wells distinguishes it from the previous two, enumerating it W436.  He finds a total of six of these, one from Mohenjo daro and five from Harappa.  In this case, the short leg of the “ay” stops short of touching what lies beneath it.  These are four short strokes or “quotes,” not joined by a horizontal and thus not in “comb” form like the previous two.  Finally, AY ON BACK E (VII 30) has a longer “comb” attached to the longer leg (or this leg is extended, with prongs attached).  Wells is once more the only one to list this variant/sign, W443, which places four prongs on the “comb.”  It is a singleton from Harappa.
Inscription from H-143: TWO POSTS / FAT EX IN DIAMOND / POT // SINGLE QUOTE //
If all four of these signs are actually variants of one symbol, there are a total of 10.  Geography does not explain the variation, since three come from Mohenjo daro (3 “variants”) and seven from Harappa (3 “variants”).  The differences in prongs/quotes and in the position of the “comb” (or strokes, in the case of the 4 quotes) may be meaningful.  With so few examples, it is impossible to tell at this point.
The primary parallel that I see is an Egyptian glyph of a plow (U13).  This is also basically “A” shaped, with one long and one short “leg.”  The short “leg” lies at the base, with the long “leg” rising at an angle from one end.  An additional stroke indicates a bar connecting these two parts.  There are also two short prongs attached to the longer leg.  Unlike the Indus VII 30, though, the Egyptian prongs touch the plow near the point of the “A.”
There are proto-cuneiform signs that bear a vague resemblance to the basic Indus AY.  These are variants of GADA, a symmetrical symbol unlike the Indus sign(s).  The proto-cuneiform sign came to mean “flax, linen, cloth, clothing.”  In proto-Elamite, an element more closely resembling a chevron appears, with one side longer than the other.  Attached to the short side are three prongs.  Just off to the side of the long side are five stacked “quotes” (M039~d).  The “quotes” recall Indus sign VII 29 with its four quotes, while the “prongs” recall Indus sign VII 30.  There is no crossing bar joining the two sides of this asymmetrical chevron, though, a feature unlike the Indus signs.
There is a less symmetrical motif in Texas with a general similarity to the Indus AY in outline (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 214, Pl. 159, no. 4).  The slightly misshapen “A” contains three horizontal stripes as well as ten or so short verticals between these.  The depiction may be a conical dwelling such as a tepee or grass hut.

Mixtec "AO" (year) sign with other symbols attached:
day 7 alligator on the left; month 9 reed on the right
(redrawn from Smith 1973: 269, detail of Lienzo of Zacatepec). 
There is also a slight resemblance between the Indus “A” and an abstract symbol found in the Mixtec proto-writing system.  The latter is sometimes referred to as the “AO” sign, because it looks something like an “A” with a short, flattened “O” interwoven around the middle.  It symbolizes a year, more or less.  To it are attached various other symbols that give more precise information on a date, such as signs for the “months” and numerical symbols in the form of sequences of circles.  If the Indus sign also relates to some sort of measure or date, then the distinctions among the “variants” may be quite significant.

Seal H-584 with inscription: MAN WITH ANKLET / COMB (actually just 5 "teeth" here).
The final sign considered in this post is the COMB with six prongs (VII 31).  It appears elsewhere as KP98, W282, and Fs L-9.  Fairservis identifies it as a comb and defines it thus: “write ‘this mark’; scratch; -dative of person (?) as terminal in texts, ‘belongs to’; women’s cloth.”  Such a disparate group of possible meanings only works by combining into one category several semi-homophonous words in various Dravidian languages.  Wells finds a total of 143 of the COMB, in six variations.  Only some of these have the six prongs of VII 31.  Korvink, for his part, analyzes this (in all variants, apparently) as a terminal sign.
Proto-Elamite contains a comb-like sign with the prongs extending downward (M041~d).  This symbol has only five prongs, though.  In proto-cuneiform, the prongs extend to the side as in the Indus sign, but there are as many as nine (ZATU753).  In addition, the proto-cuneiform sign includes an unattached horizontal line between the fourth and fifth prongs.  In both of these proto-writing systems, the meaning of the particular sign is unknown.
In North American rock art, many comb-like motifs appear, particularly in the Southwest.  There are a total of 306 of these in the Nevada area (e.g., Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 135, fig. 73c and e).  Such motifs have from four or five to as many as twelve prongs.  Most examples appear with a horizontal “back” and the “teeth” hanging down.  In Texas, some instances occur in the same horizontal disposition (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 207, Pl. 151, no. 8 with nine prongs).  Other examples are oriented vertically as the Indus sign is (1996: 196, Pl. 147, no. 23-G).  Those that appear alongside motifs in the Puebloan style probably depict rain (1996: 198).  This maybe the case with the Nevada examples as well.  Such a meaning should be considered for the Indus sign also despite its vertical orientation, since space considerations may require such a position in this script.
Old Chinese provides another possible interpretation with the character zhen3, “hair of a man” (Wieger 1965: 162).  There is an apparent doubling of this element in yu3, “a pair of wings with feathers,” now the 124th radical (1965: 163).  Thus, the “prongs” or “teeth” of the Indus COMB may also represent hair(s) or feathers, especially where they appear slanted as in the Old Chinese characters.
Luwian hieroglyphs provide a final possible meaning with the phonetic glyph mu.  This is a slightly curved vertical with five prongs extending to the side.  Interestingly enough – considering the sound it spells out – another variant or glyph for this syllable is a cow’s head.  It seems that Luwian cows may have said “moo” just like English ones!
Still, the possibility remains that the Indus COMB is what it appears to be.  A similar symbol is indeed a comb among the Adinkra symbols of West Africa (Willis 1998: 94).  Called Duafe, “(wooden) comb,” it represents good feminine qualities, including patience, prudence, and love.
Bar seal M-357 with inscription: CARTWHEEL / SINGLE QUOTE / CIRCLED TRI-FORK /

An African comb of essentially the same form as the Adinkra symbol, duafe. Here, the rounded handle has been crafted into a woman's head.

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