Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eight More Eight-Stroke Signs

Seal B-17 from Banawali with inscription: MAN ON BASE / PANTS (VIII 19b) /
BI-QUOTES // CAGED FISH UNDER CHEVRON (over composite animal, part tiger, part bovine).

There are a number of variations on a motif made up of bent lines, among the Indus signs.  Two versions contain eight strokes each, for which reason I enumerate both VIII 19, distinguishing them as variants “A” and “B.”  Koskenniemi and Parpola only show the “B” variant in their list of signs (KP205), while Fairservis fails to include any variation on the PANTS motif.  Wells enumerates each version separately, giving the "B" variation the number W163 (three occurrences, two from Mohenjo daro, one from Chanhujo daro), the "A" variation the number W160 (seven occurrences, six from Mohenjo daro and one from Banawali).  Other variations include five, six, seven, and nine strokes (see posts on V 19, VI 40-41, VII 39, and IX 61).  If all of these variations on the bent-line motif are seen as a single sign – which is by no means proven – then there are 24 occurrences in all, divided among 11 variants.  They appear at Mohenjo daro (19 instances in 8 variants), Harappa (2 instances in 2 variants), Banawali (1 instance), Chanhujo daro (1 instance), Kalibangan (1 instance), and Khirsara (1 instance).  Since there are so few of each “variant,” it is probably better to assume that there is more than one sign here, at least for now.
Two variants of PANTS ("A" above left and "B" below left), and analogs
 Old Chinese yong3 (upper right), "duration," and proto-Elamite M059~d (below right).

Old Chinese includes two characters that are similar, although more curvilinear.  The first of these is yong3, “the unceasing flow of water veins in the earth....Abstracted meaning, duration, perpetuity” (Wieger 1965: 289).  Reversing the character produces pai4, “ramification of a stream” (1965: 289).  In this script, directionality is significant, then.  If this is also true of Indus symbols, then there must be at least two different signs among those that I have labeled PANTS.

Tablet K-61 from Kalibangan with inscription (right to left): CROSSROADS EX / POT.

The second element for today is CROSSROADS EX (VIII 20).  It appears in two variations, one of which apparently includes nine strokes.  The sign appears elsewhere as KP255, W542, and Fs K-16.  Fairservis sees it as a division of two or four units, meaning “share, division.”  Wells observes the two variations, grouping them under one number and distinguishing them as “a” and “b.”  He notes 40 occurrences, 20 from Mohenjo daro, 19 from Harappa, and one from Kalibangan.  I count more than that, all told, but in some cases it is difficult to distinguish this sign from another where the ends of the crossed “roads” are closed.  So I do not consider my own count more certain than that of Wells.
Inscription on bas-relief tablet H-279 (right to left): DEE / SINGLE POST / FISH / BED / BOAT / PRAWN / ZEE / CROSSROADS EX (?) / MALLET / TRI-FORK / POT (it is less clear than shown, but there may be a simple EX).
There is a crossroads inside a circle in Egyptian, a glyph that serves as an ideograph in the word for “village,” and a determinative in names of villages, towns, and inhabited regions (O49).  This is a better parallel for another Indus sign, however, one in which this “crossroads” is also encircled – a sign I will discuss in a later post. 

Analogs to CROSSROADS EX: Egyptian O49 (upper left), proto-cuneiform KIB, "object made of gold" (lower left), Old Chinese temple of the ancestors (upper right), proto-cuneiform KASKAL, "expedition, journey" (lower right).

A type of crossroads symbol appears in proto-cuneiform, as KASKAL, “expedition; road; journey.”  This sign is made up of two “X” shapes slightly offset.  Thus, the center becomes a diamond due to the crossing of the long lines.  In the Indus symbol, either the center is completely open (“a” variant), or there is only a short vertical in that space (“b” variant).  Another proto-cuneiform sign resembles the crossed roads with closed ends, turned to formed a “plus” sign.  This is KIB, which came to mean an object that could be made of gold.

In Old Chinese also there is a symbol closely resembling crossed roads, but in the shape of a “plus” sign rather than an “X.”  The meaning is quite different, as this is not a character in the script but a representation of the ancestral temple with its four pillars, seen in various inscriptions (Wieger 1965: 369).
Proto-cuneiform ZATU 730 (left) and similar Indus sign VIII 21 (right), as depicted by Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP345b).

The third Indus sign for today is SPOONS ON TEE (VIII 21), known only as KP345(b) elsewhere.  It has a single parallel, ZATU 730 in proto-cuneiform, which is more angular and more complex.  I do not see this precise symbol in the first two volumes of the Corpus, although there is an unusual seal in the shape of a “T,” on which multiple “T” shapes are interlaced (H-165).  Wells does note a very similar nine-stroke sign (my IX 24, his W76).  It is a singleton from Harappa (H-455), probably the same instance that KP345(b) indicates.  There does seem to be an extra stroke on the seal, as shown in Wells' list.  But there also seems to be a bit of a mark joining this symbol to the DOUBLE POSTS before it.  So, perhaps both of these differences from the idealized KP345 are inadvertent, slips of the seal-carver’s knife?

Seal H-165 which contains interlocking "T" shapes and is itself "T" shaped, perhaps akin to sign VIII 21.

Our fourth sign is a grouping of three triangles, one on one side, two on the other side stacked one over the other.  All three touch, forming a shape reminiscent of spaceships drawn by certain small children.  For this reason, I have termed it SPACESHIP (VIII 22), although it may be a representation of mountains, as Fairservis suggests (Fs N-1).  It also appears as KP221 and W416.  Wells finds 17 occurrences, 11 from Mohenjo daro, four from Harappa, one each from Lothal and Kalibangan.

Detail from seal M-29 with inscription over unicorn: STRIPED TRIANGLE / SPACESHIP / FISH / BI-QUOTES //

Faiservis considers this sign to be a representation of mountains.  Not only that, but he declares this to be a universal sign.  It does indeed resemble the collection of three triangles – or three wedges – found in proto-cuneiform as KUR, which came to mean “mountain; (foreign) land; netherworld.”  In Egyptian, as previously noted, a representation of three humps bears a similar meaning (N25, an ideograph or determinative in h3st, “foreign land,” and determinative for “desert”).  But these mountains or hills are depicted in a row, unlike the stacked arrangement of proto-cuneiform and the Indus SPACESHIP.  Then, in Old Chinese, a “U” shape with an upside-down “Y” inside is shan1, “mountain” (now the 46th radical, Wieger 1965: 208).  Again, the three humps are lined up, not stacked.

Two variants of proto-cuneiform KUR, "mountain; (foreign) land; netherworld" (upper and lower left);
"hills" from punch-marked coins (47, upper right; 48 lower right).

The Egyptian and Chinese symbols, with their three “hills” in a horizontal row, are more like the Indus sign TRIPLE TRIANGLES (VII 13), previously discussed (and Fairservis thinks VII 13 represents containers, not hills).  Among the Cretan hieroglyphs, there is a sign comprising two rather than three triangles side by side (O34, perhaps the syllable ta).  In Luwian, again, one sign is made up of three triangles, but they are lined up rather than stacked: CASTRUM, “fortress.”  In this script, two triangles -- as found in Cretan -- represent a distinct word (“country”), and a single triangle is still another word (“city”).  Thus, the number of triangles is highly significant.  And, unfortunately for Fairservis’ thesis, two triangles represent a country, not three.  Interestingly enough, none of these three means "mountain" or "hill."

In addition, there are groupings of three triangles elsewhere that have no known association with mountains or (foreign) lands.  In proto-Elamite, two triangles sit side by side (M115), while three are aligned in a column with the apex of each to the right (M125).  The meaning of both signs is obscure.  In North America, also, tripled triangles appear (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 180, fig. 117a; Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 51, Pl. 15, no. 1; p. 192, Pl. 142, no. 20-N).  Aligned triangles occur in groups of four or more as well in America, something not found in the scripts discussed in the previous paragraph.  The people of Australia do not appear to have made much use of triangles, which also throws a monkey wrench in the notion that three triangles are a universal sign.  In conclusion, this “universal sign” is not universal, either in form or in meaning.  It is only widespread in Eurasia, with variations in configurations and meanings.

On some of the punch-marked coins of later India, there are groupings of three humps, referred to as “hills” (Gupta 1960: Pl. I).  One such symbol has the horizontal arrangement of the Indus TRIPLE TRIANGLES (number 47), while another has two small humps side by side with a larger hump rising over the center (number 48).  There is also a “C” shape lying on its back atop the larger hump, in the latter symbol.  But again, the three-humped grouping is not universal, as there are similar symbols including five and six humps (with or without additional elements on top).  Still, it is possible that the Indus TRIPLE TRIANGLES sign is a variation of the SPACESHIP (or vice versa).  But it is also possible that the two signs are completely independent.  And in any case, neither may be a representation of mountains.  We cannot assume anything at this point.
Seal M-234 with inscription: CEE /SINGLE QUOTE // FISH UNDER CHEVRON / FISH / SPEAR //
FAT EX / PINCH // FAT LAMBDA / POT // FOUR QUOTES / MAN WITH TAIL / STRIPED FAT STOOL / CAGED OVERLAPPING CIRCLES (note that, with 13 signs, this is one of the longest inscriptions,
one that may contain two or more units of information).  

The next sign is STRIPED FAT STOOL (VIII 23), also known as W467.  It is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-234), which may or may not be a variant of the simpler STOOL.  We may compare the Luwian glyph THRONUS, “throne,” as similar in form (cited previously in connection with the simple STOOL).  But the Indus sign is tipped on its side and most likely represents something other than an actual stool or seat.
Seal M-130 with inscription: CAGED MAN WITH POST / BI-QUOTES //

Next, there is TABLE BELTED MAN (VIII 24), an anthropomorphic sign with the TABLE superimposed.  It appears only  in Wells’ list, as W43, where it is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-130).  It may be a simplified version of another sign, though, COMB BELTED MAN (XII 15, XIV 4), which occurs four times at Mohenjo daro in more than one version (KP22, W20; on M-142, M-831, M-1160, and M-1162).
Detail from seal M-142 with inscription: VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES // LOOP ARMED MAN WITH SLASH / COMB BELTED MAN (compare the final sign here with the TABLE BELTED MAN above).

Egyptian glyphs include one representing a standing man holding a tall stick in one hand and a particular scepter in the other (A22).  The ‘b3 scepter crosses the man’s body in a manner similar to the “table” or “comb” of the Indus signs, so perhaps the Indus “men” should be considered holding these items, even though they do not touch the ends of the arms.

Two variants of Old Chinese shi3, "arrow; irrevocable" (redrawn from Wieger 1967: 300).

On the other hand, Old Chinese contains variants of a character that appears anthropomorphic but is not a person at all.  The word shi3 is an arrow.  Wieger explains variant “a” as “An arrow....On the top, the point; at the bottom, the feathers,” while “b” is “an arrow fixed in a man’s body....Abstract meaning, an action that came to its end, appointed, determined, irrevocable” (Wieger 1965: 300).


Indus sign MAN WITH SINGLE STRIPED EAR remains to be discussed (VIII 25).  It is another singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-875).  Nevertheless, it appears in all the lists, as KP7, W44, and Fs A-3.  Fairservis apparently thought the appendage I term an “ear” was long hair, as he defines this sign as “woman.”  He also thought there were at least two occurrences, since he notes a variant.  However, Wells is correct in that this sign appears only once, while another sign gives this peculiar "eared" character a “stick” in one hand (IX 33, to be discussed later).

Old Chinese representation of the ancestor in the temple, with the divided triangle representing presence,
the large eye the ancestor's sight (of the offerings), and the character tian1 beneath these, indicating the ancestor himself.

While the “ear” might be hair or some sort of headgear – a lopsided hat? – other scripts provide other possibilities.  Proto-cuneiform SAGSZU is only a person’s head, but it bears a single horn, with the eventual meaning “headdress; headcloth, turban; helmet.”  In Old Chinese, the image of the ancestor sometimes has a single very large eye on top as well as varying numbers of limbs (Wieger 1965: 371).  Lastly, Egyptian includes a number of glyphs representing gods and goddesses, some of which are essentially human in form but have animal’s heads (e.g., A6, a god with a dog’s head, Inpw or Anubis).  Seth has the head of an unknown animal with a snout rather like an anteater’s, Thoth has the head of an ibis, Horus has the head of a hawk, Khnum has a goat’s head, and so on.  Thus, the Indus sign might be partly anthropomorphic, but with the head of the Indian crocodile, the gharial, an animal which appears on several seals and, much later, on some punch-marked coins (symbol 32).

Egyptian god Anubis with anthropomorphic body and jackal's head, from the Book of the Dead.
The final Indus sign for this post is CHEVRON HATTED BEARER (VIII 26).  There are many variations on an anthropomorph who is carrying something on a shoulder yolk, in the Indus script.  This one seems to have no arms, while he carries triangular objects -- or else he has bent elbows and carries nothing but the pole across his shoulders.  In any case, the sign appears also as KP3 and W28b, while Fairservis does not note an armless variant (although cf. A-9).  The chevron in place of a head suggests a hat, although it might just as easily be a compound sign or ligature, grouping together the CHEVRON and BEARER.  Then again, the chevron-shaped "hat" plus the triangular objects carried resemble the SPACESHIP, though the latter has no body or legs attached.  This suggests another possible interpretation of the SPACESHIP, then, as part of a person engaged in a task.

Inscription from bar seal M-899: SQUARE WY / CHEVRON-HATTED BEARER / POT-HATTED BEARER (note how different the bodies are in these two "bearers" -- perhaps one is not meant to be anthropomorphic after all).

In any case, Wells indicates that there may be as many as a three occurrences of this particular variety of the "bearer" with a chevron-shaped "hat," but I see only one (M-899).  Since it occurs alongside another type of "bearer," one with a POT shaped hat, but the two are significantly different in form, I wonder whether one or the other is not really intended to represent a human.

Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal. 1960. Punch-Marked Coins in the Andhra Pradesh Government Museum. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: Government of Andhra Pradesh.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ten Angular Indus Signs

Detail from seal M-649 with inscription over horn of unicorn: COMB TOPPED BATTERY / CARTWHEEL.

The first Indus sign discussed in this post is the ninth in my list of eight-stroke symbols, COMB TOPPED BATTERY (VIII 9).  Also known as KP292(a), W481, and Fs G-3, it is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-649).  Fairservis sees it as a depiction of fire on top of a building or platform and assigns it the meaning "watchfire."  But, of course, other scholars see "combs" and tridents as representing plants rather than fires, so this definition is not widely accepted.

Analogous symbols from proto-cuneiform (above) and proto-Elamite (below).

In ancient Iraq, the proto-cuneiform writing system includes a somewhat similar item, transcribed |ZATU 737 x SZE~a|.  In form, it is an ear of barley (SZE) inside what appears to be an angular bottle (ZATU 737, undefined).  In neighboring Iran, the proto-Elamite writing system contains another similar sign, this one closer to the Indus VIII 9 (M213).  Here, a broader "ear of grain" stands atop a short, wide rectangle -- the whole thing rotated 90 degrees from the Indus sign as is typical in this part of the world.
Two Old Chinese parallels: shi4 (left), "a market," and nie4 (right), "hand writing upon a tablet"
(with addition of a horizontal stroke, the character becomes yu4, "pen; to narrate").

In Old Chinese, too, there are characters that include a comb-like or plant-like element above either an angular "platform" or a more curvilinear element.  For example, shi4 is a small trident sitting upon the horizontal top  of a three-sided rectangle something like the Indus "platform."  This means "market" in which the trident is grass and the semi-rectangle a space outside the city (Wieger 1965: 94).  In qiao1, the same trident represents flowers, above a "roof": "a cover with flowers....By extension, the shell of mollusks, of fruits, of eggs, that covers them, and is ornamented with fine designs" (1965: 96).  I admit to a few doubts about Wieger's explanation here.  Be that as it may, a third parallel is nie4, "a hand writing upon a surface" (1965: 123).  In this example, the trident is rotated 90 degrees and represents the hand, holding a brush.  Thus, the "comb" in the Indus sign might represent a plant (like the grass and the flowers of Old Chinese), but it might also represent something entirely different.

The DOUBLE TICK TOPPED EXIT as it might appear, beside STACKED SEVEN.

Our second Indus sign is DOUBLE TICK TOPPED EXIT (VIII 10).  This particular symbol appears only in one list, as KP287.  I think that a seal from Mohenjo daro is the source of this (M-112).  I see the EXIT on this seal as a six-stroke element comprising a "table" (or incomplete rectangle) over an inverted "trident."  That is, I do not see the two short strokes on top of the "table" that are depicted in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola.  The top edge of the seal is abraded, leaving this part of the sign in doubt.  There is certainly a pair of "ticks" atop other similar signs, but these also have two strokes on each side of the "table" (cf. M-120 and K-2).  I will discuss this symbol among the twelve-stroke signs.

Seal M-112 with inscription: FOOTED ASTERISK / EXIT (KP287?) / POTTED ONE /
(I have artificially smoothed out the image, perhaps removing the "double ticks").

Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs there are none that quite match Indus sign VIII 10, either in general form or in combining other elements.  The closest glyph -- to my eyes anyway -- is O51 in Gardiner's list, a truncated cone containing three slanted dots, sitting on a sort of tray with upraised sides.  It represents a heap of grain on a raised mud floor, serving as an ideograph or determinative in the word snwt (with a hacek or little "v" over the "s"), "granary."  As an extremely dubious parallel sign, the glyph provides no real help in interpreting the Indus sign.

Analogs of the Indus EXIT: proto-Elamite M172 (upper left), Old Chinese shou3, "to observe" (upper right),
Old Chinese bi1, "ordinary, vulgar" (lower left), Egyptian O51, seen in "granary" (lower right).

In Old Chinese, the roof element is an upside-down "U" with a single tick on top, an element that typically covers some other element in compound characters.  One of these compounds is shou3, "a mandarin, a prefect...who, in his tribunal, applies the law....By extension, to observe, to keep" (Wieger 1965: 125).  Here, the "roof" covers a trident-like hand, with a small additional stroke underneath.  Thus, somewhat similar elements are combined as those found in Indus sign VIII 10, but the overall effect is very different.  Another Old Chinese character has a more rounded "roof" element at the top, beneath which there is another "hand," but with a different slant, and a "T" with a curved stem.  This is bi1, "ordinary, vulgar....This character represents an ancient drinking vase provided with a handle on the left side...held with the left hand....the tsun1 [wine vessel] was used for the sacrifices, the bi1 was used every day.  Later on, the two characters were taken in the abstract sense for noble and vulgar" (1965: 128).

Proto-Elamite provides a closer parallel with M172, a complete rectangle with two "ticks" on the left side.  The rectangle contains an element comprising two "x" marks, side by side, with a "stem" beside these.  Its meaning is unknown.
Detail of inscription from M-1117: DIAMOND BETWEEN DOUBLE POSTS /
PANTS / (?) (occurs above and beside zebu).

Next among the Indus signs is DIAMOND BETWEEN DOUBLED POSTS (VIII 11).  Only Wells lists this as a distinct symbol (W406).  It is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1117) and, as such, might also be interpreted as a series of three signs, DOUBLE POSTS / DIAMOND / DOUBLE POSTS.
Old Chinese inscription: filial son's hand offering libations (bottom) before temple;
inside temple are cooked meat (diamond), wine (semi-circle), and symbols
representing presence of ancestors (bracketing diamond) (drawn after Wieger 1965: 367).

An inscription in Old Chinese bears a vague resemblance to this Indus sign (or series of signs).  A square with modified corners represents the shrine or temple in which offerings are made to the ancestors, in this inscription.  Inside, there is a diamond with several internal marks, an oddly curved line on either side, and a semi-circle below, all inside the shrine.  Beneath the shrine is a trident-like hand alongside what appears to be a drop.  Wieger interprets all this as the son making offerings to the ancestors in the shrine, with the hand belonging to the son offering a libation (the drop), before the shrine (modified square), in which sits a wine vessel (semi-circle), as well as an offering of cooked meat (diamond), on either side of which we see the leg and foot of an ancestral spirit, come to receive these offerings (1965: 367).


The following Indus sign is STRIPED SQUARE CUP WITH HANDLE (VIII 12), another singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-36).  Wells alone lists this odd symbol and he does not attempt to interpret it.
Vessels with a single handle, questionable analogs of Indus VIII 12:
Cretan hieroglyphic jug (above) and proto-Elamite beer jug M283~j (below).

I do not know that it represents a vessel of some kind, but if it does, there are at least two parallels to examine.  A jug with a single handle appears among the Cretan hieroglyphs (O53, perhaps the syllable ja).  And a single-handled beer jug occurs in proto-Elamite (M283~j).  Neither of these distant analogs looks much like the Indus sign.

Bar seal M-1289 with partial inscription: TEETH IN RECTANGLE / BOAT / PAW / BI-QUOTES (?) / MAN (?).

Another singleton follows, TEETH IN RECTANGLE (VIII 13), also known as KP267 and W525.  A tall, narrow rectangle bears two internal rectangles, both attached midway on one side (M-1289).  In proto-Elamite, there is also a sign that is a rectangle containing two smaller rectanges (M146~f).  But here the internal elements do not touch either each other or a side of the larger container.  Similarly, there is a Luwian glyph that is a square, containing a small circle (symbol 255, meaning unknown).  But the internal element is centered, not attached to one side of the larger square.

Indus VIII 13 (left) and parallel signs: Luwian 255 (upper right) and proto-Elamite M146~f (lower right).

Next we come to DOWN FAT TEE (VIII 14), a sign that occurs only as KP274 elsewhere.  It is apparently how Koskenniemi and Parpola interpreted the symbol I discussed earlier as VII 62 (W523).  The following sign is TRIPLY STRIPED SKEWERED TOP (VIII 15) found only in Koskenniemi and Parpola's list as KP275(b).  I have discussed other types of TOP previously and have no further remarks (see previous posts for full discussions of these types).

Detail from seal H-22 with inscription: BED WITH ATTACHED POST / QUAD-FORK / BI-QUOTES //
CIRCLED TRI-FORK / BELTED FISH / BED / BOAT / POT (note that the unmodified BED appears here,
in the same inscription as the BED WITH ATTACHED POST, suggesting the two are distinct).

The next sign is a ligature, BED WITH ATTACHED POST (VIII 16), also known as KP304 and W178.  I have seen only one example, from Harappa (H-22), but Wells notes two more occurrences from Mohenjo daro not found in the first two volumes of the Corpus.

The BED portion resembles proto-cuneiform U2~b or ~c, which may be either the symbol that came to mean "plant, vegetation, firewood," or else a symbol that came to mean "emery stone" (see earlier post on the BED for full discussion).  This same portion of the Indus sign also resembles Old Chinese yung4, "bronze ex-voto offered to the Ancestors...[which] brought blessing, hence...aptitude" (Wieger 1965: 260).  There is also a resemblance to the Adinkra symbol hwehwemudua, "measuring, ruler," which symbolizes the West African virtue of excellence or perfection.  However, none of these analogs shows an additional element attached, while there are several Indus signs of this type.

Indus sign VIII 17, a possible STOOL WITH SINGLE FOOT & ATTACHED COMB (drawn after KP235).

There may or may not be another symbol found only as KP235 elsewhere, the STOOL WITH SINGLE FOOT AND ATTACHED COMB (VIII 17).  I can cite occurrences of a FOOTED STOOL with an ATTACHED COMB, as well as various prongs on the legs.  But I have not seen this particular eight-stroke symbol.

with its closest parallel, proto-cuneiform NA~d, "human" (right).

Neither have I seen VIII 18, VEE AND DOUBLE SLASHES IN DIAMOND, elsewhere KP387.  There are a great many occurrences of a diamond containing a vee, but adding two slash marks across one of the lower sides of the diamond does not appear in the first two volumes of the Corpus.  Even so, proto-cuneiform provides a reasonably close parallel with ZATU 798, a diamond with four attached backslashes on the upper left surface.  Its meaning is unknown.  A taller, more slender diamond contains two crossing horizontal marks and an additional backslash attached to the upper left surface: NA~d, "human."  As is frequently the case with the more complex Indus signs, duplication of the precise combination of elements appears to be unique to the Indus Valley.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Indus Signs of Eight Strokes: The First Eight

Tablet H-817 with inscription (right to left): STACKED EIGHT A (4 X 4) /
STRIPED VEST / POT / COMB (note the neat stacking on this bas-relief tablet).
Of signs comprising eight strokes, the first is the simplest, STACKED EIGHT (VIII 1).  It contains two rows of four short vertical lines each, one row over the other.  In the lists of other scholars, this rare symbol is identified as KP128, W208, and Fs O-12.  Fairservis sees in this sign the numeral eight, specified as being an adjective (which means it modifies a noun).  Apparently because of similar-sounding words in Dravidian languages, he further defines the sign as “count, number; pair, couple.”  He cites seven occurrences (1992: 62).  Wells, on the other hand, finds only six, three from Mohenjo daro and three from Harappa.  I see seven, adding one from Lothal to Wells’ total (L-125).

Detail from iimpression of seal M-83 with inscription (right to left):
(note the grid-like element beneath the head of the "unicorn," the top of the cult stand).

Proto-cuneiform includes at least eleven different ways of writing “eight,” all of which are identified with the letter “N” (for numeral) plus a number (N01, N02, N08, N14, N18, N19, N20, N34, N35, N51, N57, N58).In this proto-writing system, the different types of numerals enumerate different types of things.  The set for grain differs from that for herd animals, for example.  In almost all types, there is a column of four identical marks beside another such column.  Only N57 differs from this.
Three types of "stacked 8" numerals from proto-cuneiform: 8(N14) at top, 8(N01) in center, and 8(N18) below
(all should be rotated 90 degrees, forming two columns of four identical marks each).

Proto-Elamite has fewer distinctions in its known numeral systems.  But it too enumerates things differently based upon the type such as grain versus animals.  According to some experts, these distinctions in writing mirrored similarly distinctive ways of counting things (Schmandt-Besserat 1992:185-188).  Some of these ancient counting systems were base ten, like the modern English numerals, while others were not.  The larger numerals were often base sixty, for example, while some of the smaller sets were base six.  Fairservis thought that the Indus numerals might have been base eight, because there are many instances of STACKED SEVEN but few occurrences of larger numerals.  In a previous post, I pointed out some of the problems with this view, in particular the large group of STACKED TWELVE occurrences (70 or so).
Seal H-65 with inscription: STACKED EIGHT B (3 X 3 X 2) / DOUBLE BACKSLASHES / POT.

The next Indus sign may or may not be a variant of VIII 1.  Since there is disagreement among the experts, I tentatively call this one STACKED EIGHT B and assign it a separate numerical designation, VIII 2.  It is found elsewhere as KP141(a), W229, and Fs N-2(b).  Wells shows three variants (though he states that there are only two occurrences -- a misprint?).  His variant “a” is made up of three stacked rows of dots or short verticals (3 x 3 x 2).  His “b” is similarly arranged, but not as neatly (3 x 3 x 2 again) and “c” is inverted (2 x 3 x 3).  His “a” is a singleton from Harappa (H-65), his “b” a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1078).  The inverted variant “c” appears twice at Harappa (H-322 and H-967).  By my count, this adds up to four occurrences, not two as he first states. 

Tablet H-322 with inscription (right to left): STACKED EIGHT (2 X 3 X 3) /
TWO POSTS / POT / COMB (initial sign VIII 2 is variant "c").

This is not a criticism of Wells, but an observation.  It is not always a simple matter to decide just how many there are of a given sign, especially when dealing with apparent numerals.  Sometimes the apparently non-numerical BI-QUOTES (resembling double quotation marks) appear above another sign, due to crowding.  When the BI-QUOTES occur above a number of hash marks, one must decide whether to count the two strokes of the BI-QUOTES in with the strokes beneath -- or not.  I am guessing that Wells did not originally count the inverted STACKED EIGHT as a version of "eight."  Instead, he probably separated out the two strokes at the top as an instance of BI-QUOTES, counting the lower strokes as STACKED SIX.
Tablet H-967A with inscription (right to left): STACKED EIGHT B (2 X 3 X 3) /
DOUBLE POSTS / POT / COMB (note how untidy the "eight" is here compared to the seal above). 
Here, one might consider the eight strokes on the right to be BI-QUOTES (over) / STACKED SIX,
except that the BI-QUOTES almost never occurs in initial position anywhere else.

Fairservis, on the other hand, only notes one variant (3 x 3 x 2 like Wells’ “a” and “b”), but the strokes in it are tilted.  It is, then, three slashes over three backslashes over two slashes.  He does not consider this a numeral at all, but a depiction of a river or stream, meaning “water.”  It does vaguely resemble the Old Chinese shui3, “water,” which may depict a curving rivulet plus four smaller whirls of water (Wieger 1965: 287).  The Indus STACKED EIGHT (both VIII 1 and VIII 2) also recall one form of the Old Chinese yu3, “rain” (a stacked “six” over four “posts,” all under a “roof”) (1965: 288).  Fairservis even refers to the latter when he makes his case for interpreting the STACKED TWELVE as rain, a point we will get to in another post.

Old Chinese "water" (left) and "rain" (right).

Before we leave these apparent numerals, it is worth noting that there are no occurrences of *EIGHT QUOTES or *EIGHT POSTS (the asterisk indicates that it is not attested), although every smaller number appears to be depicted by one or both method, as does “nine.”  Thus, the Harappans do not seem to have cared much for “eight.”  In contrast, we previously noted four occurrences of SEVEN QUOTES, two of SEVEN POSTS (though both somewhat questionable), plus 38 instances of STACKED SEVEN, adding up to 44 “sevens.”  This difference -- 44 "sevens" versus only of a type often in folklore (as noted in the post on apparent numerals).

Detail from abraded seal M-966 with inscription: BOAT / PINCH / POT (?) / WATERY SEVEN (?) /
POT (?).  Several signs may be read in more than one way, due to the poor condition of the seal. 
Thus, it might rather be CEE / PINCH / POTTED ONE / STACKED THREE /

The third Indus sign looks more like Chinese “water” than the apparent eight (or the "twelve" for that matter), so I tentatively call it WATERY SEVEN (VIII 3).  In form, it is a STACKED FOUR on one side and STACKED THREE on the other side, with the two "numerals" separated by a long stroke.  In KP155, the central divider is shown with a slight “S” curve, whereas in W224 this separating element is straight.  An examination of the photo of this sign in the Corpus is not particularly revealing when it comes to deciding the exact form of the long stroke, because the seal on which it occurs is in such poor condition.  Still, it seems to me that this group of marks might be read as more than one symbol with equal justification, say, as STACKED THREE / ESS / STACKED FOUR. 
No one refers to the enigmatic WATERY SEVEN as a numeral, to my knowledge.  However, if one considers POSTS and QUOTES to be numerical symbols, one might reasonably conclude that this is a group of three numerals, FOUR + ONE + THREE and thus “eight” -- so perhaps my term for it ought to be WATERY EIGHT.  In a way, though, it does not really matter what one calls it, because there is only this one.

A few additional remarks concerning numerals are in order here.  Some amateur enthusiasts interpret the many instances of CUP + POSTS/QUOTES as numerals, as if they were Roman numerals (VII, VIII, and so on).  But this type of stroke combination does not behave quite like the superficially similar Roman numerals.  For example, there are instances of VI (CUP + SINGLE POST), VII (CUP + DOUBLE POSTS), and VIII (CUP + THREE POSTS).  Indeed, these resemble the Roman six, seven, and eight.  But among the Indus inscriptions, there are also several occurrences of VIIII (CUP + FOUR QUOTES/POSTS), while the Romans switched to writing IX for "nine."  But there are other inscriptions that make things even worse for the hypothesis that "V" = 5.  There are some combinations of VIIIII (CUP + FIVE QUOTES/POSTS), and even a few VIIIIII (CUP + SIX POSTS/QUOTES).  The Romans might have written "V" plus four posts once upon a time, but they never wrote "ten" as "V" plus five.  They had "X" for that, so that was likewise no "VV" (which, by the way, does occur among the Indus inscriptions).  One might then suggest that the Indus "V" was not "five" but "ten" (or even "100").  But there is no instance of a CUP (whether “U” or “V”) plus eight strokes, whether “quotes” or “posts.”  Why would the Harappans count up as many as 16 items but never mention 18 or 19?  It is too difficult to explain such oddities, so I conclude that the CUP (“V” or “U”) is not a representation of “five,” or any other numeral, despite the superficial resemblance to a Roman numeral.
Proto-cuneiform GI6, "to be black, dark" (resembling a "stacked 8" under a chevron).

As a comparison, there is a sign in proto-cuneiform that seems to incorporate a numeral, at first glance.  The sign GI6, “to be black, dark,” is a “stacked eight” beside (or under) a “less than” sign (< + four stacked ­ + four stacked ­).  This symbol is similar to one version of Old Chinese “rain,” which also incorporates four or ten short strokes that might be interpreted as numerals by a naive viewer.  In other words, while something may appear numerical to us, that does not prove it is.

Detail of seal K-13 with inscription: BLANKET WITH FOUR TICKS / POTTED ONE /
STACKED SEVEN / EF PRONGED EXIT / POT (over unicorn and stand).
The next symbol is one of many that I term a BLANKET.  It is a simple rectangle, adorned with two short marks protruding down from the top horizontal and two extending upward from the base.  To distinguish this version with four inner strokes from instances with other numbers of additions, I call it BLANKET WITH FOUR TICKS (VIII 4).  It is also KP270(b), W529, and Fs G-11.  Fairservis considers the marks enclosed by the rectangle to be significant.  The whole symbol means “enclosure,” he suggests, with the “ticks” diacritical marks to be seen as representing suffixes – at least when found in combination with the ubiquitous POT symbol.

Looking to Old Chinese once again, the character for “water” sometimes occurs inside an oval or rounded rectangle.  Regardless of the shape of the surrounding symbol, the resulting character does not mean “enclosure.”  Instead, it is yuan1, “a whirlpool, a gulf, an abyss” (Wieger 1965: 288).

In support of Fairservis’ interpretation, though, we might point out the Luwian hieroglyph DOMUS, “house.”  This is a square or rectangle with two additions inside, attached to either side.  The “diacritical” marks in this case are a “C” shape on the right and the reverse on the left.  In other words, these are not diacritical marks at all (not signaling the presence of suffixes).
Luwian DOMUS, "house."

The Egyptian glyph of a wall is also reminiscent of Indus VIII 4 (O-36).  It is usually a rectangle that is taller than it is wide (though occasionally wider than tall), with added, thicker strokes spaced around the perimeter.  It is an ideograph or determinative in the word inb, “wall,” in sbty, “surrounding wall,” and in wmtt “bulwark, fortification.” 
Analogs to Indus VIII 4: proto-cuneiform |GA2~a x 3 (N57)| (upper left); Egyptian glyph O36, a determinative in wmtt, "bulwark, fortification" (center top); Cretan "gate" hieroglyph (upper right); Old Chinese yuan1, "whirlpool" (lower left); proto-Elamite M145~c (center bottom); and Cretan TELA, "cloth" (lower right).

The Cretans also used hieroglyphs, early on, and a rectangle with about four “ticks” protruding downward from the base is the ideograph TELA, “cloth.”  The rectangle also contains a backslash running from the upper left corner to the lower right.  Besides its ideographical usage, it may also signal the syllable wa.

Proto-cuneiform includes a sign made up of a rectangle wider than it is tall with a stacked set of three horizontal strokes and a single crossing vertical.  This is another of the signs that seems to contain a numeral and it is transcribed as if that were the case: |GA2~a x 3 (N57)|.  However, it came to have the non-numerical meanings “box, basket; house; stable; shrine.”  Proto-Elamite also has symbols that are rectangular and contain inner strokes (M147 with four short horizontals and two central verticals, M145~c divided into quarters like a window and with two additional strokes in the upper right and lower left sections, and M145~e which is the reverse of the previous).
Adinkra cloth showing grid-like patterns, nkyimu above and kronti ne akwamu below.

Square or rectangular symbols also occur in Africa, where they are not part of a writing system.  The Adinkra symbol nkyimu is one of these, subdivided into several smaller squares or diamonds.  The name refers to the divisions of the Adinkra cloth before it is printed, “blocking.”  The symbol represents adroitness and precision (Willis 1998: 146).  Here, the precise configuration and number of internal strokes can vary quite a bit without changing the meaning of the overall symbol.  This may also have been true of the Indus BLANKET, which seems to have multiple variations with varying numbers of TICKS.
Seal M-74 with inscription: LOOP ARMED MAN HOLDING SLASH /

The next sign in my list is TRIPLE STRIPED MALLET (VIII 5), also known as KP280 and W470(b).  We have seen “mallets” before, without any internal marks and with just one or two.  The form with three stripes occurs at least twice (M-74 and M-1203).  It may be compared with the mortar and pestle used by a man in Egyptian glyph A34, the wagon or winnowing shovel of proto-cuneiform MAR~a@t (though this has seven stripes which do not cross the whole thing), and proto-Elamite M167~a.  One might also consider the Egyptian glyph of a column with a tenon at the top to be a reasonable parallel (O28).  Less similar is Luwian glyph SCRIBA, “scribe.”  This might be described as an ear of grain under a "table," or a peculiar, inverted "mallet."
BI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT (the original is less than perfectly clear).

Sign VIII 6 is another GRID (sometimes referred to as an ICE CUBE TRAY in my earlier lists because it has two columns of stacked squares).  I specify the number of internal divisions with numbers, 2 x 4, to indicate two columns, each of four spaces.  It is elsewhere KP268(c), W502, and Fs G-17.  Fairservis suggests it represents another enclosure, this one divided into compartments, and probably a variant of his G-16, “house.”  I designate his G-16 as a different GRID (3 x 4).
An unbounded grid as seen in American rock art (left) and proto-cuneiform E2~a, "house" (left).

Egyptian hieroglyphs include an unbounded, rectangular grid, representing land marked out with irrigation runnels (N24).  It is the ideograph or determinative in sp(3)t, “district, nome,” in hsp “garden,” and often appears in names of provinces.  Luwian hieroglyphs also include a grid, though the spaces are triangles and diamonds: TANA (which does not appear in my Latin dictionary, although a reader might provide a suggestion for the meaning).
Grids as found in Egypt (N24, upper left), Iran (M145~f, lower left), and Iraq (DARA4~c5, right).

Proto-cuneiform has more than one grid, neither of which is subdivided equally.  One represents a house or temple (E2~a), the other “blood; red, dark” (DARA4~c5).  Proto-Elamite contains a close analog of the first of these, although reversed (M145~bb), as well as a possible variant divided like an ice cube tray (M145~f).
Detail of patterns on Adire cloth (Yoruba area of Nigeria), showing grid or checkerboard at the bottom.

African Adinkra symbols also include a grid: ani bere a enso gya, “no matter how red eyed one becomes, one’s eyes will not spark flames” (Willis 1998: 78).  This expression and the symbol convey the virtues of patience and self-control.  Grids or checkboards are quite common around the world, as noted in a previous post.  Such a design is one of the apparently univeral entoptic patterns associated with altered states of consciousness (Lewis-Williams 2002: 128).  I see a checkerboard during some severe migraines, for example, a brightly colored pattern that "appears" with eyes open or closed.
Detail from a modern quilt of the simplest pattern, called the Nine Patch.
The top is pieced in a checkerboard arrangement of 3 x 3 x 3 squares (work of Rosa Sims).

Indus sign VIII 7 is another GRID (this one a QUILT in my earlier terminology, because it is subdivided 3 x 3).  This particular configuration appear only in Wells’ list, as W500, where ten occurrences are noted, eight from Mohenjo daro, one from Harappa, and one from Chanhujo daro.  Besides the previously cited parallels, there is the Adinkra checkerboard design kronti ne akwamu, “elders of the state” (Willis 1998: 122).  This symbolizes democracy, the duality of life, interdependence, and complementarity.
Detail of seal M-61: GRID (3 X 3 QUILT) / CEE / BI-QUOTES //

Our final sign is CUP IN TRIPLE BRICK (VIII 8), also known as KP266 and W524.  It is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-952).  In form it is a square or rectangle with one dividing vertical stroke and a horizontal stroke that divides only one side.  There are few parallels.  Luwian hieroglyphs include a square with a central circle, meaning unknown.  Proto-cuneiform includes a rectangle with one vertical and a “C” shape that reminds me of the flap of a large envelope (GA2~a4).  It came to mean “box, basket; house,” and other things.  A similar sign without the “c” but with a tall, thin rectangle enclosed is |GA2~1 x GISZ@t|.  In other words, it is the same same as the previous, but now enclosing the symbol for “tree, wood” (and thus a wooden house?).
Detail from seal M-952 with partial inscription: CUP IN TRIPLE BRICK / VEE IN DIAMOND / (broken).

In some inscriptions of Old Chinese, the presence of the ancestor in the shrine is depicted with a triangle or semi-circle, and on occasion this is subdivided into three sections (Wieger 1965: 372).  It is supposed to indicate the ancestor’s sight, according to this author, and may be combined with other characters or symbols that also represent the ancestor (such as footprints and/or the character tian1).

Old chinese inscription showing the ancestor (anthropomorphic figure) in the shrine (enclosure).  The
subdivided triangle indicates the ancestor's sight, as does the large eye just beneath it (Wieger 1965: 372).

Luwian includes a square glyph enclosing a small, centered circle (enumerated 255).  Unfortunately, its meaning is not known.  In the rock art of North America, similarly, there are many motifs with a rectangular form that is subdivided asymmetrically.  These too are uninterpretable at present.

In modern times, quilts are typically made from square or rectangular elements, combined in various ways.  Some of the patterns have a form roughly similar to that of the Indus VIII 8, combining large and small rectangles with enclosures.  As an example, here is an illustration of a floral pattern.  I want to say it is called Grandmother's Flower Garden, but I think perhaps I have confused the name of a different quilt pattern with this one.  If any of my readers know the correct name, let me know.

Grandmother's Flower Garden (?) quilt, composed of squares that contain angular flowers (themselves made up of both squares and triangles), smaller squares, and smaller rectangles (work by Rosa Sims).