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.

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