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).

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