Sunday, May 15, 2011

More Indus Rarities: The Last 10 Seven-Stroke Signs

The last ten of the seven-stroke signs are quite rare.  None occurs more than three times, according to data I have at hand.  The first of these is one I have not seen, found only in the list worked up by Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP370).  I have assigned it the awkward title SLASH IN DONUT WITH EAR (VII 54).  Apparently it is a circle inside another circle, with an “ear” (or small chevron) attached near the top on one side, and a diagonal mark within the inner circle.  Although I have not seen this sign in the Corpus, I include an illustration showing how it might appear.

Indus sign VII 54 as it might appear in a seal impression.

In proto-cuneiform there is a parallel for the “donut” portion, i.e., the circle within a circle.  This symbol is transcribed |LAGAB~a x LAGAB~a|.  Placing two terms between lines in this way is the standard method for indicating that one sign is inside another, in this field.  The sign means “lamb.”  But there is no variant of LAGAB that has an “ear.”  Nevertheless, another sign does have an “ear” – though a much larger appendage than seen in the Indus sign – even though it has no internal circle.  This is KAB, “bit or bridle.”  Neither of these has a slash inside.

Luwian glyph hara/i, a distant parallel to Indus sign VII 54.

Luwian hieroglyphs include a “donut” with both internal and external marks.  It is a rather unusual glyph, not an ideograph but not a syllabic sign either: hara/i.  In form it is a circle in a circle with a short “tail” or slightly curved line attached to the base (rather than an “ear”).  There is a slash and a backslash as well, forming an “X” mark, inside the larger circle.  Thus, all in all, though this glyph is reminiscent of the Indus sign, it is also distinctly different.

A proto-cuneiform "donut," |LAGAB~a x LAGAB~a|, "lamb."

Modified circles and “donuts” also appear in the rock art of North America, though I have seen nothing quite like the Indus VII 54.  In Texas, one instance is a circle within a circle with an elongated “ear” on one side, an attached zigzag angling from near the top, and four short slashes protruding from the base.  Judging by the similarity of this complex motif to others that occur on or next to the arm of an anthropomorph, I think this represents a shield.

A proto-cuneiform circle with "ear," KAB, "bit or bridle."
An American "donut," probably a shield (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 82, Pl. 43, no. 1).

Today’s second sign is SKEWERED STACKED TRIPLE CIRCLES (VII 55), also known as KP353(b), W361, and Fs L-11.  Fairservis sees this as representing beads on a string or a necklace, though he suggests it means “great, superior.”  Wells notes three occurrences, two at Harappa and one at Kalibangan.
Seal H-155 with inscription: SKEWERED STACKED TRIPLE CIRCLES /

Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs, there are two that resemble this Indus sign.  If the three circles stacked one on top of the other are to be seen as beads on a string, then glyph S16 is the best parallel.  It depicts a pectoral (or chest ornament) of glass or faience beads, a large circle with three strings of smaller circles dangling from it.  It is probably not significant, but the ones I have seen include four beads in each string.  The other glyph is V28, a wick of twisted flax, the common phonetic glyph h (with a dot beneath it).
Indus VII 55 (far left) and analogous signs (from second from left): proto-cuneiform NUNUZ~c,
NUNUZ~a2, proto-Elamite M308~e, and enigmatic symbol from American Southwest (lower right).

Old Chinese also provides two parallels.  Each of these characters contains two circles, one over the other, and a very short vertical stroke joining them.  Written in just this fashion, the first character is lü3, “the spinal vertebrae....By extension, tones in music, on account of their succession” (Wieger 1965: 227).  (Personally, I find it difficult to see any resemblance in meaning between the backbone and musical notes, but maybe I have less imagination than Wieger.)  The second character has one additional stroke, another short vertical mark attached to the top of the upper circle: yao1, “the lightest thread, as it is obtained from the simultaneous winding of two [silkworm] cocoons.  By extension, thread, slender, tender” (1965: 225).  The latter character is now the 52nd radical and shows no signs of having once contained circles.
More parallels for Indus sign VII 55 (from left): symbols from American Southwest (first two),
Egyptian glyph S16, Old Chinese lu3

Proto-cuneiform includes a better parallel to the Indus sign with NUNUZ~a2, made up of three impressed circles, one over the other, with an incised “V” inside each.  Another variant takes the form of just two stacked diamonds rather than circles, and instead of “V” marks it has a single vertical line running through both diamonds (NUNUZ~c).  However it was written, this sign came to mean”egg(s); offspring; female, woman.”  When the second variant is rotated 90 degrees, it becomes BALA~b, “spindle; bar; to revolve, etc.”  There is even a third possible analog in ZATU 706, which closely resembles the Egyptian twist or wick, but with a horizontal line passing through all of the loops -- i.e., it is "skewered" just as the Indus sign is.

Proto-Elamite contains few circles.  But if the diamond shapes sometimes seen in proto-cuneiform NUNUZ are the equivalent (by no means certain), then there is M309~b, two diamonds joined by a horizontal line passing across both.  There is also the less similar M308~e, two elongated “diamonds” that are stacked and “skewered” by a vertical stroke.  The meanings of these symbols (and of the ZATU series in proto-cuneiform) are unknown.

In the rock art of Texas, three circles are frequently joined, sometimes by an intervening line, sometimes simply by juxtaposition (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 100, Pl. 56, no. 1; p. 101, Pl. 57).  Occasionally circles are joined by a line that passes through them (e.g., 1996: 127, Pl. 84, no. 1, though only two circles, one large and one small, in this instance).
Seal M-112 with inscription: FOOTED ASTERISK / EXIT / POTTED ONE /

The following Indus sign is a type of LEAF (vee-striped).  I enumerate it VII 56 and Wells lists it as W257.  This particular version of a “leaf” is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-112), but there are quite a few different versions containing varying numbers of strokes.  This particular version reminds me of the LOOP ARMED MAN HOLDING SLASH, though he seems to be missing his head and both legs.  I mention this only because signs that appear very similar to us may have had very different meanings to the ancient Harappans.  Thus, although I do call this a LEAF, and some of the signs given this designation may in fact represent leaves, other signs with this same designation may represent other things.
Indus sign VII 56 and parallels (left to right and top to bottom):
proto-cuneiform DIN, Adinkra akoma "heart," Indus VII 56, Adinkra sankofa.

Proto-cuneiform includes a sign that resembles the Indus LEAF, though without a “stem” and without internal markings: DIN, “life, health; wine.”  If we ignore the “stem” of the Indus symbol and forget about internal markings, we could also invoke the Western symbol of the heart, seen in Valentines.  Among the Adinkra symbols of West Africa, one called sankofa is also similar.  This means “go back to fetch it” and symbolizes the wisdom of the past carried forward into the future.  Online sources suggest that this symbol originally depicted a bird with a long neck, the head turned back toward the tail.
Detail from round tablet C-32 with inscription: BLANKET / TRI-FORK /
COMB / BUD BETWEEN SLASHES (unless it should be read in reverse).

Another Indus singleton is BUD BETWEEN SLASHES (VII57), also known as KP104 and W252.  It occurs only at Chanhujo daro (C-32) although the simpler BUD is not quite so restricted.  I have not found any analogs for an apparent floral element between leaning posts, but there are several “buds” or “flowers.”  Egyptian has the glyph M10, a lotus bud.  Not surprisingly, it functions as a determinative in the word nhbt, “lotus bud.”  Proto-Elamite has a very angular “bud” that appears horizontally in the script (M496), although its meaning is not clear.
"Buds" of various scripts: Egyptian M10 or lotus bud (upper left), proto-cuneiform
|NINDA2 x MAR~b| (center top), Indus VII 57 (top right), proto-cuneiform |GI x GISZ @ t|
(lower left), and proto-Elamite M496 (lower right).

In proto-cuneiform there is also a very similar “bud” which can occur in ligatures with other simple signs.  For example, there is |GI x GISZ@t| (a “bud” with two “V” shapes for “leaves” and a curved stem that ends in a rectangle).  Another is |GI x KU~b1| (a “bud” with three “V”-“leaves” and a straight stem that ends in a coffin-like shape).  The bud-like element, GI, came to mean “reed; length measure of 6 cubits (3 meters).”  The rectangular GISZ seems to mean “tree, wood,” and the modified rectangle KU “to base, found, build.”  Proto-cuneiform also uses one sign to bracket another, just like the Indus SLASHES, in |NINDA2 x MAR~b|.  The bracketing sign, NINDA2, is apparently a vessel used to measure a bushel of some dry commodity, which the “mallet,” MAR could be either “wagon” or “spoon.”  I must admit I have no idea what the combination means.
Seal M-222 with inscription: PRAWN / COW LEG (VII 58a) / HEADLESS BIRD.

The next Indus sign, COW LEG (VII 58), is relatively easy to recognize in all its many variants.  But virtually every occurrence is a distinct variant, making it difficult to classify and enumerate in a straightforward manner.  I have chosen to separate the variants depending on the number of strokes, which would make KP45 and Fairservis’ D-4 a different sign (14 strokes).  Two of Wells’ variants have seven strokes, W155 (two variants, both from Mohenjo daro) and W159 (a singleton, also from Mohenjo daro).  If we count all three of these variants as a single sign, there are three occurrences: M-222 is Wells’ 155 “a,” M-168 is “b,” and M-226 is W159.
Detail from M-168 with inscription: CEE / PINCH (?) // CUP (?) /
obscure symbol / COW LEG (VII 58b) / SINGLE POST (seal is broken and heavily abraded).

As I noted before when discussing simpler variants of the COW LEG, there is a very similar Egyptian glyph (F25, leg and hoof of an ox, though it also appears in a word for “donkeys”).  There is also a bovine leg among the Luwian glyphs, the syllabic symbol .  Proto-cuneiform seems to use a similar leg and hoof as well: UMBIN~a, “claw, nail, talon, hoof.”  Proto-Elamite may have a schematic analog as well (M444).  While there are stylistic differences among all of these, the resemblance to the COW LEG is clearly there for all but the last.
Seal M-226 with inscription: LAMBDA / COW LEG (VII 58 C) / FAT LEG LAMBDA / POT.

The next two Indus signs are variations on the theme of the FISH: DOT IN WHISKERED FISH (VII 59) and BELTED WHISKERED FISH (VII 60).  The first appears elsewhere as W135, the second as W140.  The WHISKERED FISH, BELTED FISH, and DOT IN FISH signs are listed by Koskenniemi and Parpola, but these two singletons – both from Mohenjo daro – are not.  The very fact that such rare variations occur seems to me to give credence to the idea that the Indus script employed “gunification,” non-standardized modification of common symbols to convey related ideas, as in proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite.
Detail of seal M-61 with inscription: DOUBLY CAGED ASTERISK / QUILT /
SPACESHIP / FISH / VII 59 / LEAF / POT (note that abrasion leaves VII 59 in doubt).

Still, it is difficult – if not impossible – to  figure out what distinctions in meaning are involved, if any.  Proto-cuneiform includes a number of variants of the basic SUKUD sign, all of which look like fish to me.  But the meaning of this fishy symbol came to be “height; high, tall.”  Real fish are hardly ever known for being tall though, so perhaps the original symbol was not really a fish after all.  Two other signs look like variants of SUKUD to my eyes, but they are not the same sign – KU6 and GIR.  The former came to mean “fish,” but the latter only referred to a particular fish, possibly a carangid, some of the time.  The rest of the time, it meant a female domestic animal, “cow; mare; sow.”  Proto-Elamite has a symbol that I originally took to be a fish, also, M281~f.  It is actually a two-handled beer jug!
Catfish as depicted in American Southwest (not a natural grouping).

There are a very few “whiskered” fish motifs in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 86, Pl. 47, no. 4 and p. 87, Pl. 48, no. 7).  They are probably catfish.  But note how different they are from the Indus WHISKERED FISH (whether empty, dotted, or belted).  The Texan pictographs have five or six whiskers while these Indus signs have only two.  And the Texan catfish have two or more fins on each side – in addition to their tail fins – whereas the Indus FISH generally have only one on each side.  There is a motif in Texas that more closely resembles the Indus FISH, but there are two of these “fish” facing the center of the larger motif, one on each side.  They are, then, part of a “mask” motif and probably represent eyes (1996: 184, Pl. 132, No. 12-B).
Possible "fish" in various scripts: proto-cuneiform SUKUD (top left and center left),
KU (lower left), GIR (bottom center), Indus IV 26 (FISH upper right), proto-Elamite M281~f (lower right).

As we approach the end of the seven-stroke Indus signs, we encounter a HAIRY HUNCHBACK with three “hairs” or prongs (VII 61).  Neither Fairservis nor Koskenniemi and Parpola include such a sign, although both note the version with four prongs (KP194 and Fs Q-8).  Most of the HAIRY HUNCHBACK variants have four prongs, but occasionally there are fewer – the three-pronged types specifically discussed here – and occasionally more (the five-pronged variation).  Some of these have large “heads” and others small, some are more angular while others are more curvilinear, some face one way and others face the other direction.  It is anyone’s guess what this enigmatic symbol represents – a skinny fellow with his ribs showing, a mere skeleton remaining after a human sacrifice, a snake (yes, I read that once), or a quadruped (with the wrong number of “peds” from time to time). 
Broken and abraded seal M-804 with part of inscription:
VII 60 / RAKE AND ___ TOPPED POT (form of VII 60 is obscure).

The sign vaguely resembles the innumerable and ever-popular Kokopelli symbols found in the art of the American Southwest, so I have assigned the name accordingly.  I think it most likely this is a quadruped even though he sometimes has too few or too many legs.  I notice that preschool children some times give their drawings of people too many or too few fingers, although they do not usually make too large a mistake.  The tots I knew were not counting the fingers they drew, just drawing away until it looked about right (I knew they weren’t counting because they couldn’t count yet).  Mixtec glyphs of footprints are similar.  They usually have five toe prints, but occasionally too few and just as occasionally there is an extra toe.  So it is not too difficult to imagine Indus seal carvers stopping short or getting a bit carried away while cutting legs for their quadrupeds, with a similar result – mostly four legs but occasionally three and occasionally five.
Bas-relief tablet M-495 with inscription (right to left): CIRCLED TRI-FORK (or PACMAN) / CRAB

Old Chinese makes use of a number of four-legged characters.  That for “horse,” ma3, has four legs, a stroke for the tail, and three prongs to represent the mane (Wieger 1965: 307).  Later, the four legs became four dots, finally transforming into a single horizontal line in the simplified script of mainland China.  Another character is shi3, “boar, hog” (1965: 173).  Like the Indus sign, this quadruped is tilted, with all of his legs on one side, as if he were standing on his tail.  Finally, tuan3 is almost identical to the last except that it seems to have a more obvious head.  This “head,” however, seems to be the pig’s nose since this means “pig’s bristles.  Derived meaning, commentaries, accessories to the text” (1965: 173).
Tablet H-308 with inscription (from right to left): HUNCHBACK (3 legs) / POT / COMB.

Proto-cuneiform scribes mainly drew the head of an animal to designate the beast (a procedure that Egyptian scribes followed somewhat less frequently).  However, one proto-cuneiform glyph that seems to depict a quadruped is ZATU 703.  The meaning is unknown, but if I had to guess I would say it was a dog.  Like the Chinese pig, its legs are all on one side, as if it were standing on its tail.
Old Chinese variants of ma3, "horse."

The rock art of Texas provides examples of stick-figure Kokopelli (though perhaps not with that name), as well as schematic quadrupeds (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 94, Pl. 53, no. 1).  The example cited shows no fewer than 13 of the popular hunch-backed deity.
Kokopelli, the hump-backed deity of the American Southwest, as he appears on modern earrings
(playing a flute and wearing feathers, neither feature being universal in depictions of him).

The next to last Indus sign is DOWN FAT TEE (VII 62), which is not quite the same as KP274, but is also found as W523.  It is a tall, thin rectangle overlaid by a low, wide rectangle, a singleton from Harappa (H-74).  It reminds me a little of the stepped pyramid found in proto-cuneiform, URU~c, “city, town, village, district.”  This “stepped pyramid” appears in Egyptian glyphs (O41) where it is a double stairway, determinative in the word “stairway.”  It also appears in the art of North and South America (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 176, Pl. 124, no. 1-C; Donnan and McClelland 1999: 100-101), where it may represent (a) a North American cloud, and (b) a South American staircase or a building.  It also occurs quite often in the art of Altyn Depe in Central Asia (Masson 1988: Pl. I, IV, XVI, etc.).  This is the shape of many a niche found in excavated walls, a motif painted on pottery and carved into boxes.  It also decorates what appear to be stamp seals.
From top: Luwian TERRA / LOCUS, proto-cuneiform URUDU (2 variants), proto-Elamite M393~b.

But a better, more precise parallel to this “T” shaped sign – which would make a very small pyramid with its single step – is proto-cuneiform URUDU~a, “copper, metal.”  Only slightly more schematic is Luwian TERRA / LOCUS, “earth / place.”
Stepped pyramids, stepped crosses, and crosses on box from Altyn Depe.

And the final Indus sign for this post is VEE AND SLASH IN DIAMOND (VII 63), also known as KP388 and W395.  Wells notes three occurrences, though one is broken and doubtful.  All three come from Harappa.  Now, the basic diamond shape is common enough elsewhere, though not universal, but such a shape with these particular internal markings does not occur outside the Indus Valley, to my knowledge.
Tablet H-899 with inscription (from right to left):

Analogs of VII 63: blanket petroglyph from American Southwest (left),
Adinkra eban, "fence," from Africa (right).
Luwian ku is a diamond with two “V” shapes, one in the corner on the right and the other in the left corner.  It also has two parallel, vertical lines bisecting it.  Thus, it has the same elements as the Indus sign but arranged quite differently.  Proto-cuneiform contains several variants of the rhomboid sign HI, “to mix; mixed.”  Some have internal marks, but no “V” shapes.  Similarly, the African Adinkra symbol eban is a diamond (more or less), but it is subdivided by an “X” into four smaller diamonds.  The name translates “fence,” representing safety, security, and love (Willis 1998: 98).  In Texas, we can also find an occasional diamond with various internal markings, one instance of which seems to contain a “V” and an additional line or two (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 199, Pl. 148, no. 25-E).  It is probably a mistake to view this last as a diamond, however, since nearly all of these type of motif appear to represent blankets.  This one just seems to be tilted.  This concludes the seven-stroke signs, at last. 
Proto-cuneiform HI @ g~a (left) and Luwian ku, analogs of Indus VII 63.

"Cloud" motif common to American Southwest -- resembles Egyptian stairway,
proto-cuneiform URU, "city, town," and perhaps Indus VII 62 (in reduced form).

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