Saturday, May 7, 2011

More Indus Rarities: Mallet, Top, Pants, and Doorway

The thirty-seventh sign in my list of symbols containing seven strokes (VII 37) is a striped rectangle with a short vertical on top, a symbol I term DOUBLY STRIPED MALLET.  With just two horizontal stripes, hence exactly seven strokes, it occurs only as W470 elsewhere (similar signs, KP280 and Fs N-10, each have three internal stripes).  Wells notes four variations, this seven-stroke variant (containing two stripes), an eight-stroke variant (with three stripes), a nine-stroke variant (with four stripes), and a ten-stroke variant (with five stripes).  Without identifying which type occurs where or how often, Wells indicates a total of 23 STRIPED MALLETS, 12 from Mohenjo daro, nine from Harappa, one from Lothal, and one from Kalibangan.  He also classifies as a singleton an occurrence of two eight-stroke variants side by side (W472, from Harappa).

Detail from seal M-809 with inscription (over unicorn horn):

I have not discovered an exact duplicate of the STRIPED MALLET in another set of symbols, but there are several instances of a square or rectangle with one or more internal marks, as well as an attached or protruding stroke.  In Egyptian, one hieroglyph represents a standing man pounding in a mortar (A34).  Although it is not striped, the mortar has the shape of a square, the long pestle resembling the vertical of the Indus MALLET.  The glyph is a determinative in a word meaning, “to pound, to build.”  Thus, the Indus sign might depict a mortar and pestle just as in Egyptian.

In proto-cuneiform, MAR is a rectangle with a single internal stripe and an attached post.  As is typical, the sign extends horizontally rather than vertically.  In one variant, the internal stripe is nearer the end of the rectangle where the “post” attaches, while another variant has its stripe closer to the opposite end of the rectangle (both designated MAR~a).  A third variant adds a number of stripes between the original stripe and the end of the containing rectangle (MAR~a@t).  These seem to be the symbol that came to mean “wagon, cart; winnowing shovel, spoon; to sow; western.”  If this is correct, the sign may originally have depicted a bird’s-eye view of a wagon with its attached yoke – minus the wheels.  This provides a second possible interpretation of the Indus symbol.  There is another MAR in Sumerian, however.  It means "earthworm."  If the proto-cuneiform sign also represented an earthworm, it becomes rather difficult to see the symbol as pictorial.
Proto-cuneiform "mallets" -- MAR~a (top left),
MAR~a @ t (top right), USZ~b (at bottom).
Another proto-cuneiform “mallet,” this one with the “post” attached on the opposite side, is USZ, “foundation.”  This recalls the Egyptian meaning for the glyph of the man using a mortar and pestle, “to build.”  There are, in addition, two proto-Elamite symbols that are shaped similarly, though their meanings are unknown.  The first of these contains cross-hatching rather than one or more stripes (M155~f).  The other has two short stripes, but rather than crossing the “head” of the “mallet” they extend from the right end only halfway into the “head” (M159).  Also, there are two short “posts” on the left side rather than one.

Simple though the “mallet” shape appears to be, it does not appear among the rectilinear designs found in the rock art of the American Southwest.  The closest facsimile is a motif from Texas comprising a tall rectangle with a single vertical stripe and four horizontal ones (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 188, Pl. 138, no. 17-A).  Rather than a post on top, this design has an inverted triangle that is, itself, striped.  The motif may be an incomplete anthropomorph (i.e., the head and body of a human or deity).  Other anthropomorphic motifs have this same general shape, with arms and/or legs attached.  However, this particular arrangement of internal decor appears to be rare.
Detail from seal M-31 with inscription: CARTWHEEL / PINCH //
The next Indus sign, the DOUBLY STRIPED SKEWERED TOP, is similar to the previous one in some respects (VII 38).  It is another rectangle adorned with two horizontal stripes.  In this case, the “post” extends through the rectangle, protruding both at the top and the bottom.  As a seven-stroke sign it appears elsewhere only as W485, where Wells notes five occurrences, two from Mohenjo daro and three from Harappa.

Wells also notes a nine-stroke TOP (W487, with four stripes) and a ten-stroke type (W489, with five stripes).  I prefer to designate the “variants” of both the TOP and the MALLET in the same way, with independent numerical identifications based on stroke number.  If other researchers prefer to group them together based on similarity of form, the “variants” could just as easily be indicated with letters, as is done for proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite.  Apparently, Koskenniemi and Parpola lump them all together, listing only an eight-stroke version (KP275).  No striped “top” appears in Fairservis.

In Old Chinese, a circle crossed by a long, protruding horizontal line and containing a vertical stripe formed the character guan4, “to pierce, to string, to tie together different objects” (Wieger 1965: 319).  This character is now a skewered square, as all elements that were originally round have become angular.
Proto-cuneiform AK~a (upper left), AK~b (on right), and BANSZUR~b2 (center).

Proto-cuneiform includes two distinct signs of a generally similar shape.  One is a square with internal markings -- six short diagonal strokes, grouped in two stacks of three.  There is a post attached on the right and another on the left, duplicating the basic form of the Indus "top" (AK~a).  A variant (AK~b) has the same form but is rotated 90 degrees so that it more resembles the Indus sign.  Inside this variant, there are six chevrons rather than diagonal strokes.  AK eventually means “to do,” though what it originally represented is less clear.  The other sign is BANSZUR~b2, “table.”  In this case, the angular portion of the "top" is a wide rectangle rather than a square.  There are two internal stripes, as in the Indus sign.  But the “post” does not cross the whole symbol.  Instead, there is a post on the right and another on the left, as with AK, although here these attachments touch the internal stripe.
Bar seal M-1316 with inscription: BISECTED SQUARE / CEE & SLASHa / TWO POSTS /

The following Indus sign is rather peculiar (VII39).  It resembles three nested chevrons (or rather, "less than" signs: <<< ) with an additional stroke joining the ends on one side.  This motif vaguely recalls a cartoon drawing of trousers, so I have given it – and its many variants – the provisional name PANTS.  This particular variation on this odd theme occurs elsewhere only as W167 (but see VIII 19, in a later post, for a discussion of all the variants, including KP205).  It is a singleton, Wells states, from Mohenjo daro (M-1316).

It is reasonably close to a proto-Elamite sign (M059~d).  This sign is rotated 90 degrees compared to the Indus symbol, again a typical feature.  Unfortunately, its meaning is unknown so I am unable to propose a better designation than PANTS.  Nor do other scripts or symbols provide assistance in this area.  There are various motifs in North American rock art that contain parallel zigzags and one might consider the "chevrons" (or "less than" signs) to be very short zigzags.  In one instance in Texas there are precisely three parallel zigzags joined by a baseline (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 176, Pl. 124, no. 1-C).  But this is fairly remote from the original Indus design.
Detail from broken bar seal M-1367 with inscription (and back end of one bison):
DOORWAY / VEE IN DIAMOND  (note base on the former, as shown in Wells).

The last symbol discussed in this post is the DOORWAY (VII 40), also known as KP272, W491, and Fs G-5.  It is Fairservis who designates the sign as a gate or doorway to a house.  This may or may not be correct, but it as good a designation as any.  Wells notes only three occurrences, two from Mohenjo daro and one from Kalibangan.  He also states that there is but a single variant.  However, interestingly enough, the sign is shown differently in the three lists cited.  Fairservis makes it an incomplete rectangle, rather like the TABLE, although outlined (“fat” in my terms).  This might be a variant "A" (as the symbol appears in K-89).  Koskenniemi and Parpola show a truncated cone containing a rectangle. This might be a variant "B" (although seal M-21 shows only a slightly tapering toward the top of the outer "rectangle").  Wells has a rectangle in a larger rectangle, perhaps a variant "C" (as shown in M-1367).
Detail from impression K-89 with barely legible inscription:
(note the apparent lack of a baseline on the DOORWAY, as shown in Fairservis).
It may be that Fairservis was influenced by similar Egyptian glyphs, including one which acts as a determinative for “door, gateway” (O32).  The glyph is somewhat more complex than the Indus sign, but it provides some support for this interpretation.  However, another roughly rectangular glyph is an equally good parallel, representing the facade of a shrine (O21).  It is an ideograph or determinative in sh-ntr, “the divine booth.”  There is even a third glyph containing a truncated cone shape – among other details – that is a heap of grain, the ideograph or determinative in šnwt, “granary.”  Thus, the Indus symbol could represent a pile of grain or a building of some sort, just as easily as a doorway.
Egyptian glyphs O21 (left) and O32 (right). 
The first is a shrine; the second a doorway or gateway.

In Old Chinese, there is an element that is sometimes curved and sometimes more angular, with an open base like the version of VII 40 depicted in Fairservis’ list.  With two stacked circles tucked beneath, this is gung1, “a big building; several rooms under the same roof...used to designate the Imperial private resident” (Wieger 1965: 228).  In a number of inscriptions on bronze cult vessels, the overarching symbol appears to represent a shrine (1971: 364).  In the inscription seen on the right, though, the shrine appears at the top, with symbols representing the ancestor inside.  Beneath this is the roof element with additional strokes beneath it, together forming a character.  Below this are two additional characters side by side (representing offerings of meat and libations, according to Wieger).  Below these two, the roof appears again, this time with a simple "+" inside -- another composite character.  This might be zhu4, which now means "space behind the throne," while a related character, pronounced the same way, means "to await, expect."  While I cannot interpret the inscription precisely, the "roof" element is fairly clear.  It provides one possible interpretation of the Indus DOORWAY.

Proto-cuneiform includes a symbol that is somewhat more elaborate, but a possible analog.  In form, it is a long rectangle with one crossing vertical stripe near the left end, two horizontals running from this first stripe to the right end, and three short verticals joining the two horizontals (UR3~b1).  This odd symbol came to have quite a variety of seemingly unrelated meanings: “roof; entrance; mountain pass; rafter, beam; cross bar, bolt; yoke, harness; to drag, erase, mow, reap.”  If “entrance” proves to be the original meaning, it may provide additional support for Fairservis’ interpretation of the Indus symbol, VII 40.  Finally, proto-Elamite has a rectangle inside a rectangle, for what that is worth (M146~d).  However, the smaller rectangle is centered in this symbol, while the small rectangle in the Indus sign shares the same base as the larger rectangle.
Proto-Elamite M146~d (above) and proto-cuneiform UR3~b1 (below).
The latter came to have many meanings, including "roof" and "entrance."

If the rather equivocal evidence from Egyptian, Old Chinese, and proto-cuneiform suggests an interpretation of the Indus sign as a building (or an entrance to one), we might expect to find a similar representation in other areas.  I expected to find such an element in the rock art of the American Southwest, for example, since some Native Americans built dwellings with angular shapes.  Specifically, squares and rectangles of some sort might be expected to appear in the art of modern pueblo dwellers, such as the Hopi, Zuni, and others – or in the artwork of their ancestors.  However, in the collections of art to which I have access, I have not seen much to suggest this.  There are triangular motifs which may represent teepees, or similar structures, in Texas (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 207, Pl. 152, no. 5).  More rarely, there are stepped motifs which recall the pyramids of Central America (e.g., 1996: 176, Pl. 124, no. 1-C).
Tablet M-1427B (inscription is on the A side), showing a stepped motif.
Two such stepped motifs appear on a tablet in bas-relief from Mohenjo-daro (M-1427B).  While this does not appear to be a sign of the same type as those found in inscriptions, it might be a representation of some type of structure (though nothing like a stepped pyramid or ziggurat has been excavated in the Indus Valley).  It is reminiscent of the Indus DOORWAY sign (VII 40) and perhaps this sign is a simplified rendering of the same thing.  A "stepped pyramid" does appear among the proto-cuneiform signs (see the discussion of the STRIPED TRIANGLE for an illustration).  This motif also appears at Altyn Depe in Central Asia (Masson 1988: Pl. XVIII).  Since an Indus type seal was discovered at Altyn Depe -- and a seal bearing a type of bird known from Altyn Depe was found in the Indus Valley -- there was clearly some cultural contact between these two areas.  It is possible, too, that there is some relationship between one or more Indus signs and motifs found at Altyn Depe, including the DOORWAY sign.
Crosses and stepped motifs as shown on a box from Altyn Depe.

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