|Detail from seal M-113 with inscription: CEE BOAT / PINCH / POTTED ONE /|
OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / TWO POSTS / POT (the 3rd is today's most common sign).
Sign VII 41 (the forty-first symbol comprising seven strokes) is what I term EARPHONES ON BI-FORK. It is also known as KP345 (more accurately described as a nine-stroke sign), W74, and Fs K-9. Fairservis identifies this symbol as weighing scales, defining it as “to weigh” (or as a substantive). Wells finds three of the symbol, but each is distinct in form. His “a” has a straight-stemmed “Y” shape at the bottom, “b” also does but the “V” shape at the top is tilted to the right, and “c” has a bent stem. All three come from Mohenjo daro, so the differences do not appear to be geographical.
|Seal M-1159 with inscription: TWO POSTS / EARPHONES ON BI-FORK (VII 41 B) / BI-QUOTES //|
TWO POSTS / FISH / CAGED FISH (note that BI-FORK tilts to the left in 2nd symbol).
If the symbol actually represents weighing scales, we might compare the Egyptian hieroglyph U38 defined by Gardiner as a balance. This rather different symbol acts as an ideograph or determinative in mh3t, “balance” (there should be a scoop beneath the “h”). Another glyph has the form of the “earphones” element of the Indus sign, but this part is rotated 90 degrees (V13). This glyph represents a rope for tethering animals and is used as a phonetic symbol for t (the underlined letter is traditionally pronounced “ch” in Egyptology, although that probably is not what the Egyptians themselves said). This glyph is combined with the little walking legs element (D54) to make V15. The combination serves to represent the word iti, “to seize.”
Now, the Indus EARPHONES appear as a distinct sign also (V49, also known as KP344 and W75). This element occurs three times, including once at Mohenjo daro. The other element, BI-FORK, has an independent existence (III 12) too, although only as a singleton from Lohumjo daro. We may interpret EARPHONES ON BI-FORK as a composite symbol for this reason, i.e., as a ligature composed of two simpler signs. Egyptian glyph V15, a composite symbol made up of two simpler glyphs, is then an excellent analog. However, this interpretation is only one possibility. Even if EARPHONES ON BI-FORK is indeed a ligature, the basic elements may be analyzed differently. Another singleton, CUPPED DOWN BI-FORK, resembles this one, but inverted and without the circles (V35). This sign, V35, occurs at Mohenjo daro just like the three variants of VII 41. Finally, one of the ANKH variants may be a ROOF ON BI-FORK (V39), as Wells seems to suggest (W66) – also from Mohenjo daro.
|Detail of seal M-101 with inscription: CIRCLED VEE / BI-QUOTES // EARPHONES ON BI-FORK (VII 41 A) /|
POT // STRIPED TRIANGLE / TRI-FORK (note straight stem of BI-FORK, not curved, and not tilted to one side).
In proto-cuneiform, a symbol resembling the EARPHONES portion represents “child; young (of herd animals)” or low rank. This sign, termed TUR, has an analog in proto-Elamite as well (M370~b), where it is more angular. A variant of the latter has an additional element, a wedge-shaped impression between the “arms” of the “balance” (M370~k). If one assumes that the people of the Indus Valley learned to write from their Near Eastern neighbors, then the symbol I call EARPHONES might be the local equivalent of proto-cuneiform TUR, meaning “offspring,” more or less. The addition of an element such as the BI-FORK to the original symbol might then be another example of gunification – modification of the meaning of an original, standardized symbol by adding a non-standardized stroke (or strokes). In proto-cuneiform (and proto-Elamite), gunification of the sign indicating a head of small cattle provides additional information on the specific type / gender / age of the livestock. So, gunification of EARPHONES might indicate a the sex of the offspring (boy or girl for humans, ewe or ram for lambs, etc.).
|From top down, proto-Elamite M370~k, pE M370~b, variants of proto-cuneiform TUR,|
possible inspiration for Indus VII 41, indicating "child; young (of herd animals); low in rank."
There are other possibilities as well, though. In Chinese, there is an element rather like a modern plus sign (+) with diagonal strokes below the central horizontal. This is mu4, “tree; wood.” In Old Chinese, the horizontal line was a “U” shape, the two lower diagonals a “roof” shape. In the earlier Old Seal script, another character includes this early form, adding two small circles to the upper branches of the “U” and a small square to the top of the central vertical. There is also a small, inverted “Y” shape on top of the small square. Together, these elements form yao4, “a wooden support on which a drum and bells are hung....The orchestrion of old Yao, music in general. When read lao4...the effect produced by music, pleasure, joy” (Wieger 1965: 224). As far as the interpretation of the Indus sign is concerned, this suggests that combining basic elements can produce a symbol for an object or concept far removed from the original elements. In Chinese, lao4 has nothing to do with trees, even though the character for “tree; wood” is still clearly there, but now means “pleasure, joy.”
One last parallel to the Indus EARPHONES ON BI-FORK comes from Luwian hieroglyphs. The ideograph REL, “relative, kinsman,” has an upper portion resembling the Indus EARPHONES. But the Luwian glyph has incomplete loops rather than circles. In addition, the central stem of REL is merely a straight vertical line, in variant “a.” In variant “b,” the stem of REL takes on a curve at the base, forming a “J.” A third variant, “c,” has a squared off version of the “J” which more resembles a backward “L.” In this script, the variations on the stem appear to convey no distinction in meaning. It is quite possible that the variations in the Indus EARPHONES ON BI-FORK similarly carry no change in significance of the symbol, but are simply stylistic variants.
|Indus seal H-413 with sign VII 42 over unicorn:|
STACKED FIVE UNDER ROOF (seal is broken).
The second Indus symbol discussed here is STACKED FIVE UNDER ROOF (VII 42), also known as KP338 and W225. It does not appear in Fairservis’ list. Wells notes it as a singleton from Harappa (H-413). What is worse, the single seal on which it appears is broken, so we cannot say anything about its position relative to other signs.
Nevertheless, it has an interesting parallel in the proto-cuneiform GI6, “night; shade.” This symbol has the same basic “U” shape, though turned sideways compared to the Indus sign. Inside there are many small strokes or dots, perhaps up to 14 rather than just five. The dots or short strokes in the proto-cuneiform sign do not appear to be grouped, either, while the Indus sign shows a row of three short verticals stacked neatly over a row of two such strokes. The STACKED FIVE appears independently among the apparent numerals of the Indus proto-writing system, so it is possible that this “number” (if that’s what it is) has significance.
In proto-Elamite, an angular parallel appears (M343~h + M354). In this instance, the outside element or “roof” has an inverted “V” shape (cf. the Indus CHEVRON which may or may not be a variant of the more curved ROOF). At the base of one “leg” of this inverted “V” is an impressed circle. Another impressed circle appears beneath the angular “roof,” with seven short diagonal strokes around it. The lower element, the impressed circle with dots around it, is a numerical measure found in two systems, the ŠE, both Š and Š#. In the first of these, the circle-and-dots form the second lowest measure, two of which add up to one of the next higher measure (written with an impressed circle surrounded by six more circles). In the second –probably related system from Tepe Yahya – the circle surrounded by dots is the lowest measure. However, there are no other Indus signs made up of a ROOF over other numbers of short strokes.
Old Chinese writing makes use of a “roof” element as well, placing various other elements beneath this. One such character is liang3, “two weights equal, state of balance” (Wieger 1965: 100). Here there is a long, central vertical beneath the roof, with a small, inverted “Y” on either side. Another character apparently derived from a roof over a more abstract symbol of five strokes is zong1, “an ancestral hall....The building from which emanates...the influence of the deceased ancestors over their posterity” (1965: 101).
Luwian hieroglyphs include a glyph something like a “U” turned sideways, inside which are three small circles. This is MALUS, the ideograph for “bad.” A variant resembles our number “3” (reversed), with two dots inside each “roof.” This is an example of including number-like marks to form a non-numerical symbol. Interestingly enough, the ideograph IUDEX / IUSTITIA, “ruler; justice,” appears to be a modified “roof” over two short strokes. Again, an apparently numeral – two – helps to convey a completely non-numerical meaning.
In the rock art of North America, dots or short strokes sometimes appear inside “cups” or below “roofs.” One western example contains no less than 42 dots: a row of 10 over another row of 10 over third and fourth rows, each containing 11 (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 356, fig. F-17l). At the bottom of the symbol there are also nine prongs. This combination of “cup,” contained marks in row, and prongs beneath, also appears in Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 153, Pl. 105, no. 1). In this instance there are four prongs asymmetrically arranged and 13 short, horizontal strokes inside (arranged 5 x 5 x 3). These American motifs provide examples of an apparent combination of a CUP ON PRONGS and a container with contents, that is, a combination of Indus signs VII 42 and VII 43.
|Bar seal M-354 with inscription: MAN HOLDING DEE-SLASH / BACK CEE & CEE / BI-QUOTES //|
CAGED FISH UNDER CHEVRON / SLASHES IN OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / QUINT-FORK /
CUP ON THREE PRONGS UNDER CHEVRON (VII 44 A) / POT.
Sign VII 43 is a CUP ON FIVE PRONGS, found elsewhere only in Wells (W33). It is a singleton, although possible variants with fewer prongs have been noted previously (see posts on V 37 and VI 57, CUPS on 3 and 4 PRONGS respectively). This particular number of prongs (5) does not occur elsewhere, so far as I can tell, although “cups” on “prongs” are hardly rare.
|Detail of seal M-89 with inscription: FISH UNDER CHEVRON / TWO POSTS /|
CUP ON FIVE PRONGS / RAYED CIRCLE / POT.
In Old Chinese, a very low and flattened “U” on four prongs is part of the composite character meng2, meaning “to clear up an obscure affair, by swearing, in the old way, upon a vessel full of blood” (Wieger 1965: 119). In this case, the “cup on prongs” portion represents the vessel containing blood, while the upper or contained element is an independent character meaning “bright” or “clear (up).”
|Analogs to VII 43: motif from Texas (left) and proto-cuneiform UMBIN~b1 (right).|
Proto-cuneiform makes use of few “cups on prongs,” but there is UMBIN~b1. This is an outline “C” shape with numerous short prongs on the outer rim. It came to mean “nail, claw, talon” in Sumerian although it does not much resemble any of these appendages in this early form. Finally, a modified “cup” sits on four prongs in a Texan motif (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 154, Pl. 106, no. 2).
|Detail from seal M-810 with inscription: |
CUP ON THREE PRONGS UNDER CHEVRON (VII 44 B) / POT.
Our third Indus symbol is CUP ON THREE PRONGS UNDER CHEVRON (VII 44). It is also noted by Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP314) and Wells (W315), but not Fairservis. Wells finds two instances, both from Mohenjo daro, occurring in two variants. The “a” variant has a longer, central “prong” which curves off to one side (M-354), while the “b” variant sits on three prongs that are equally short.
I noted the proto-cuneiform symbol U4, “sun, day,” in the blog entry that dealt with the Indus BOAT. This “C” curve contains a reversed and smaller curve, said to represent the sun rising between hills (though it closely resembles representations of the lunar crescent of other cultures). In proto-cuneiform, additional strokes are commonly added to enumerate days. Sometimes the additional elements are wedges, as in |U4.3(N08)| for “three days,” and sometimes attached “prongs,” as in |U4.SZU2| for “two days.” We might expect the number of prongs attached to the Indus CUP to be similarly enumerative.
However, in Old Chinese, a symbol resembling a modified “V” shaped cup sitting on three prongs has non-numerical meaning. This character is man2, “before the equilibrium is perfect, the balance [is] oscillating hither and thither” (Wieger 1965: 100). In this case – if Wieger’s interpretation is correct – the “prongs” represent a balance or scales, while the upper portion (the apparent “cup”) depicts oscillation.
|Detail of seal M-120 with inscription: QUADRUPED (abraded) / |
OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / POTTED ONE / EF PRONGED EXIT /
WINGED MAN / POT // HAMMER IN DIAMOND.
Indus sign VII 45 is similar but based on a different sign: POTTED ONE (KP325, W290 and W299, and Fs J-6). Fairservis considers the basic “U” with “F” shaped sides to represent a pot (his J-5), here modified by the addition of affix P1 (my SINGLE QUOTE). Although he considers the POT to be an honorific suffix, adding the genitive affix does not add up to an agglutinative super-suffix. Instead, the ligature designates “up, upper, up river,” or even “north,” in Fairservis’ view. It is probably significant that the apparent suffix, the simple POT, is the most common terminal in the analysis by Korvink, but the POTTED ONE is a medial element. (And note that Parpola interprets the basic "pot" as cattle horns, not a container.)
|Circular tablet from Chanhujo daro with inscription (right to left and top to bottom):|
POTTED ONE / HAIRY HUNCHBACK (?) // POTTED ONE / FLAIL / FISH
(note the more or less "V" shaped POTS).
In proto-cuneiform, again noting the “day” symbol as a parallel form, an additional mark is typically numerical. The addition of a line inside the “C” curve indicates “one day,” transcribed |U4 x 1(N57)|, as does the addition of a circular impression inside, transcribed |U4 x 1(N14)|. If the Indus POTTED ONE includes a numerical element in such a fashion, we would expect this sign to represent one of whatever the basic POT designates. However, it is a notable fact that POTTED ONE (and POTTED TWO, POTTED THREE, etc.) occurs in the inscriptions in a position unlike that of the basic POT, as previously observed. This essential fact strongly suggests that, once again, additional strokes in the Indus system are not numerals.
|Bloc of Luwian hieroglyphs.|
There is a west African Adinkra symbol that somewhat resembles the Indus CUP with a floral-like element inside. This is called osram ne nsoroma. It represents the moon and a star but symbolizes such qualities as faithfulness, harmony, love, loyalty, and femininity (Willis 1998: 178).
|Harappan tablet H-228 with inscription (right to left):|
COMB / POT-HATTED BEARER / DOUBLE BACK CEES / CUPPED SPOON ON FIVE PRONGS (W310a).
Finally, Indus sign VII 46 combines both an insert and added prongs: CUPPED POST ON FOUR PRONGS. Wells alone includes this in his list, as W319. He observes three occurrences, one from Mohenjo daro and two from Harappa. Only the first of these is made up of seven strokes, being a “U” shape on four prongs with a single vertical inside (Wells’ “b” variant). Grouped with this “variant” in Wells’ analysis is a “U” shape on five prongs, with the SPOON inside – his “a” variant, comprised of ten strokes.
|Sign VII 46 from broken seal M-1049 (W310b).|
Proto-cuneiform provides a parallel in another variation on the “day” sign: |U4 x 1(N01).5(N08)|. Here, there is a single wedge inside U4, which appears to indicate “one day,” with an additional stack of eight wedges alongside (= “eight days”?). Cretan hieroglyphs also include a “cup” shape on prongs with an insert. This symbol sits on three prongs and contains a more elaborate internal element. The glyph is enumerated O55 (according to Younger’s website) and may represent the syllable ke (it might also be an early Cretan ideograph that only later evolved into a phonetic symbol in Linear A and/or Linear B).A tilted “U” shape appears in Texas, resting on three prongs and with its “post” above and to the right (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 101, Pl. 58). This combination of elements may or may not comprise a single motif.