Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ten Angular Indus Signs

Detail from seal M-649 with inscription over horn of unicorn: COMB TOPPED BATTERY / CARTWHEEL.

The first Indus sign discussed in this post is the ninth in my list of eight-stroke symbols, COMB TOPPED BATTERY (VIII 9).  Also known as KP292(a), W481, and Fs G-3, it is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-649).  Fairservis sees it as a depiction of fire on top of a building or platform and assigns it the meaning "watchfire."  But, of course, other scholars see "combs" and tridents as representing plants rather than fires, so this definition is not widely accepted.

Analogous symbols from proto-cuneiform (above) and proto-Elamite (below).

In ancient Iraq, the proto-cuneiform writing system includes a somewhat similar item, transcribed |ZATU 737 x SZE~a|.  In form, it is an ear of barley (SZE) inside what appears to be an angular bottle (ZATU 737, undefined).  In neighboring Iran, the proto-Elamite writing system contains another similar sign, this one closer to the Indus VIII 9 (M213).  Here, a broader "ear of grain" stands atop a short, wide rectangle -- the whole thing rotated 90 degrees from the Indus sign as is typical in this part of the world.
Two Old Chinese parallels: shi4 (left), "a market," and nie4 (right), "hand writing upon a tablet"
(with addition of a horizontal stroke, the character becomes yu4, "pen; to narrate").

In Old Chinese, too, there are characters that include a comb-like or plant-like element above either an angular "platform" or a more curvilinear element.  For example, shi4 is a small trident sitting upon the horizontal top  of a three-sided rectangle something like the Indus "platform."  This means "market" in which the trident is grass and the semi-rectangle a space outside the city (Wieger 1965: 94).  In qiao1, the same trident represents flowers, above a "roof": "a cover with flowers....By extension, the shell of mollusks, of fruits, of eggs, that covers them, and is ornamented with fine designs" (1965: 96).  I admit to a few doubts about Wieger's explanation here.  Be that as it may, a third parallel is nie4, "a hand writing upon a surface" (1965: 123).  In this example, the trident is rotated 90 degrees and represents the hand, holding a brush.  Thus, the "comb" in the Indus sign might represent a plant (like the grass and the flowers of Old Chinese), but it might also represent something entirely different.

The DOUBLE TICK TOPPED EXIT as it might appear, beside STACKED SEVEN.

Our second Indus sign is DOUBLE TICK TOPPED EXIT (VIII 10).  This particular symbol appears only in one list, as KP287.  I think that a seal from Mohenjo daro is the source of this (M-112).  I see the EXIT on this seal as a six-stroke element comprising a "table" (or incomplete rectangle) over an inverted "trident."  That is, I do not see the two short strokes on top of the "table" that are depicted in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola.  The top edge of the seal is abraded, leaving this part of the sign in doubt.  There is certainly a pair of "ticks" atop other similar signs, but these also have two strokes on each side of the "table" (cf. M-120 and K-2).  I will discuss this symbol among the twelve-stroke signs.

Seal M-112 with inscription: FOOTED ASTERISK / EXIT (KP287?) / POTTED ONE /
(I have artificially smoothed out the image, perhaps removing the "double ticks").

Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs there are none that quite match Indus sign VIII 10, either in general form or in combining other elements.  The closest glyph -- to my eyes anyway -- is O51 in Gardiner's list, a truncated cone containing three slanted dots, sitting on a sort of tray with upraised sides.  It represents a heap of grain on a raised mud floor, serving as an ideograph or determinative in the word snwt (with a hacek or little "v" over the "s"), "granary."  As an extremely dubious parallel sign, the glyph provides no real help in interpreting the Indus sign.

Analogs of the Indus EXIT: proto-Elamite M172 (upper left), Old Chinese shou3, "to observe" (upper right),
Old Chinese bi1, "ordinary, vulgar" (lower left), Egyptian O51, seen in "granary" (lower right).

In Old Chinese, the roof element is an upside-down "U" with a single tick on top, an element that typically covers some other element in compound characters.  One of these compounds is shou3, "a mandarin, a prefect...who, in his tribunal, applies the law....By extension, to observe, to keep" (Wieger 1965: 125).  Here, the "roof" covers a trident-like hand, with a small additional stroke underneath.  Thus, somewhat similar elements are combined as those found in Indus sign VIII 10, but the overall effect is very different.  Another Old Chinese character has a more rounded "roof" element at the top, beneath which there is another "hand," but with a different slant, and a "T" with a curved stem.  This is bi1, "ordinary, vulgar....This character represents an ancient drinking vase provided with a handle on the left side...held with the left hand....the tsun1 [wine vessel] was used for the sacrifices, the bi1 was used every day.  Later on, the two characters were taken in the abstract sense for noble and vulgar" (1965: 128).

Proto-Elamite provides a closer parallel with M172, a complete rectangle with two "ticks" on the left side.  The rectangle contains an element comprising two "x" marks, side by side, with a "stem" beside these.  Its meaning is unknown.
Detail of inscription from M-1117: DIAMOND BETWEEN DOUBLE POSTS /
PANTS / (?) (occurs above and beside zebu).

Next among the Indus signs is DIAMOND BETWEEN DOUBLED POSTS (VIII 11).  Only Wells lists this as a distinct symbol (W406).  It is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1117) and, as such, might also be interpreted as a series of three signs, DOUBLE POSTS / DIAMOND / DOUBLE POSTS.
Old Chinese inscription: filial son's hand offering libations (bottom) before temple;
inside temple are cooked meat (diamond), wine (semi-circle), and symbols
representing presence of ancestors (bracketing diamond) (drawn after Wieger 1965: 367).

An inscription in Old Chinese bears a vague resemblance to this Indus sign (or series of signs).  A square with modified corners represents the shrine or temple in which offerings are made to the ancestors, in this inscription.  Inside, there is a diamond with several internal marks, an oddly curved line on either side, and a semi-circle below, all inside the shrine.  Beneath the shrine is a trident-like hand alongside what appears to be a drop.  Wieger interprets all this as the son making offerings to the ancestors in the shrine, with the hand belonging to the son offering a libation (the drop), before the shrine (modified square), in which sits a wine vessel (semi-circle), as well as an offering of cooked meat (diamond), on either side of which we see the leg and foot of an ancestral spirit, come to receive these offerings (1965: 367).


The following Indus sign is STRIPED SQUARE CUP WITH HANDLE (VIII 12), another singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-36).  Wells alone lists this odd symbol and he does not attempt to interpret it.
Vessels with a single handle, questionable analogs of Indus VIII 12:
Cretan hieroglyphic jug (above) and proto-Elamite beer jug M283~j (below).

I do not know that it represents a vessel of some kind, but if it does, there are at least two parallels to examine.  A jug with a single handle appears among the Cretan hieroglyphs (O53, perhaps the syllable ja).  And a single-handled beer jug occurs in proto-Elamite (M283~j).  Neither of these distant analogs looks much like the Indus sign.

Bar seal M-1289 with partial inscription: TEETH IN RECTANGLE / BOAT / PAW / BI-QUOTES (?) / MAN (?).

Another singleton follows, TEETH IN RECTANGLE (VIII 13), also known as KP267 and W525.  A tall, narrow rectangle bears two internal rectangles, both attached midway on one side (M-1289).  In proto-Elamite, there is also a sign that is a rectangle containing two smaller rectanges (M146~f).  But here the internal elements do not touch either each other or a side of the larger container.  Similarly, there is a Luwian glyph that is a square, containing a small circle (symbol 255, meaning unknown).  But the internal element is centered, not attached to one side of the larger square.

Indus VIII 13 (left) and parallel signs: Luwian 255 (upper right) and proto-Elamite M146~f (lower right).

Next we come to DOWN FAT TEE (VIII 14), a sign that occurs only as KP274 elsewhere.  It is apparently how Koskenniemi and Parpola interpreted the symbol I discussed earlier as VII 62 (W523).  The following sign is TRIPLY STRIPED SKEWERED TOP (VIII 15) found only in Koskenniemi and Parpola's list as KP275(b).  I have discussed other types of TOP previously and have no further remarks (see previous posts for full discussions of these types).

Detail from seal H-22 with inscription: BED WITH ATTACHED POST / QUAD-FORK / BI-QUOTES //
CIRCLED TRI-FORK / BELTED FISH / BED / BOAT / POT (note that the unmodified BED appears here,
in the same inscription as the BED WITH ATTACHED POST, suggesting the two are distinct).

The next sign is a ligature, BED WITH ATTACHED POST (VIII 16), also known as KP304 and W178.  I have seen only one example, from Harappa (H-22), but Wells notes two more occurrences from Mohenjo daro not found in the first two volumes of the Corpus.

The BED portion resembles proto-cuneiform U2~b or ~c, which may be either the symbol that came to mean "plant, vegetation, firewood," or else a symbol that came to mean "emery stone" (see earlier post on the BED for full discussion).  This same portion of the Indus sign also resembles Old Chinese yung4, "bronze ex-voto offered to the Ancestors...[which] brought blessing, hence...aptitude" (Wieger 1965: 260).  There is also a resemblance to the Adinkra symbol hwehwemudua, "measuring, ruler," which symbolizes the West African virtue of excellence or perfection.  However, none of these analogs shows an additional element attached, while there are several Indus signs of this type.

Indus sign VIII 17, a possible STOOL WITH SINGLE FOOT & ATTACHED COMB (drawn after KP235).

There may or may not be another symbol found only as KP235 elsewhere, the STOOL WITH SINGLE FOOT AND ATTACHED COMB (VIII 17).  I can cite occurrences of a FOOTED STOOL with an ATTACHED COMB, as well as various prongs on the legs.  But I have not seen this particular eight-stroke symbol.

with its closest parallel, proto-cuneiform NA~d, "human" (right).

Neither have I seen VIII 18, VEE AND DOUBLE SLASHES IN DIAMOND, elsewhere KP387.  There are a great many occurrences of a diamond containing a vee, but adding two slash marks across one of the lower sides of the diamond does not appear in the first two volumes of the Corpus.  Even so, proto-cuneiform provides a reasonably close parallel with ZATU 798, a diamond with four attached backslashes on the upper left surface.  Its meaning is unknown.  A taller, more slender diamond contains two crossing horizontal marks and an additional backslash attached to the upper left surface: NA~d, "human."  As is frequently the case with the more complex Indus signs, duplication of the precise combination of elements appears to be unique to the Indus Valley.

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