Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Indus Signs of Nine Strokes

Three types of proto-cuneiform "nine": N14 (circles), N01 (wedges), and N18 (slashed circles).

As usual, I begin the discussion of the Indus symbols made with nine strokes by noting apparent numerals.  There are three different signs that are made up of nine short strokes grouped together.  The first of these displays the marks in a simple row: NINE QUOTES (IX 1).  Koskenniemi and Parpola include this sign in their list as KP129(a), but Wells does not note it.  Neither does Fairservis, who states that there are no occurrences of this form “nine” (1992: 62).  If it does actually occur (and I have no reason to doubt Koskenniemi and Parpola), it is probably a singleton or at least very rare.

Detail of seal H-23 with inscription: STACKED NINE (5 X 4) / QUAD-FORK /

The second apparent numeral is STACKED NINE (IX 2), also known as KP129(b), W219, and Fs O-14.  I designate this form in my database on inscriptions as STACKED NINE (5 X 4) in order to differentiate it from a second stacked form, one to be discussed shortly.  Fairservis does not hesitate to identify this one as the number nine, adjectival form, noting two occurrences (1992: 62).  This identification is rather surprising since he elsewhere suggests that the Harappans had a base eight number system – in which case, they should use a distinct symbol for “eight” and that plus a single quote for “nine.”  That fact demonstrates to the satisfaction of most scholars that the Harappans did not have a base eight number system, or at least the evidence does not support the existence of such an unusual number system.  In any case, this form includes five short strokes in an upper row, with four short strokes in another row beneath them.

In proto-cuneiform, “nine” occurs in a variety of forms, most of which are not quite like this Indus sign.  Only the sign designated 9(N58) takes this precise shape.  Another form of “nine” includes the same configuration of strokes, but is rotated 90 degrees (N57).  Three types of proto-cuneiform “nine” are written as a column of four wedges alongside a second identical column, with a ninth wedge that is larger than those in the columns at the base (N01, the same but with larger wedges as N34, and the larger wedges with two short strokes added to the right and left sides of each wedge as N36).  The very similar pattern of five marks in a column alongside a second column of four marks occurs in six other forms of “nine” (simple wedges as N08, circular indentations as N14, larger circles as N45, small circles with a diagonal stroke added to each as N18, circles with two strokes on each side as N19, and circles with three diagonal strokes crossing each as well as a fourth stroke to the right as N20).

There are also two different forms of the numeral “one” that contain nine short strokes, in proto-cuneiform.  In the first of these, a long wedge bears nine horizontal strokes across it (N12).  In the second, a large circular impression contains a “stacked nine” of five strokes over four (N63).  There are many different types of numeral in this system because there were distinct enumerative systems for different types of item.  In much the same way, in modern English, we have special terms for measures of liquids that differ from the terms for weight, which differ yet again from terms for length or distance.  There are eight ounces in a cup, two cups in a pint, two pints in a quart, and four quarts in a gallon (in the U.S., that is).  But when speaking of weight, we say that 16 ounces make a pound, even though “ounce” is the same word in both systems.  In measuring length, we say there are 12 inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, and so on.  If we wrote these varying measures in a proto-cuneiform fashion, we might use N01 numerals for liquid measures, N02 symbols for weight measures, and N08 signs for length measures.
Tablet H-322A with inscription (from right to left): STACKED EIGHT (originally nine?) /
TWO POSTS / POT / COMB (note the marks in the "numeral" are not vertical but diagonal,
which some researchers consider significant; but the COMB also has diagonal "tines" and the
same researchers do not remark on this).

Moving on, the third Indus sign comprising nine strokes is STACKED NINE (3 X 3 X 3), or IX 3.  It occurs in the literature as KP141(b), W227, and Fs N-2.  Fairservis does not consider this a numeral, but describes it as a depiction of a river or stream, meaning “water.”  Since the individual strokes are not perfectly vertical, but “slashes” (and backslashes), it is possible that he is right about this not being simply a second version of “nine.”  Wells, for his part, notes this sign as a singleton from Mohenjo daro (identified as Marshall No. 273).  However, I find one of these at Harappa (H-322) and one from Lothal (L-47).
Proto-cuneiform LUM, "manure" (upper left) and "nine" (N19, upper right);
non-numerical Luwian nu (lower left) and ki (lower right).

Among the Luwian hieroglyphs, there is one that is made up of short, vertical strokes in three rows of three.  It is not a numeral, though it looks like it ought to be.  Instead, it functions as a phonetic symbol, representing the syllable .  There may still be an indirect relationship with a number, though, because “nine” in Luwian derives from Proto-Indo-European *newn (the second "n" needs a small circle beneath it to denote a syllabic nasal) (Watkins 2000: 58).  The Luwian "nine" itself is unknown.  If any of the Indus signs has a phonetic value – a possibility that has yet to be proven – some or all of the apparent numerals might serve a parallel phonetic function. 

Then again, this could be just another way of writing “nine” since proto-cuneiform provides such a parallel.  One variant of the N19 form of “nine” is made up of nine circles, each with two strokes attached to either side, in three rows of three.  Still, there is another analogous proto-cuneiform sign, one made up of stacks of diagonal marks.  In LUM, seven strokes angle one direction alongside another stack of seven strokes, these angling the other direction, and a final set of seven angles like the first.  Thus, the whole symbol resembles a stack of “Z’s” (rotated 90 degrees).  Having no numeric significance, this sign came to mean “manure” and “cloud” (Halloran 2006: 164).

Sometimes elements that resemble numerals are combined with something else, in various writing systems.  In proto-cuneiform, for example, a “stacked eight” of four strokes over four appears beneath a chevron, the whole thing rotated 90 degrees (GI6).  This came to mean “night, shade.”  Thus, while it appears numerical, the presence of the chevron changes its function to a semantic one.  Similarly, in Luwian, a “stacked four” is bracketed by two lines resembling elongated “Z” shapes to form ki, perhaps the first syllable in a word meaning “fourth, quarter” or something similar (< Proto-Indo-European *kwetwer- / *kwetwor; Watkins 2000: 45).
Tablet H-205 with inscription (from right to left): DIAMOND WITH BACKSLASH / CUP /

Indus signs provide a parallel, with STACKED SEVEN BETWEEN PARENTHESES (IX 4), also known as KP136(b) and W204.  Wells notes a total of 16 occurrences, with two from Mohenjo daro, two from Harappa, and 12 from Lothal.  Of the last group, items L-161 through L-170 are duplicates.  There is also SEVEN QUOTES BETWEEN PARENTHESES (IX5).  It appears in the literature as KP136(a) and W214, a singleton from Harappa (H-156).  A third example may be a variant of the latter, SEVEN POSTS BETWEEN PARENTHESES (IX 6).  It appears only in Wells’ list, as W215, where it is a singleton from Chandigarh (Ch-2).  The distinction between “quotes” (or short strokes) and “posts” (or long strokes) is not always entirely clear, especially where there are no other signs for comparison.  But in these two cases, the distinction is clear enough. 
Inscription Ch-1 (right to left): DUBYA / SEVEN POSTS BETWEEN PARENTHESES / POT.

Not all the nine-stroke symbols appear to be numerals, though.  There is another STRIPED MALLET (IX 7), this one with three internal stripes.  It is also identified as KP280, variant “B” of W470, and Fs N-10.  Fairservis suggests that it represents a sign for a place, perhaps in the sense of a determinative like Egyptian O49 (a “fat ex” in a circle).  Wells finds a total of 23 occurrences of striped “mallets,” but does not indicate which ones contain what number of stripes.  They appear at Mohenjo daro, Harappa, Lothal, and Kalibangan.  However, I see this or a similar sign 16 times at Harappa and 20 times at Mohenjo daro, in addition to the single instance from Lothal and that from Kalibangan.  If my count is correct, then there are 38 in all.
Detail from seal H-1 with inscription: FAT EX / BATTERY / STRIPED MALLET (3 stripes) / CARTWHEEL.

The next sign is CAGED MALLET (IX 8), also KP277, W471, and in Fairservis a combaintion of G-9 + P-9.  Fairservis defines the “mallet,” which he sees as an enclosure with a pillar, as “number nine; cow(s).”  The four dots (or short vertical strokes) surrounding the central element are drops of milk, he thinks.  Putting these two together makes “tribute (of milk cattle); to flow (as with water).”  Since there are several better possibilities for a “nine,” I think it most unlikely that the “mallet” element has that meaning.  In any case, Wells cites three examples of the CAGED MALLET, one from Mohenjo daro and two from Harappa.  I see three from Mohenjo daro and three from Harappa (two of the latter being duplicates), giving a slightly larger total of six occurrences.
Detail from seal H-67 with inscription: SINGLE POST / CAGED MALLET.

We come to a very peculiar sign next, STRIPED MALLET BETWEEN BI-QUOTES (IX 9).  It appears as a separate symbol only in Wells’ list (W474), one which he thinks is a singleton.  However, I see quite a few duplicates of the copper tablets bearing this sign: M-519 through M521, M-575 through M-577, and M-592.  If each object bearing the sign is counted, there are seven occurrences.  Some scholars count elements in the duplicates only once apiece.  Following this procedure, there are three distinct occurrences.  In each case, the “striped mallet” portion is adorned with a short “quote” mark on each side of the “handle,” near the top. 
Tablet M-592A with broken inscription (right to left): MAN HOLDING QUOTE / STRIPED MALLET BETWEEN BI-QUOTES / SINGLE QUOTE (?) / MAN HOLDING POST / DOUBLE GRIDS (note that "shield" on B side, right, is not listed as a sign, although other symbols found in the same context -- alone on the "B" side of a tablet -- are so listed).

While there are no parallels for the four-mark “caging” that appears so often in the Indus script, I do find an analog for this peculiar two-mark “cage.”  It occurs in proto-cuneiform, where TAR~a – which alone resembles the Indus BI-QUOTES – appears in combination with other elements to form additional signs.  Alone, this symbol came to mean “to cut, separate.”
Tablet M-519A with inscription (right to left): POTTED TRIPLE SLASHES (?) / CUPPED TRIPLE SLASHES (?) / MAN HOLDING QUOTE / STRIPED MALLET BETWEEN BI-QUOTES / SINGLE POST / MAN HOLDING POST / DOUBLE GRIDS (probably the same inscription as on M-592).

The last sign for this post is EXIT UNDER TABLE (IX 10).  It is a singleton, elsewhere known as KP286 and W478.  I reminds me of an Old Chinese character, ting2, “the phonetic ding1 [which resembles our letter “T”]...replaced the [mouth, later a square] at the bottom [of a previously discussed character, gao1]....Pavilion, terrace” (Wieger 1965: 191).

Detail from seal M-742 with inscription: EXIT UNDER TABLE / PINCH / TWO POSTS / DIAMOND / MAN.
Proto-cuneiform, which so often provides parallels, does not have a similar sign.  There are elements resembling thicker versions of the “table” (ZATU 750), other symbols comparable to the “exit” (ZATU 737 and |ZATU 737 x SZE~a1|).  And there are signs made up of one symbol beside or beneath another (e.g., |SILA3~a x HI|).  But these individual pieces do not combine in a manner resembling the Indus EXIT UNDER TABLE.  This will become a familiar pattern as we proceed through the remainder of the Indus signs, those containing nine or more strokes.  The more complex signs have analogs much less often than the simple ones, with a few notable exceptions.  But I will have more to say about this later.
Old Chinese ting2, "pavilion."
And proto-cuneiform:
ZATU 737, three variants.

Ten Rare Indus Signs

Seal M-1228 with inscription: DOWN LOOP (?) / FAT LEG LAMBDA (?) / SINGLE QUOTE (?) (note the scratched surface, which apparently led other researchers to interpret the first sign as having "F" shaped prongs).

This discussion treats the last of the eight-stroke Indus signs, beginning with POT TOPPED CIRCLE (VIII 56).  This symbol appears in the literature only in Wells’ list (W191) where it is listed as a singleton from Mohenjo daro.  The item this sign appears on is identified there as MacKay No. 318, which may indicate that it is not in the two first volumes of the Corpus.  As such, I have not seen it.  However, I have found an element that is similar (M-1228).  This is one I mentioned previously, LOOP WITH EF PRONGED TAIL, a six-stroke sign that is probably a mistake.  The seal on which it occurs is quite scratched and the symbols are rudely executed.  It appears to me that the loop (or circle) is intentional, but the prongs are simply scratches.  But others must judge this for themselves.

Luwian glyph ORIENS "east," proto-cuneiform ZATU 632~b, and Cretan glyph O11 si (?).

There are vaguely similar signs elsewhere.  Luwian glyph 192, ORIENS “east,” is a very thin, tall rectangle with four prongs rising from its sides.  Proto-cuneiform provides a better analog with ZATU632~b, a pointed oval with prongs at the ends, as if it were drawn with overlapping “C” shapes.  Finally, Cretan hieroglyphs include a roughly circular symbol with horizontal prongs, but also dots inside.  It somewhat resembles an animal’s face (O11, perhaps si).
Indus sign VIII 57 and proto-cuneiform ZATU 699~b.

Sign VIII 57 is CIRCLE TOPPED WITH TRI-FORK AND DOUBLE LASHES.  It appears elsewhere only in the list by Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP357).  Again, I have not seen this.  It may be a symbol found on K-104 from Kalibangan, which seems to have a “fork” attached but no lashes (or the lashes without the fork).  Proto-cuneiform again yields a distant analog, this time with ZATU699~b, which may represent a bug.
Detail from seal M-12 with inscription: SKEWERED DONUT / DEE-SLASH / VEES IN FIGURE EIGHT /

The next symbol, VEES IN FIGURE EIGHT, resembles crossed eyes (VIII 58), although they are arranged vertically rather than horizontally.  It is also known as KP386 and W365.  This sign is twice as frequent as the previous ones, because it occurs twice, once at Mohenjo daro and once at Harappa.  That is Wells’ count, at least.  Apparently, he does not count duplicates as there are actually two occurrences at the latter city (H-183 and H-184).

In proto-cuneiform, a circle often functions as a numeral, with two circles representing “two” (more or less – it is actually quite a bit more complicated).  Another “two” is made up of the same two circles, impressed into the clay with the rounded end of a stylus, and a diagonal stroke attached to each.  There is also a symbol for “one” made of two wedge-shaped impressions that overlap.
Seal M-982 with inscription: BI-QUOTES / CROSS-HATCHED CIRCLED / POT
(note that BI-QUOTES, analyzed as the constant that ends a prefix, theoretically
should not appear in initial position -- which it does here).

The fifty-eighth of the eight-stroke signs is CROSS-HATCHED CIRCLE (VIII 58), also known as KP376 and W367.  Wells and I agree that it occurs twice, once at Mohenjo daro and once at Lothal.  And once more proto-cuneiform obliges with an analogous circle, cross-hatched either with horizontal and vertical strokes or with diagonal strokes.  This is SIG2, which came to mean “hair, wool, fur, hide.”
Indus sign VIII 59 and Egyptian glyph T23.

With the following symbol, DOUBLE CHEVRONS ON POST WITH STRIPES (VIII 59), the situation is rather murky.  It appears as KP116 but nowhere else in the literature, so I am uncertain of its existence in the Corpus.  It may be an element appearing on a pot sherd from Rahman dheri (Rhd-79).  As such, it could be a potter’s mark rather than an Indus sign proper.
Old Chinese gan1 and yi4, a pestle and a repeated attack.

There is a barbed arrowhead among the Egyptian hieroglyphs that resembles the Indus sign a bit (T23).  It is an ideograph in snw, “two” and sn, “brother.”  This seems peculiar since one normally thinks of ideographs as pictorial symbols that mean what they depict.  But Egyptian often has such elements, which are used for their rebus value in that ancient language.
Old Chinese wu3 and shi3, another pestle and an arrow.

Old Chinese presents better parallels.  The character gan1 is a “Y” with a horizontal crossing stroke, meaning “a pestle...to grind, to destroy; morally, to oppose, to offend against” (Wieger 1965:246).  It resembles an upside-down version of the Indus sign, with the first “chevron” straightened out.  Another character, yi4, has an additional “chevron” or “vee” at the bottom.  “This...is gan1 doubled (though incompletely) to mean that the attack was repeated, because it met with resistance,” Wieger suggests.  In both these cases, the “chevrons” are actually “V” shapes, making the character seem to be an inverted version of the Indus VIII 59.

Another character includes a proper chevron, as well as the horizontal stroke: wu3, “a pestle....To hit, to offend” (1965:298).  And again, another character is the same except for an additional chevron at the base: shi3, “an arrow...On the top, the barb; at the bottom, the feathers” (1965: 300).
Three variants of proto-cuneiform TI, "arrow."

But proto-cuneiform presents the best analog, a skewered triangle with a chevron at the bottom.  This is an arrow again, TI, which may be written horizontally or vertically, with stripes inside the triangle or with an empty triangle.
Detail from seal M-17 with inscription: FOOTED STOOL WITH DOUBLE EARS /

Our sixtieth Indus sign is CIRCLED TRIPLE BRICK (VIII 60).  Wells alone shows this, assigning two different identifying numbers (W351 and W373).  The distinction seems to depend on the orientation of the “triple brick” inside the circle.  If we combine both of his signs, there are 10 occurrences, still too few for statistical analysis but many more than any of the other signs we have dealt with in this post.  However, Wells and I have a serious disagreement here, because I see only his W373 as this symbol (M-17).  All of the others that he cites appear to me to include a “bisected rectangle” inside the circle rather than the tri-partite grouping that Wells notes.  Of these (W351), there are six from Mohenjo daro, two from Harappa, one from Lothal, and one that he missed from Khirsara.
Proto-cuneiform TUG2~a @ g (two versions).

Whatever the precise symbol and its frequency, it has an analog in proto-cuneiform TUG2.  This sign is a circle with something inside, either a “ladder” shape or a similar one with diagonal “rungs.”  It came to mean “cloth, garment, robe.”
Broken seal M-1014 with (partial) inscription: FOOT (?) / CUPPED STRIPED SPOON /

Now there is a ligature, CAGED OVERLAPPING CIRCLES (VIII 61).  Also known as KP350 and W362, it occurs three times, always at Mohenjo daro (although I would add one more to this list).  We have seen OVERLAPPING CIRCLES before.  We have also seen other signs surrounded by four “quotes,” in the fashion that Wells terms a “cage.”  But this is the first instance of the combination.

The following sign is a different ligature, even more rare, TRI-FORK ON OVERLAPPING CIRCLES.  Also known as KP351 and W387, it is another ligature, one which Wells cites as occurring on MacKay XCIII 2.  I see this on M-605 from Mohenjo daro.  Fairservis does not list this item, though he defines OVERLAPPING CIRCLES as the numeral eight and the affixed “tri-fork” as “fire.”  Does this imply that VIII 62 means “eight fires”?  Does it mean “eighth fire”?  Or does it mean something else entirely?
Detail from seal H-465 with inscription: STACKED TRIPLE CIRCLES BETWEEN POSTS / POT.

The penultimate sign in this post is STACKED TRIPLE CIRCLES BETWEEN POSTS (VIII 63), also known as KP354 and W371.  It is yet another singleton, this time from Harappa (H-465).  Once again, we have seen the basic elements, of which this sign is composed, previously.  But this is there first (and only) combination.

The final eight-stroke sign appears only as KP134 in the literature, four “roofs” stacked upon one another.  I list it here though I have not seen it, as FOUR ROOFS (VIII 64).  Fairservis, too, notes only three, not four of these stacked elements.  He thinks they are fingernail markings in origin, perhaps enumerative.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eight-Stroke Cups and Pots

Indus CUPPED QUINT-FORK (upper left), with analogs: Old Chinese shou3, "a prefect" (upper right),
Luwian OCCIDENS, "west" (middle row, left), proto-cuneiform |DUG~b x SZE~a|, a standard jar
with barley inside(middle row, right), and proto-cuneiform |GAN~c x SZE~a|,
a large pitcher with barley inside (bottom).

Previously, I discussed an Indus sign I term CUPPED TRI-FORK, a “U” shaped symbol with a trident inside.  Today’s first sign for discussion is the same except that inside there is a five-pronged “fork,” an element I call a QUINT-FORK.  Thus, the forty-seventh sign in my list of eight-stroke symbols is CUPPED QUINT-FORK (VIII 47).  I did not see this sign in the Corpus, but it occurs in the list of symbols prepared by Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP323).  We can assume that, if it actually occurs, it resembles the CUPPED TRI-FORK (e.g., M-760).

In proto-cuneiform, there is an element representing an ear of grain, specifically barley (SZE).  This sign sometimes occurs inside another that resembles a pot or vessel of some kind, e.g., |DUG~b x SZE~a| and |GAN~c x SZE~a|.  This is the standard method of transcription, placing the two signs between straight brackets to indicate that one is inside the other, and listing the container first, separated from the second by the symbol “x.”  If we were to transcribe Indus signs in a similar manner, we might describe sign VIII 47 as follows: |CUP x QUINT-FORK|.

The proto-cuneiform containers in these two symbols came to have a specific meaning in later Sumerian writing.  GAN became a large pitcher for liquids, while DUG indicated an earthen jar of a standard size, usually 30 liters (but 20 liters at Girsu).  It is possible that the Indus CUP also represents a specific vessel, perhaps even of a standard size.  But such standardization, if it occurred in the Indus Valley, has not been demonstrated archeologically.

Luwian hieroglyphs provide another parallel to sign VIII 47, one which more closely resembles the Indus symbol.  The ideograph OCCIDENS, “west,” is a “U” shaped form with an upside down “J” inside, quite similar to the Indus CUPPED POST (except that the "post" is bent on top, rather like a shepherd's crook).  In this case, no vessel is represented.  The same might well be true for the Indus CUP signs.  Even though they seem to depict bowls or baskets, the "cups" may not convey a meaning related to such containers.
Two Old Chinese parallels to Indus VIII 47: qun1, "granary" (left) and kun4, "weariness" (right).

In Old Chinese, there are two sorts of characters that might be considered parallels to the Indus sign.  The first type is much like the CUPPED TRI-FORK except that the “cup” is inverted, forming a “roof.”  The “trident” is not resting on the base of a container, thus, but appears to be taking shelter.  The character is shou3, “a mandarin, a prefect; the man who, in his tribunal, applies the law” (Wieger 1965: 125).  The second type of character depicts a plant inside a circle (in modern script, a square).  When the inner symbol is a tree, the character is kun4, “weariness, exhaustion...causing one to stop under a tree....a camping under a tree” (1965: 276).  Adding a descending diagonal to the top of the internal tree creates a representation of grain, and enclosing the latter in a circle creates qun1, “a granary, the bundles of corn being enclosed” (1965: 283).
Seal M-306 with inscription: VEE IN DIAMOND / DOWN MAN ON BASE / POTTED DOUBLE SLASHES (erroneously depicted here as POTTED ONE) / CIRCLED TRI-FORK / CRAB / POT // TRIPLE BRICK (note the iconic motif of a man
between tigers, a pose often attributed to Gilgamesh in the Near East -- but with lions).

The second Indus sign today is POTTED DOUBLE SLASHES (VIII 48) which occurs only in the list of signs prepared by Wells (W297).  He notes it as occurring twice at Mohenjo daro.  Koskenniemi and Parpola may not have listed it separately because they assumed it was a variant of POTTED TWO, where the two internal marks are side by side and vertical rather than stacked and diagonal.
Luwian ki (upper left) and CAELUM, "sky" (upper right),
proto-cuneiform BUR~b (lower left) "meal; stone bowl" and KU6~a @ s, "fish" (lower right).

In any case, there are a few parallels in other scripts.  Proto-cuneiform has a symbol made up of a semi-circle with two strokes inside, BUR~b (other variants have “a” 6 lines inside, “b” 6 dots inside and 9 above, and “d” 4 lines inside).  Less “U” shaped, KU6~a@s is an angular “pot” that also has prongs on the outside, like the Indus POT, as well as an item inside.  Here, though, the internal element is not a collection of enigmatic strokes but a symbol representing a fish, which is also the meaning of the sign.
Tablet M-519A with inscription (from right to left): POTTED DOUBLE SLASHES (looks like 3 to me) /
MAN HOLDING POST / DOUBLE GRIDS (signs are quite difficult to see on the original).

Luwian hieroglyphs include CAELUM, “sky,” another semi-circle with internal strokes (four short verticals and a single horizontal).  Then there is a syllabic sign, ki, which brackets a “stacked four” with zigzag marks.
Detail from seal M-713 with inscription: TRI-FORK TOPPED POT WITH ATTACHED QUOTE / BI-QUOTES //

Our third symbol is TRI-FORK TOPPED POT WITH ATTACHED POST (VIII 49), also known as KP335 and W322.  It is a singleton from Mohenjo-daro (M-84).  Likewise, TRI-FORK TOPPED POT WITH ATTACHED QUOTE (VIII 50), also known as KP336 and W323, occurs only once at Mohenjo daro (M-713).  These two symbols might be considered a single sign in two variants.  However, the long vertical or “post” or the first appears to the right of the “pot,” while the short vertical or “quote” of the second occurs to the left of the “pot.”  Besides the length of the vertical stroke and the side it appears on, the symbols also differ in the attaching line.  This element is horizontal in the first case, diagonal in the second.
Top row: Indus signs VIII49 (left) and VIII50 (right);
bottom row: Cretan hieroglyph 057 ki (left) and Egyptian A38 (right).

I find just a single parallel, in Cretan hieroglyph (O57), a type of “U” shape set on a short post and attached to a short vertical by a connecting line.  This may indicate the syllable ki.
Seal K-43 with inscription (left to right and top to bottom): CRAB / REVERSED CRAB / POTTED TWO //

The following Indus sign is the POTTED TWO (VIII 51), found elsewhere as KP326, W291, and Fs Q-17.  Fairservis shows it as a combination of two simpler signs, his J-5 (the POT) and P-2 (BI-QUOTES).  He suggests that the combination means “high place; a proper name (?).”  Wells notes its 22 occurrences, 17 from Mohenjo daro, two from Harappa, one from Lothal, and two more from Kalibangan.  I think there may be as many as 22 from Mohenjo daro and seven from Harappa, which, added to those from Lothal and Kalibangan, add up to 32 in all.
Copper tablet M-551A with inscription (right to left): STRIPED TRIANGLE / GRID /
FLANGE-TOPPED POT (c) / POT (icon on side B has a head on duplicates).

Next, we come to the very interesting Indus symbol I call FLANGE TOPPED POT (VIII 52), also known as KP332(d), W306, and Fs J-7.  Fairservis thinks it represents a quantity of metal as, he says, most occurrences are on copper tablets, items that he sees as tokens for storage records.  Wells also notes that most of the 13 occurrences are on copper tablets (11 from Mohenjo daro and two from Harappa), suggests that this sign represents the hare which also appears on some of these tablets.  The “flanges” are to be interpreted as the hare’s ears, he suggests.  He also shows three different variants.  In his “a” variant, the “flanges” are attached inside the “U” shape of the “pot.”  In this type, there are two stripes inside each “flange.”  In Wells’ “b” variant, these elements are more like flags, both “blowing” the same direction – so one is inside the “pot” and one outside.  Now there is only one stripe in each.  Finally, while the “c” variant shows flag-like flanges, these have no internal stripes.
Seal H-47 with inscription: FAT CHEVRON / STRIPED FLANGE TOPPED POT (b) / POT.

Among the Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is one in which a man stands inside a large “U” shape, grasping each side (A38).  At the top of each upright side, there is an outward-facing “flange.”  In this case, the glyph is a representation of a man holding the necks of two emblematic animals and the “flanges” are actually the heads of panthers when shown in detail.  This glyph – or a variant in which the whole animals appear – is an ideograph for the town of Cusae in Upper Egypt.  Could the Indus sign be something similar, an emblem representing a town?  The majority of the tablets on which the symbol occurs come from a single town, Mohenjo daro, which might seem to support such a notion.  However, the majority of all seals and tablets come from this same town, with the result that most of the rare signs appear mostly – or solely – at Mohenjo daro.

Proto-cuneiform does not present an exact parallel, but there is a “T” shaped sign that has various types of “ears” on top, two tall and pointed ovals, two triangles, or simply two prongs.  The sign is GESZTU, regarding of the type of “ears,” which came to mean “ear, hearing, understanding, intelligence.”  Interestingly, other variants of this sign lack the “T” element at the base and include only the two “ears.”  The fact that this much variation is found in a single sign may suggest that the FLANGE TOPPED POT could be a variant of a simpler sign as well, perhaps another type of POT.  To test this hypothesis, we should examine the contexts of sign VIII 52.  If it co-occurs with another POT, the two are most likely not the same sign.  But if it never occurs with another POT, then it might be a variant (I will report on whether such co-occurrences occur or not in a later post, when my computer -- with its database of inscriptions -- has been resuscitated).  In any case, there is also a flanged “U” shape – though inverted– in Luwian. It represents the syllable sa.
Seal M-394 with inscription: CUPPED SPOON / THREE POSTS / SINGLE QUOTE //
STRIPED FLANGE TOPPED POT / POT (note the number of stripes in this "a" variant).
Luwian sa (upper left) and three variants of proto-cuneiform GESZTU, "ear, hearing."

After this, there is EX IN TRI-FORK TOPPED POT, found only in the form of KP333.  I do not see it in the Corpus, though it is possible that one of the scratched and obscure seals bears it, or one of the very dark copper tablets.  In many cases, the signs are hard to read and I may have overlooked this variation on the “pot” theme.  However that may be, proto-cuneiform includes two signs that are roughly similar.  One is |DUG~b x MASZ|, in which an earthen pot contains a cross; the other is |DUG~b x KASKAL|, in which the same pot contains an “X” of doubled lines.  In both cases, the combination creates a meaning not easily determined from the parts.  DUG is the standard sized earthen pot I mentioned earlier, which might lead one to expect the internal symbol to represent what is in the pot.  However, MASZ is a he-goat, while KASKAL is a caravan, road, or journey.  Neither lends itself to containment in an earthen pot.  The point is, we cannot assume that Indus symbols that contain sign combinations are to be interpreted as a simple combination of meanings.  Even if we discover the meaning of the Indus “X” and that of the Indus TRI-FORK TOPPED POT, we may not know anything about the EX IN TRI-FORK TOPPED POT.

Indus sign VIII53 as it might appear (upper left) and two proto-cuneiform parallels:
|DUG~b x MASZ| (upper right) and |DUG~b x KASKAL| (lower right).

The last of the apparent containers for this post is CUPPED SPOON ON THREE PRONGS (VIII 54).  It appears as KP317(a), but not in the lists by Wells or Fairservis.  I have not seen this particular symbol, once again, though there is a similar sign on three duplicates from Harappa (H-226, H-227, H-228).  In this case, the CUP rests on four or five, not three, prongs.
Bas relief tablet H-228 with inscription (right to left): CUPPED SPOON ON FIVE PRONGS /

Proto-cuneiform does not have such a symbol, although UMBIN~b1 is an outlined “U” shape with numerous prongs.  It came to mean “claw, nail, talon” and thus does not represent a container.  Another symbol is |DUG~b x 1(N57)|, in which that same standard pot contains a single stroke, representing the numeral one.  the Indus “spoon” finds a parallel in ZATU 680~a1, although this is more like a lollipop – a circle attached to a post.  Its meaning is unknown.  And there seems to be no case of this ZATU “spoon/lollipop” inside a pot.

Proto-cuneiform UMBIN~b1, "claw, talon" (upper left), |DUG~b x 1(N57)| (upper right),
Cretan hieroglyph 055 ke (?) (bottom center), and proto-cuneiform ZATU696 (lower right).

Cretan hieroglyphs, on the other hand, do include a very similar symbol (O55).  It is a “U” shape with an inverted triangle at the top of each side, the whole thing resting on three prongs.  Inside the “U” is a symbol something like three horizontal strokes stacked up, with a diagonal above them.  The sign may indicate the syllable ke.

Detail from seal M-18 with inscription: STACKED TWELVE / POT // HUT UNDER CHEVRON.

Today’s final sign is neither a “pot” nor a “cup,” but is basically “U” shaped like them.  The “U” is inverted here, in my terms a “roof,” with two diagonal lines through it, two verticals beneath it, and a chevron above it: HUT UNDER CHEVRON (VIII 55).  It appears elsewhere as KP341 and W570, a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-18).  It vaguely resembles proto-cuneiform |SILA3~a x GA~a|, a cross-hatched triangle on two outlined “legs,” all beneath a “chevron” that includes a wedge-shaped mark at the apex.  This symbol is rotated 90 degrees compared to the Indus sign, as is typical.  The two parts came to mean “street, road” and “milk.”  Again, the meaning of the combination cannot be derived simply by adding the definitions of the two signs of which it seems to be made.

Proto-cuneiform sign |SILA3~a x GA~a|, "road" plus "milk" = ?

I close this post with an observation.  All the signs described here, and indeed in most of my posts, are rare symbols.  Very few of the Indus signs occur as many as 100 times and a mere handful occur hundreds of times.  This is true however one counts and groups the signs.  This is also the case with symbols in proto-cuneiform and in proto-Elamite.  The vast majority are singletons or rare signs, with a small core appearing often.  In these two cases, enough is known of the scripts to determine that both were proto-writing systems.  This means that neither system was closely related to the language (or languages) spoken by those who wrote these symbols.  The same is very likely true of the Indus script.  It is probably a proto-writing system and, as such, it may not represent any specific language.  I am not the only person to make this observation, not by any means.  But I wish to make it clear that, even should this be proven, it does not indicate that the symbols were meaningless.  The signs had some kind of meaning, even if it was not linguistic.  Just as symbols occur in rock art – where there is no question of it being writing – and just as symbols occur in the sand paintings of the Navaho and other Native Americans, so symbols occur in this “script.”  They were once very meaningful to the people who used them.  When I have described all of the Indus symbols, I will begin to examine some of their possible uses, with a view to demonstrating how non-linguistic symbols convey meaning without being tied closely to language.  But that will have to be in another post.

Milagros -- examples of modern non-linguistic symbols.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Birds, Fishes, and Possibly an Indus Squirrel

Seal M-222 with inscription: PRAWN / COW LEG / HEADLESS BIRD.

The thirty-eighth Indus sign among those drawn with eight strokes is another version of the COW LEG (VIII 37), also known as KP45, W155, and Fs D-4.  Fairservis identifies it as an animal haunch or leg representing a mountain tribe.  How he can be certain it does not mean “leg” or “hoof,” I cannot say.  In any case, while there are a number of these leg signs, VIII 37 is the only one comprising eight strokes.  Wells notes two of them total but only one of this particular form (M-222).

But it is a relatively common type of symbol in ancient scripts.  Egyptian makes use of a very similar glyph (F25).  This is ideographic in the word whmt, “hoof” and, oddly enough, in the homophonous word for donkeys.  (In a similar fashion, there is a glyph of a bird’s leg and claw, a phonetic biliteral found in the name of the land of Š3t).

There is also an ox or cow hoof in Luwian, a glyph representing the syllable (presumably a syllable found in the word for “leg” or “hoof”).  Another such symbol appears in Cretan hieroglyphs, perhaps representing the syllable ze (O45).  There is also a leg-like sign in proto-cuneiform, UMBIN~a, “nail, claw, hoof.”
Detail from heavily abraded seal M-929 with (partial?) inscription: CIRCLED VEE / BIRD (and SINGLE QUOTE?).

The next sign, VIII 38, is BIRD, found elsewhere as KP66 (which actually contains 11 strokes), W104, and Fs B-2.  Fairservis thinks it is a peacock, though apparently one without a tail (a peahen?).  He suggests it represents three similar-sounding words in Dravidian, pīli, “tail,” pilli, “sorcery,” and piļļe, “child.”  I have to say, while there is some logic to using a rebus to represent an abstract concept such as sorcery, I can see no reason why the Harappans would not simply draw a child to represent a child.  But even if they were inclined to avoid drawing people when possible (which does not seem to be the case), I find it hard to believe that a symbol that represents the phonemes /p/ and /l/ would be used to represent /p/ and /ļ/.  The two sounds represented with the letter “l” are as significantly different in Dravidian languages as the similarly related sounds /d/ and /t/ are in English.  Still, one cannot be too dogmatic about what ancient people would or would not have done, in the absence of evidence.

What type of bird is intended by this symbol is not entirely clear, as there are several bird-like signs in the Indus script.  This one is turned so that, while its head is at the top, the legs are both facing sideways.  This may be an orientation used to save space on small, often-crowded seals.  But, in addition, there seems to be an additional short stroke by the head of the bird, on the single seal where this particular variation occurs (M-929).  Wells leaves this stroke out in his listing, as do Koskenniemi and Parpola.  But Fairservis includes this tidbit, presumably representing a feather or crest on the bird’s head.  On the seal, there is certainly an indentation in this area, but its interpretation is up to the viewer.  It does not seem to be attached to the bird, so it may be the SINGLE QUOTE.  It could also be nothing more than a scratch and not a symbol (or part thereof).
Detail from Egyptian hieratic writing in the Book of the Dead, showing several birds (highlighted in blue). 
The two with prongs on their heads are owls (representing the consonant "m"),
those with loop heads are chicks (representing the semi-consonant "w"),
and the long-billed and long-legged one is an ibis.

Birds are fairly common in ancient scripts.  Proto-cuneiform includes several, NAM~a being the closest in form, a word that came to mean “barn swallow” or “sparrow.”  Other bird symbols lack the legs and feet found on this one and represent other types of birds.  Egyptian also uses a variety of bird symbols, each type of bird representing something distinct, whether an actual bird or a sound.  The quail chick (G43) is the most common, representing the semi-consonant w.  But there are also ducks, sparrows, owls, swallows, plovers, and falcons, among others.
Two variants of Luwian glyph zi4, representing a bird of prey (an eagle?).

Old Chinese has niao3, “a bird with a long tail” (Wieger 1965: 307).  It is now the 196th radical, used to mean simply “bird.”  Another character originally had a short tail, zhui1, now the 172nd radical.  It now means “short-tailed bird” even though it no longer resembles a bird in any way.  Luwian includes variants of a predatory bird, perhaps an eagle, representing the syllable zi4.
Old Chinese birds, niao3 (above) and zhui1 (below), representing long-tailed and short-tailed birds, respectively.

The next Indus sign is CAGED FISH (VIII 39), found elsewhere as KP51 and W118.  Fairservis lists the FISH as a symbol, suggesting that the addition of the four dots around a sign indicate the plural.  Wells notes 21 occurrences of this ligature, 15 from Mohenjo daro, one from Harappa, three from Lothal, one from Chanhujo daro, and one from Rupar.  I see all those that Wells mentions and more.  Thus, I conclude that there are 31 in all, the one from Rupar and the three from Lothal, all right, but also two from Chanhujo daro, two from Banawali, one from Balakot, two from Harappa, and as many as 21 from Mohenjo daro (two of which are questionable).
Tablet Rpr-1 with inscription (right to left): RAKE / CAGED FISH / COMB.

It is interesting to note how commonly “caging,” as Wells terms it, is found among Indus signs.  This term indicates the placement of four dots around another sign as if to place it in a box, but with only the corners represented.  It is one of the more frequent types of modifying another sign and it is conceivable that it represents a grammatical plural, as Fairservis states.  But it is notable that these four dots always surround the fifth symbol rather than lying in a row above or beneath it (as sometimes occurs in Chinese, as in the character ma3, “horse”) or in a column alongside (as sometimes occurs in Mixtec proto-script as part of a calendrical designation).  It is conceivable that this caging has some reference to the cardinal directions, north, south, east, and west.  In many cultures, people associate a particular deity, animal, color, etc. with a particular cardinal direction.  However, I must admit that some people count more than four directions.  The Chinese have five (including the center) and the Mongols at times counted six (including up and down).  The four dots might also represent the four seasons, although again, some people count fewer than four or more than four.  My point is that we should not be too quick to assume we can fathom a specific reason for this type of caging.
Detail of seal M-928 with inscription: SINGLE POST / CUPPED POST / STRIPED LOOP UNDER CHEVRON.

Be that as it may, our next symbol is another fish-like element, this one without side “fins,” given horizontal stripes, and placed beneath a chevron.  Previously, I referred to this “finless fish” as LOOP, so this sign is STRIPED LOOP UNDER CHEVRON.  Koskenniemi and Parpola note a single sign of this type (KP48).  But Wells notes at least three variations on this theme.  His sign W121 has two variants, one with four internal strokes and one with five (thus, nine strokes total).  His W136 also has four stripes but is distinct in that the “chevron” rests directly on the “loop.”  He notes seven occurrences of the first sign, without distinguishing which variant occurs how often (four from Mohenjo daro and three from Harappa).  Where the chevron sits directly on the loop, he sees only one (M-25).  I see ten altogether, seven from Mohenjo daro (including W136) as well as the three from Harappa.

Proto-cuneiform includes an obscure sign that resembles a finless fish in outline and which contains internal stripes (ZATU 784).  There is nothing equivalent to the Indus “chevron” associated with this Near Eastern symbol, however.  And, unfortunately, the meaning is unknown.

The next Indus sign is a “fish” bracketed by parentheses, with the small triangle that I term an “ear” attached on one side.  I term this sign FISH BETWEEN PARENS WITH EAR (VIII 41).  It appears only in Wells’ list, as W125.  He notes four occurrences, all from Mohenjo daro.  I find nine of them, including several on tablets containing duplicate inscriptions (M-572 through 574 and M-1520 through 1522).
Broken seal H-442 with (partial?) inscription: FISH BETWEEN DOUBLED POSTS / FAT EX IN DIAMOND.

There is also a FISH BETWEEN DOUBLED POSTS (VIII 42), again appearing only in Wells’ list (W139).  This symbol – if it is a single symbol and not a series of three – is a singleton from Harappa according to Wells.  I find two from that city (H-442 and 443) as well as one from Kot Diji (Kd-7).
Detail from seal M-309 (square seal without an icon): POTTED ONE / TRIPLE FINNED FISH /

Next, another “fish” seems to have three fins on each side: TRIPLE FINNED FISH (VIII 43).  This version occurs elsewhere as KP64 and W142, a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-315).  While most of the fish-like symbols may represent real fishes, it is possible that this one originated as an insect with multiple legs.  Compare proto-cuneiform |SUKUD@g~d| which came to mean “height; high,” and Cretan hieroglyph 005 (a syllable beginning with “r”).  All three symbols are made up of an oval with various strokes added around the sides.
Seal M-309 with inscription: CIRCLED FAT EX / BI-QUOTES // LAMBDA / POT //
FISH BETWEEN POSTS WITH EAR (?) (final sign might also be seen as POT LID / FISH / SINGLE POST).

There is also a FISH BETWEEN POSTS WITH EAR (VIII 44), found only in Wells’ (W146).  It is yet another singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-309).  Bracketing is fairly common in the Indus script, there are various types of “brackets,” some resembling a single vertical line on either side of a third symbol, some resembling parentheses or reversed parentheses, elongated “S” shapes, and occasionally doubled verticals.  The addition of an “ear” is less frequent, but also found on various symbols.  The use of two such modifications at once is rare, so that appearances such as this one might be interpreted differently (as POT LID / FISH / SINGLE POST, in this instance).  If the various elements are correctly interpreted as a single symbol, this is reminiscent of the rather unsystematic modification of basic signs in proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite, termed gunification.  In these proto-scripts, such modification usually indicates a narrowing of the meaning of the basic sign.  Thus, gunification of a symbol meaning “sheep” may indicate the sex of the animal(s), the age, or both at once.  It is quite possible that bracketing and other types of modification in the Indus script (adding an “ear” or a “tri-fork”) serve a similar function.

Along these lines, there is a single instance of a DOUBLY WHISKERED FISH (VIII45), also known as KP62(b) and W134.  It comes from Chanhujo daro (C-21).  Strictly speaking, the sign depicted in the list of the first authors has four “whiskers,” while it has five in the second list.  I cannot quite tell how many the actual symbol contains.  However that may be, the sign has no exact counterpart in the scripts I have compared it to.  The closest analog is proto-cuneiform |(SUKUD + SUKUD)~a|, “height.”  This resembles a finless fish with an open mouth, a mouth which is emphasized by additional strokes – though these additions are inside the “fish” rather than outside.
Seal M-1202 with inscription: OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / PALM SQUIRREL / POT //
RAKE / WINGED MAN / POT (in place of the first POT one might expect POTTED ONE,
but that does not appear to be the case; thus the inscription may contain two units of information).

The final sign discussed here is one which Parpola identifies as a palm squirrel (1998: ).  I do not know whether it is intended to depict this animal or not, but the term for it is useful.  Thus, I call it SQUIRREL (VIII 46), also known as KP300, W149, and Fs I-12.  Fairservis does not see it as an animal, despite the “legs.”  He states that it is a plow, meaning “to plough, ploughing, ploughed.”  His reproduction of the symbol gives it only three “legs,” while each of the four variants included in Wells’ list have four (two or three from Mohenjo daro, one or two from Harappa, and one from Nindowari damb).  The variations differ in the shape of the “head” (loop, line, or semi-circle), the shape of the “body” (semi-circle or oval), the shape of the “tail.”  But in all of these, the “head” is at the base, the “legs” on one side, and the “tail” curves or bends back over the “body.”  Parpola sees this orientation as significant, representing the characteristic posture of the palm squirrel on a tree trunk.
Bas-relief tablet H-771 with inscription: DOUBLE POSTS /
SQUIRREL (I've left out one of the three "legs") / OVERLAPPING CIRCLES.

Quadrupeds from other scripts: Egyptian Seth animal (above) and monkey
(lower right -- cf. tail), Old Chinese dragon (lower left).
However, rotating a symbol for writing purposes often occurs elsewhere without such real-world significance.  The Egyptian monkey typically has its four legs downward, as the real animal would stand, but this script often includes glyphs turned differently in order to squeeze more symbols in a smaller space or for esthetic reasons.  In proto-cuneiform, there is an apparent quadruped which typically has its legs all on one side (ZATU 703).  And in Old Chinese, while some characters that originally depict animals have legs underneath (e.g., ma3, “horse”), others have legs on one side (e.g., shu3, “rat, rodent”).  So, the Indus symbol might well represent a palm squirrel, but it is also possible that it depicts some other animal, one that normally runs on the ground but it “written” sideways to save space.

Seal Nd-1 with inscription: SQUIRREL / PINCH / STACKED 6 / TRI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT / FLAIL / BLANKET / FISH / CIRCLED VEE (note the non-linear arrangement of some symbols, probably due to crowding).

Quadrupeds found on punch-marked coins of later India: gharial with fish (upper left), frog (upper right),
cat (?) (left, second row), fish (right, second row), donkey (left, third row), zebu (lower left), prawn or insect (?) (lower right).