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).
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.
|Parallels of Indus POTTED TWO and POTTED DOUBLE SLASHES:|
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.
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 //|
THREE TOED FOOT / CIRCLED TRI-FORK / CAGED SLASH IN FISH.
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 //|
POTTED TWO / BARBELL / STACKED THREE / TRI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT.
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.
|Seal H-58 with inscription: FISH UNDER CHEVRON / DOT IN FISH / STRIPED FLANGE TOPPED POT (b)|
/ POT // AY OVER FOUR QUOTES / CIRCLED TRI-FORK / POT HATTED BEARER.
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 / |
DOUBLE BACK CEES / POT HATTED BEARER / COMB.
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.|