Wednesday, June 1, 2011

From a Yoke Bearer to a Fat Zee: Ten Indus Signs

Seal K-49 with inscription: THREE QUOTES / STACKED SEVEN / MAN CARRYING SHOULDER YOKE (over a tiger looking back at a person in a tree, a rare iconic motif that may represent a Harappan myth or legend).

Today’s first sign is MAN CARRYING SHOULDER YOKE (or BIG SHOULDERED MAN), which is the twenty-seventh of the eight-stroke signs (VIII 27).  It is found elsewhere as KP1(b), W21, and Fs A-6.  The name comes from Fairservis’ identification of it as a depiction of a man with a carrying pole or yoke.  He defines it as “guard, guardian.”  Wells notes four occurrences, all from Mohenjo daro, but I see a variation from Kalibangan as well (K-49).

Variants of Old Chinese di4, "the emperor" (a man with long robes, not a man with sticks).

The sole parallel for this sign that I observe outside the Indus Valley is an Old Chinese character, di4, “the Emperor, the man who rules over the Empire..., clad in long robes” (Wieger 1965: 281).  In other words, the “carrying pole” and the strings which seem to dangle from it are not these things at all, here.  Instead, the horizontal and vertical strokes in this character represent the outline and folds of a long robe or cloak.
Indus sign VIII 28 (left) and an Old Chinese representation of a pious son making offerings to the ancestors (right).
Note the similarity in the TRI-FORK on the left and the man's hands on the right.

The second sign for this post is MAN HOLDING TRI-FORK (VIII 28), also known as KP25 and Fs A-26.  Fairservis sees this symbol as a man holding a stalk of grain, meaning “farmer (of grain?), one who keeps order (in farming).”  Both Fairservis and the team of Koskenniemi and Parpola depict the sign as a stick figure with a neatly formed trident on one side.  However, in keeping with Wells’ silence on this, I find no such symbol among the Indus inscriptions of the first two volumes of the Corpus.  I do see such a “man” bearing what appears to be a backward letter “E,” an element that often varies with tridents, but which does not seem to do so here.
Seal H-76 with inscription: MAN HOLDING E TRI-FORK / HUNCHBACK / POTTED ONE / FISH UNDER CHEVRON / WHISKERED FISH / HORNED MAN / POT (note the difference in the first sign and that shown above as VIII 28).

In any case, Old Chinese presents an interesting possibility that differs from Faiservis’ interpretation.  Rather than a grain stalk, the trident, “E” shaped or not, may represent a hand (Wieger 1965: 363).  The Indus sign only has this element on one side, a point that might indicate something held rather than the hand itself.  Still, anthropomorphic figures also appear in North American rock art with just one arm (and hand) represented, even though people mostly have two.
Egyptian glyph and depiction of a god-king bearing the flagellum, emblem of power and rank (from the Book of the Dead).

Egyptian hieroglyphs provide another possibility with glyph A46, a king holding the flagellum (glyph S45).  This flagellum or flail is an emblem of the rank of king, as is the crown that the same figure usually wears (but not shown in the example).  So, the Indus sign may depict a person (or deity) holding a stalk of grain, as Fairservis suggests, or a person whose hand is emphasized, or a person holding an emblem of rank.
Seal impression Dlp-3 with inscription: TRI-FORK ON COMB / TWO POSTS / BI-QUOTES // DEE-SLASH / POT.

The following sign is TRI-FORK ON COMB (VIII 29), which appears elsewhere as KP88(a) and W275.  Wells notes only one occurrence from Desalpur (Dlp-3).  I find only one parallel, a comb with an ornate handle which is an Adinkra symbol representing feminine qualities, duafe.

Third, we find ASTERISK BETWEEN BACK CEE AND CEE (VIII 30).  It appears in other lists as KP247 and W557, in the latter case cited as another singleton, this time from Mohenjo daro (M-79).  The “asterisk” is a previously observed sign, one made with an “X” shape with two short strokes between the arms of the upper segment and two more below.  Strictly speaking, then, it is not an asterisk shape at all.  With the backward parentheses (BACK CEE AND CEE) bracketing it, the symbol takes on a vague resemblance to the Egyptian glyph of a headrest (Q4).  This glyph is the determinative in wrs, “headrest,” not surprisingly.  The “asterisk” portion slightly resembles wheat as seen in an Old Chinese inscription (Wieger 1965: 373).
Analogs of Indus sign VIII 30, Egyptian glyph Q4, a headrest (above), and
Old Chinese bunches of wheat offered to the ancestors (below).

I have mentioned a HAIRY HUNCHBACK previously (VIII 31).  This eight-stroke variation possesses four prongs, where the previous version had only three.  There is also a five-pronged version.  This variation occurs as KP194, W78, and Fs Q-8.  Faiservis considers the “head” portion to be one sign (E-5, “bud”) to which a chevron is attached (P-4, “head”), and four additional strokes denoting the plural.  The ligature, as he sees it, means “cotton, crops, cotton in general.”
Detail from seal H-23 with inscription: STACKED NINE / QUAD-FORK / HAIRY HUNCHBACK / WINGED MAN / POT (note that the "hunchback" has four prongs rather than three here).

However, as noted in the post concerning the three-pronged version, I see this as possibly representing an animal.  Thus, I find parallels – though distant – in Egyptian E21 and E33, the recumbent Seth animal, and a monkey.  The first serves as determinative in words denoting turmoil, such as n┼íni, “to storm, rage.”  The second is the determinative in the word for monkey, gf, gif.  These animals, like the rest of the Egyptian animal series, sit horizontally on an invisible ground line, as one might expect.  However, Old Chinese provides a parallel for an animal placed vertically, with the legs to the side, in an inscription (Wieger 1965: 374).  Here, the animal is imaginary, a dragon, which is entreated for rain.
Inscription from Indus tablet H-787 at top: HAIRY HUNCHBACK / POT / COMB.
Below are analogous quadrupeds: Old Chinese horse and two pigs (center), an unidentified proto-cuneiform ZATU resembling a dog (below left), and an ithyphallic North American hunchback (below right).
Additional quadrupeds, including Egyptian E21, the Seth animal (above),
Old Chinese dragon (below left), and Egyptian E33, a monkey (below right).

Our next sign is difficult to name, being temporarily called TRIPLE LASHES ON CIRCLE UNDER TABLE (VIII 32).  It looks something like an eye with three eyelashes, but without an iris or pupil.  It sits beneath an element rather like our numeral “7,” which appears elsewhere as a variation of the “table” with a single long leg.  This singleton appears only in the list prepared by Wells, as W377 (M-83).  It recalls the Egyptian wd3t eye, the eye of Horus, which occurs as a glyph in Egyptian writing, as a symbol of the deity in pictorial scenes, and as a magical amulet of sorts (A10).
Detail of impression of seal M-83 with inscription (right to left): TRIPLE LASHES ON CIRCLE UNDER TABLE / STACKED EIGHT / TRI-FORK (compare the sign on the right with an eye).

Detail from panel of deities in Egyptian Book of the Dead, showing Horus (wearing the pharaoh's double crown and perching on the facade of the old palace), with the Wedjat eye behind him.

The following sign is also difficult, resembling the CARTWHEEL discussed earlier, but with additional strokes added to the sides and underneath.  I am originally called it ROOF ON CARTWHEEL OVER BI-QUOTES (VIII 33), a very clumsy appellation. But since it looks something like the “cartwheel” with drops falling off, I may change this to RAINY CARTWHEEL, in the interest of brevity.  It appears elsewhere as KP339(a) and W569.  Wells notes four occurrences in two variants, one of them a nine-stroke symbol.  Both variants occur at Mohenjo daro, a single one at Harappa.
Copper object H-380 with inscription: ROOF ON CARTWHEEL OVER BI-QUOTES / BLANKET / BOAT.

Although a rare and unusual sign, VIII 33 has a few analogs, if one does not press the analogy too far.  Proto-cuneiform AMA~a is something close to a diamond shape with a true asterisk inside.  It came to mean “mother.”  If this can be considered a parallel to the “cartwheel” element, the addition of a grid inside the “diamond” makes |AMA~a x E2~a|.  This combines signs for “mother” and “temple, house.”
Analogs to the RAINY CARTWHEEL: Old Chinese hui4, "meeting, reunion," and dian1, "offer libations" (top row);
proto-cuneiform AMA~a, "mother" (below left), and Adinkra symbol sepo, "executioner's knife" (below right). 

In Old Chinese, a depiction of a vessel with a lid, placed upon a table, is similar.  This is dian1, “spirits [i.e., fermented drink] for the libations, placed upon a small table...; to offer libations” (Wieger 1965: 118).  Here, this is a circular element with lines inside paralleling the “cartwheel” element of the Indus sign, two additional strokes on top depicting a lid to parallel the Indus “roof,” and the horizontal line with two short verticals below recalls the “bi-quotes” at the base of the Indus sign.  If one is willing to stretch things quite a bit, the Adinkra symbol sepo, “executioner’s knife” is another analogy (Willis 1998: 190).  This represents justice, law, and punishment.
Detail of broken seal M-1005 with inscription: WHISKERED FISH / BLETED FISH / WINGED MAN / POT // RAINY CARTWHEEL (Wells' variant "b").

There is also a CIRCLED QUINT-FORK (VIII 34), also known as KP364 and W343c.  Wells lumps together the variations on a circled fork, noting 67 occurrences overall, in five variants.  I remain uncertain as to where this version occurs, though.
In proto-cuneiform, something along the same lines occurs in the symbol transcribed |LAGAB~a x SIG7|.  The circular portion came to mean “block (of stone), trunk (of tree),” but also denoted a lamb early on.  Inside this circle is what appears to be a rake or broom, SIG7, “to let live, to garden; green, yellow, pale.”  Old Chinese also contains characters with circled elements.  One of these is kun4, a circled tree, meaning “weariness, exhaustion....a camping...under a tree” (Wieger 1965: 276).  Another is a circle with a symbol something like the letter “Y” inside, han2, “the tongue drawn...into the mouth” (1965: 247).

Among the Adinkra symbols of West Africa, damedame is a circle with an internal square surrounded by four small rectangles.  It is a representation of a gameboard which symbolizes “craftiness, intelligence, strategy” (Willis 1998: 88).
Analogs to the HAIRY LOLLIPOP: Egyptian glyphs R21, V25, and Aa (top row), proto-cuneiform MASZ2 @ g (below).

Koskenniemi and Parpola are the only ones who note the following symbol, HAIRY LOLLIPOP (VIII 35, their KP360), a sign I have not seen.  Still, Egyptian provides three examples of a small circle atop a post, with additional strokes.  The first of these is an Old Kingdom glyph representing a stylized flower surmounted by the horns of an ox, the emblem of the goddess of writing, Seshat (R21).  There is a simpler glyph that seems to be a cord wound on a stick (V25).  In its 18th Dynasty form, it is a small oval on top of a vertical line, with a short diagonal on top, a biliteral or phonetic symbol for two consonants, wd.  Third, there is another combination on a post with three “flanges” attached to a central circle.  This unidentified object is another biliteral, used for the consonants nd.
Old Chinese zi3, "child," (above) and fu2, "to hatch" (below).

Proto-cuneiform provides a similar sign, though composed of a horizontal line with a diamond rather than a circle attached on one side.  The line is crossed by a shorter perpendicular stroke and there are six or so diagonal prongs rising from the diamond.  The symbol is MASZ2@g, “he-goat, buck; rent profit, produce, yield.” 

Old Chinese, too, contains a character recalling this Indus sign in zi3, “a newborn child, swathed up” (Wieger 1965: 233).  The simpler version of this is now the 39th radical, but in some ancient inscriptions, the baby has three wavy hairs.  There is also fu2, in which the same “baby” element is surmounted by a bird’s foot.  This represents “a hen-bird covering with her legs her little ones; to hatch” (1965: 234).  In both of these Chinese characters, the portion representing a child or chick has arms/wings.  But there is another character which seems to be the same infant without arms, liao3.   It is now used for a particle la which sometimes indicates something akin to past tense (but many other uses as well).
Detail from broken seal M-843 with inscription: FATT ZEE / POTTED ONE / BIRD / CUP (?) / (?).

Finally, there is an outlined “Z” shape, FAT ZEE (VIII 36), also known as W586.  Wells lists it as yet another singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-843).  A very similar shape oriented differently occurs in proto-cuneiform as BAN~a, “bow” (the noun).  Luwian glyphs contain two such symbols though with open ends.  The first is SOLIUM, “seat,” two parallel zigzagging lines, each of which resembles a sideways “Z.”  There is also FLUMEN (AQUA), “river (water),” rotated 90 degrees and given an addition zag.  It may be of interest to note that in Cretan hieroglyphs, a simpler “Z” shape appears as a phrase termination rather like our comma or period (O61).  However, given the extreme brevity of all known Indus inscriptions, it seems unlikely that a phrase terminator should have been needed.

Analogs to Indus FAT ZEE: proto-cuneiform BAN~a, "a bow" (top), Luwian SOLIUM, "seat" (below left) and FLUMEN (AQUA), "river (water)" (below right).

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