Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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.

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