Monday, July 25, 2011

Angular Ten-Stroke Signs in Indus Script

Detail of inscription from seal H-506: CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES /

This post begins by considering STRIPED MALLET (5 stripes), the eleventh of the ten-stroke signs (X 11), enumerated elsewhere as KP280(with 3 stripes), W470d (5 stripes), and Fs N-10 (3 stripes).  This may be a variation on the previously discussed DOUBLY STRIPED MALLET (VII 37), which Fairservis suggests may indicate a place.  Wells observes 23 occurrences of all variants, including 12 from Mohenjo daro, 9 from Harappa, 1 from Lothal, and 1 from Kalibangan.  However, most of these have two stripes (i.e., are instances of DOUBLY STRIPED MALLET), with a few containing three stripes.  One instance has four (H-506).  But I do not see one with five.

In any case, there are a few parallel signs in other scripts.  The Egyptian hieroglyph O28 is rectangular (except that the top is indented, in a “V” shape) and has a short post on top.  It represents a column with a tenon, an ideograph in iwn, “column.” 

Proto-cuneiform sign MAR~a@t is a better analogy, a long rectangle with a post attached on the right.  The rectangle contains a single vertical striped with several horizontal stripes on the right side.  It came to mean “wagon, cart; winnowing shovel; spoon.”  USZ~b, “foundation,” is a similar shape, but with the post on the left side and no horizontal stripes.  Proto-Elamite also includes parallels, one with a short post on the left and diagonal cross-hatching inside (M155~f), another with two short posts and two horizontal stripes inside (M159).
Proto-cuneiform signs MAR, "wagon" (two variants, top row)
and USZ~b, "foundation" (center, bottom), variations on a "mallet."

In the rock art of Texas, there are a few parallels as well.  In these, the rectangle is taller than it is wide, as in the Indus sign.  But instead of a post on top, there is either a small square or an inverted triangle.  Both this top portion and the larger rectangle typically contain some sort of internal markings (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 188, Pl. 138, no. 17-A).  These may be incomplete anthropomorphic figures; the small element represents the head and the larger rectangle the body, with limbs either not included or lost due to weathering.
Texas rock art, with a mallet-like element on right (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 188, Pl. 138, no. 17-A).

A similar rectangle in which the post crosses through and descends beneath the rectangle is what I term a “top,” among Indus signs.  Koskenniemi and Parpola list one of these with three horizontal stripes, previously discussed (KP275).  Wells also finds one with five stripes (W489).  Basing my list on others’ observations, I thus include STRIPED SKEWERED TOP (5 stripes) (X 12).  Wells states that this is a singleton from Harappa (H-599).  However, to my eyes this is not a “top” at all, but a “mallet.”  I would consider it a variant of the previous sign, because the only difference is that the “post” continues through the rectangle.
Detail of (partial?) inscription from seal H-599: POTTED ONE / STRIPED TRIANGLE / STRIPED SKEWERED MALLET (or TOP?) // TRI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT (appears over the back of a bovine, probably the "unicorn," but head is gone).

However that may be, proto-cuneiform again provides a parallel with AK~b, a square with a post at the top and another at the bottom.  Inside the square, there are six neatly stacked “<” (less than) signs.  This symbol came to have the definition “to do, act, place.”  A variant has posts on either side, instead, and six diagonal strokes inside (AK~a).  A second sign resembles the latter variant, except that the central portion is rectangular rather than square and it contains two vertical stripes: BANSZUR~b2, “table; container.”
Proto-cuneiform "tops": AK~a, "to do" (above) and BANSZUR~b2, "table" (below).

We have seen many instances of VEE IN DIAMOND, especially as part of an inscription’s prefix.  On rare occasions, this common Indus symbol has additional elements.  Sign X 13 in my list is one of these, VEE AND BROKEN VEE IN DIAMOND, which occurs elsewhere only as W408.  Wells notes it to be a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-23).  While symmetrically divided diamond shapes appear often among symbols in many parts of the world, such an asymmetrical form does not.
Seal M-23 with inscription: CEE BOAT / SINGLE QUOTE // FISH UNDER CHEVRON / FISH / SPEAR //
BROKEN VEE IN DIAMOND / CAGED OVERLAPPING CIRCLES (possibly three units of information). 

Another Indus sign with a ten-stroke variation is STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER TABLE (X 14).  A variation appears as KP211 (9 strokes), while Wells alone notes a version with ten strokes.  Sign W420 is subdivided into two forms: “a” is a triangle with three stripes, under a short-legged “table”; “b” a single-striped triangle under a long-legged “table.”  Wells gives four occurrences, two from Mohenjo daro (both “a”), one from Harappa (“b”), and one from Kalibangan (“b”).  Those from the first of these cities appear to contain only two stripes in my view.

Triangles are not particularly common in Egyptian hieroglyphs, but in the case of U38, there are two.  This is a depiction of a balance or scale, with the two triangles joined by a horizontal line passing from apex to apex, a central vertical, and a truncated triangle at the base.  The glyph is ideographic or a determinative in mh3t, “balance.”  Except for a portion of this glyph – a single-striped triangle under a horizontal line – the Indus sign does not much resemble U38.
Proto-cuneiform analogs of the STRIPED TRIANGLE element: NI~a, "butter" (left) and URU~c, "town" (right).

Proto-cuneiform provides a better analog once again, with KAL~a, a single-striped triangle rotated 90 degrees, with a long-armed, backward “C” shape touching the apex.  It came to mean “precious, valuable.”
Bar seal L-86 with inscription: GRID (2 X 4) WITH ATTACHED POST / BACKSLASHES IN OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / TRI-FORK (execution of signs is rough, making precise identification difficult).

Another singleton among the Indus signs is GRID (2 X 4) WITH ATTACHED POST (X 15).  In this form it appears only in Wells’ list, as W505 (where it is reversed, as is typical of symbols found on seals).  The similar KP269 is made up of a post attached to a grid, but this one has three squares across and four down (3 x 4).  It appears only at Lothal (L-86).
Proto-cuneiform sign |E2~a.LISZ|, a combination of elements meaning "house" and "crumb."

There are no exact parallels, although proto-cuneiform does include a grid-like element alongside a “greater than” sign, |E2~a.LISZ|, a combination of symbols for “house, temple” and “morsel, crumb.”  The significance of the ligature is beyond me.
Seal M-751 with inscription: DOUBLE ZIGZAGS / FAT EX
(seal is heavily scratched and abraded, but the signs are clear).

Finally, the Indus signs include the doubling of an element previously discussed in DOUBLE ZIGZAGS (X 16), also known as KP192 and W431.  Wells notes a single occurrence at Mohenjo daro (M-751).  There is another instance where two zigzagging lines occur, but in this case they are the horns of an animal, perhaps an antelope (Rhd-1B).
Near Eastern signs for "water," Egyptian (above) and proto-cuneiform (below).

There are two signs containing the zigzag in Egyptian, one a single zigzagging line representing the consonant n, the other containing three of these in stacked form (N35).  The latter represents three ripples of water, an ideograph in mw, “water.”  Proto-cuneiform, on the other hand, appears to lack a zigzag, although it has the vaguely similar “double lazy esses” symbol A@t, “water; canal.”

Round seal Rhd-1B with two quadrupeds, perhaps antelope, as well as small "fish" (upper left)
and possibly a variation of the BOWTIE sign beside the head of the right-hand animal
(a seal that shows scorpions on the "A" side, perhaps an imported item from Altyn Depe or thereabouts).


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